Thinking journeys: On work and play

Today my son Sebastian pulled out a chess set that I bought in Jerusalem’s Old City years before his birth. He tucked it under his arm and explained to me in a very serious tone that the chess set was his “work.”

First, he set up the chess pieces like bowling pins and knocked them down with a stuffed ball. A few minutes later, he packed everything up again, said bye-bye, and headed off to “work” (in a more conventional sense this time, I suppose). He returned seconds later and plopped himself down on the chess case in mock despair, lamenting that he’d missed his bus.

It suddenly occurred to me that Sebastian was on a thinking journey.

I came across this idea for the first time in Jerusalem, and I wrote about it in my first book:

At the end of a day Yaron [an education specialist] showed me a parcel that had arrived in the mail. “It’s one of my thinking journeys,” he explained, unwrapping a book and laminated card. The card illustrated the lunar surface, and on closer inspection I could see that it was textured. The depths of outer space were covered with a regular scattering of convex pinpricks, and a series of lines and dots defined the shape of the moon. Yaron’s kit was intended to teach blind children about the concept of space. I closed my eyes and ran my fingers over the bumps, feeling for moon craters. Did he have similar cards with stars and planets? I asked. Yaron shook his head. The point of this exercise wasn’t to teach children about space in the sense of identifying constellations, but to communicate the idea of space. (Šukys, Silence is Death, 87-88)

A thinking journey has no destination in mind: on these journeys the mind is the destination.

Until now, I’ve thought of reading and writing as thinking journeys: both take you through interior territories and are their own destination. Only today, while watching my son, did I realize that play is also a thinking journey.

There’s no point to play, yet for small children, play is the only point. It’s their work, and their best way to learn not only about the world in all its concreteness, but also about the idea of the world.

If play can be work, then surely work can be play. Laughter almost always accompanies a moment of insight, and our best texts are often the ones that (at some point) make us laugh while we write them. Work and play; play and work. Toute same? In some ways.

Happy journeys. Happy play. May your work bring you joy and your littlest loved ones show you truths you’ve forgotten.

[Photo: David Ortmann]

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