Greatest game ever developed by childkind… tag! Whose played it? Who hasn’t? I did a little research on the game of tag. I think it’s really sad that there are whole websites devoted to the rules of tag and how to play it. Really? Three year olds can play tag. If you can toddle you can tag! And if you need a website to explain it, you might need to play it more and spend less time on the computer.
It has been a while since I posted. I know that relieves a few people! This last week has found me running… and falling. And for some reason this evening I saw this picture of Mark and a little girl in a pink dress (shown below) and this rambling post was born.
Why is the game of tag so fun? Is it the chasing? The thrill of running down some poor sucker slower than you? I mean let’s be perfectly honest…. that’s some good fun right there. What about being chased? Feeling your heart pounding as the linebacker who eclipses the sun closes in on you. Wondering when you will feel that hand on your back. Wondering if you run toward someone else if he will veer off and chase them instead. But honestly… you really want to be chased don’t you? Because for that moment when you are being chased, you are the sole desire of the chaser. You are their target. You are the goal, you are the prize. You are worth it.
What about Hide and seek? Another great game, not created by adults with PhD’s but screaming giggling children. What is the allure, the universality of that game? When I played this game as a child (I have played it as an adult, armed with paintball guns and I have to say the adrenaline rush is worth the welts) no one really wanted to seek. You had to take your turn of course, but what we really wanted was to hide. We were all in search of the perfect spot, I remember quietly whispered fights over who had the right to climb into the corn crib, who got to hide in the springhouse in the milkroom, how could we get out onto the roof of the haymow, who was gutsy enough to hide in the shed with the hornets nests? I hold true to the notion, that the ultimate delight in both games… is being found, being caught, being rescued, being saved.
There is something special about being caught. We call it an implication and inference relationship. Today, more and more, we use the word “imply” universally and make no distinction between that word and it’s counterpart, “infer.” An implication is an indirect statement of intent. The recipient of that implication, then infers it’s meaning. In this case, the “it” person makes an implication that, “I’m going to get you.” The inference on the part of the chasee is, “I am wanted.” Being the chasee, also requires that we assume a defensive rather than offensive position. Being in a defensive position is the fine art of managing vulnerability and playing to weakness. Being completely defenseless is not about handing control to someone else, it is about having no control to give. Being completely defenseless is never a good feeling. Falling, is a defenseless position. Unless you can overcome gravity, you are going to hit the ground. Or…. you can be caught. Saved. Being caught is being saved. Clearly we aren’t talking here about apprehension of a criminal, though there is some interesting psychology to certain criminals wanting to be caught.
So returning to the game of tag. There would be little game if there were no adrenaline filled rush away from the chaser. We run for all we are worth, back arched, heart pounding, panting, arms pumping. For the fast kids, they make their escape, they evade, dodge and the chaser slows into the distance. But what is their almost immediate response? As the “it” person slows and turns to see if there are other closer targets, the person who just spent all that effort to evade capture, turns around and willingly chooses to move back into range, they bait the chaser. If he really didn’t want to be caught… he would keep running, right? But we all know the truth. We all want to be caught. We want someone to set their focus on us and pursue us. We want them to not give up. We want them to be relentless. In the little room in our mind we are saying, sometimes screaming, “please don’t give up on me. Please catch me.”
Have you ever played hide and seek where the seeker quits? 5 kids hide, 4 are found and the seeker quits. How does that one, still-hiding kid, feel?
Guinea Pigs. My roommate and I, both early in our undergrad studies, agree to be test subjects for one another. It ran from the marginally absurd, I made her spend a week speaking and writing in Iambic Hexameter (the meter in which Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey are written). It was one of the quietest weeks we ever spent together, though it crackled with tension and electricity. I asked her at the end of the week, “How then did this, a week of torture, cause you to reflect?” We were not roommates for longer than a year! But she was worse! She had access to a psychology medical lab and made me take the Stanford-Binet and WAIS tests and then made me do it AGAIN while she blared Iron Butterfly’s “Ina Godda Da Vida” as loudly as she could. She then created some lame excuse to strap an EEG to my head and make me take an Echoic Memory recall test…. twice! I began calling her Dr. Moreau, she responded by calling me Homer. She was studying how people perceive, learn and recall. Our degree paths were not entirely similar, but symbiotic enough that we each gained a degree of benefit. I enjoyed referring to it as a parasitic relationship, where I provided her a somewhat abnormal memory recall spectrum to study and she provided me amusement and a broadening vocabulary of profanity. But joking aside, perception was an amazing study. Perception, at its inception… is objective. It begins with a distal and neutral stimulus. But from that moment forward, the observer’s impression of that thing or action begins to change. Perception, at its cessation, is completely subjective.
In this simple game of hide and seek, there are 3 perceptive groups. The seeker, who in this case has given up, the found kids, and the 5th child, still hiding, still waiting. The seeker implies that he has exhausted his search of all known hiding spots, the 5th child then makes an inference based on this. The seeker implies that he is tired, but the hiding child perceives and then infers (incorrectly) that he is unworthy of being found.
I don’t think that children consciously go through all the thought process listed above, but we see this theme played out throughout our lives in many different ways and circumstances.
I had a friend in the military who trained as a jumper. I am a bit of a thrill seeker, but the prospect of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane leaves me with clammy hands. I asked him how it felt and what he thought during the jumps. He said, that initially the heart pounding is that first step out the door, but rather quickly training and the habituation of repeated ground drills take over and you become automatic, checking your harness, headset and altimeter. But I found his next words fascinating. He said, “But you never get over the rush of feeling the whoosh and backward jerk of your chute opening and filling behind you.” Being caught. After the big step and the long fall, it is the being caught that remained ever fixed in his memory.
It would be interesting to me to discover how people respond when they see a picture like this. I find myself smiling, do you? Not because there is a caption, and there is no animation or joke. Not because roping is clearly a skill, and one that few possess well enough to create the above picture. So why do I have such a visceral response to this? By the way I grit my teeth upon typing “visceral” because it relates to the emotive quality of response minus the intellectual process. Something that I am entirely uncomfortable with, but it truly is the proper word to use when I saw this picture. I suppose on some level because I know the man doing the “catching” I am unable to be entirely unbiased. But I’m sure that part of it is that I relate to that girl’s smile. This girl may or may not have any notion of the skill and expertise needed for roping and it is likely that she never experienced anyone doing this before, yet she shows no fear or apprehension. Granted it is also possible that the camera operator just said, “smile!” I get that, but at its core, this picture says, “I gottcha!” and as well as the “I gottcha” there is an implied, “and you will be ok.” It is comfort in a coil of rope.
I was not here when this picture was taken. I stalked Mark and Miranda’s FB pages to find a few of these because I remembered having seen them. From the dates and the general attendance age, I would surmise that this was some sort of class demo, there were some calves and animals present for the kids to pet and I’m sure they got to interact with Mark and Miranda’s horses as well. But this picture struck me and I can’t really say why. It is the little boy’s body language. We can’t see his face, but we could make some educated guesses as to what he might be feeling right at this moment. Maybe it is wonder or a moment of nervousness, his back is tensed and his arms are closed and his shoulders are tightened up so that he clearly sees the rope coming. He has maybe played a sufficient amount of dodgeball to be wise enough to hide behind the girl in the front… live to fight another day young man!
I suppose this picture is not really about being caught, but I think that for most people the word “held” would come to mind and the two are often intertwined. I find that the only word we can really read on her shirt, “love” somehow adds to the impact of this photo.
This picture does not represent being caught in any way, but there is something about the invisible thread that links these two at this particular frozen moment in time. It is mostly the body language Miranda is expressing. She is in no way passive in this picture. Not a disinterested onlooker. She is actively engaged, as is the child. We do not see people in the background, we have no idea what the subject matter is, possibly the girl was asking a question or telling Miranda a great secret.
And why are all these pictures of children? I am sure that Mark and Miranda have roped a few adults in a demo, but somehow the smallness of children bends our hearts in a different, perhaps more evocative manner. As adults we often forsake the wild abandon of play for clinical propriety. We lose the notion that there is joy in being pursued for no better reason than that the pursuit leads to capture. As adults we need an excuse, we need a reason. Sometimes desperate need is its own reason. We need to be caught. What does the game of tag teach us? What do we get from it? Well…. nothing! You run screaming and giggling through the yard and field for no benefit. You wont make money playing tag. There are some physics lessons applicable when that bigger kid plows into you but let’s be honest, we aren’t studying rocket science here. We are playing.
In the late 1800’s a man named Francis Thompson wrote a poem called, “The Hound of Heaven.” It is lengthy and difficult to follow and requires a bit of back story to wade through effectively. I was required to read and reform the work as part of class one year and it remains the most troubling struggle I faced in all my classes. It is Thompson that I credit for my personal discovery of Vodka, which was possibly the only way I could make it through his history and lifework. It is also the one and only project that I failed… willingly walked out on mentally. More than any other author, I disliked Francis Thompson.
Thompson was a devout Catholic and ascetic. He struggled most of his life. At odds with his father who was a physician, Francis was clearly seen as brilliant and originally studied medicine but had no interest in it. He quit school to pursue writing, which further estranged him from his father. After an injury or illness (I don’t recall which) he took opiates for pain and became addicted. He was for a time, homeless and poor. His efforts to overcome his addiction failed and he attempted suicide. He ultimately died in his mid 40’s of Tuberculosis.
His poem was clearly reflective of his life. But the more important figure-head is the Hound, a reference to God, who continually pursued him through his darkness. The entire poem is a metaphorical reference to a chase. Continuing throughout are themes of being pursued, followed and hunted. The hound was clearly not all that was hunting Thompson. His life was a testament to the monsters of his past stalking him in the dark. We are left somewhat to wonder if Thompson ever allowed himself to be captured… and maybe more importantly…. by whom.
Everyone should be chased. Everyone should fall and feel the safety of arms catching you. Either literally, figuratively or metaphorically, everyone should be caught. We all need to be saved from one thing or another. We could all benefit from a little game of tag. There is no real winner or loser to the game of tag. It is a cyclically continuous game. So don’t run too fast, stay engaged, and get caught.