This is freedom. This is chaos. This is play.
My goal is to play all day long — to express myself fully and freely, to read, to write, to compose music, to play music, to create new realities and new futures. There is so much knowledge to learn, practice, and master. There are so many ideas to ponder, expand on, and cross-pollinate with other ideas. There is so much to do and share. There is so little time to do all that.
I work 8-to-5. I sleep less than eight hours per night. I wash dishes at least twice a day. I ride the light rail. I eat lunch at my desk. I push paper for eight hours in a gray cubicle. I attend boring meetings. I put up with terrible managers. I wear light-blue shirts and khaki pants and shoes with holes on their soles.
Exhaustion is real. Wasted time is felt deeply. Pain appears and disappears in my body — pain from stress, pain from longing for better days, pain from missed opportunities, pain from being at the mercy of a monthly salary, pain from watching my life slip away. Pain is good, but up to a point. Sustained pain over years or decades destroys the mind and the body.
I don’t want to get old and die destroyed by pain. I want to die knowing that I have been useful. Today, I don’t contribute in any meaningful way to the betterment of society. I’m not sad, or bitter, or disappointed by that. It’s just the truth. I consume resources and products and use the infrastructures in society to live an average life without being useful. This is a problem for many people in the developed world.
I tried being useful in the past by composing music and recording it. I wrote screenplays and books, hoping that they will entertain people, or inspire them, or provoke them to think. Nobody listened to what I composed. Nobody read what I wrote. I got academic degrees, thinking that I would contribute to these fields in some way. I wanted to be the best in these fields and worked hard in college and university to get the perfect grade point average.
It was all for nothing. Nothing might be the norm for human beings on Earth. We think that we are something, or that we create something — families, corporations, communities, art — but, maybe, we are not creating anything. Maybe it is all in the mind. All creations are concepts.
Family, for example, is a concept that we hold to be true. We have parents and grandparents and aunts and cousins and think that we have a family. We do not. We have a group of people who believe that they have a family. It’s the belief and the mutual agreement between the people that makes the concept of family real to those people. Same with corporations and art.
My goal is to do only things that I can control. I can control baking a loaf of sourdough bread. I can control reading a book. I can control lifting weights. I can control what I write and how much I write. I can control practicing scales on the guitar. I can’t control which job I will get when I apply for jobs. I can’t control who will love me. I can’t control the weather.
I want to play every day with the things I can control. Life gets in the way of this desire. The daily routine of maintenance: maintenance of the body and its health, maintenance of relationships, maintenance of an apartment or a house, maintenance of the food in the refrigerator, maintenance of work and everything it comes with, maintenance of the car, maintenance of the cat litter box, and on and on.
With so much maintenance in life, it feels like we can’t live the way we want to live. It feels like we can’t exercise our freedom to be who we are. We can’t prioritize working on our art, for example, because there are seven, or nine, chores that need to be done. These are areas that need our attention.
If we don’t give our attention to these things, they will slowly fall apart and life becomes a mess. The dust will pile up on the furniture and it will seem like nobody lives in the house; we will run out of clean underwear; we wouldn’t be able to drive the car because we didn’t get gas; we wouldn’t have cats because nobody gave them food for a long time and they died.
Between the two extremes — doing the maintenance all day long and playing all day long — there is a state where both are done to a point that feels satisfactory. A balance is possible. A balance is desirable. A balance is needed. How to get to that balanced state is not clear. The degree of balance we can achieve is based on one’s life circumstances.
People who care for other people will have a hard time finding that balance. Caring for somebody else — an ailing parent, small children, a disabled spouse— will pose a big barrier to playing.
How can I play when I need to wipe my disabled father’s butt, make him lunch, take him to the doctor, get his prescriptions from the drug store, wash his clothes, cook him dinner, and help him get ready for bed? By the time I’m done with caring for my dad, I have no energy to do anything. I can hardly wipe my own butt from exhaustion.
The desire within us to create, discover, explore, and learn doesn’t care about the circumstances in our life. The desire is always there, always with us. We think about what we want to do all the time. We file story ideas, we jot down melodies, we sketch buildings and clothes, we sing in the shower, we daydream.
Thus, we live two lives — the outer life of the visible, the audible, and the tactile, and the inner life of the imagined, the dreamed, and the felt. The two lives guide each other, interact, support each other, and grow together.
I can’t create art that emerges from within without having the external security that a job provides. There is a base level of external support that I need before I begin playing. If I prioritize playing and lose focus of the external reality, I will not survive. So I think. Maybe this my fear talking.
It is my fear talking. And with fear comes stress. And with stress comes cancer, terrible sleep, skin rashes, strained relationships, shallow breathing, and indigestion. We all carry stress and live with it. It’s unavoidable. It’s inescapable. Most of us live in cities, towns, and villages, where we are surrounded by people, objects, and animals, and where everything affects us. Someone always wants something from us. Something always demands our attention. Nothing and nobody let us be.
In order to play, we must be ourselves without the demands and judgements of others. We need a safe space where we can be imperfect, make mistakes, fall on our face, learn the way we want to learn, act silly, say what’s on our mind, speak our truth, wear the clothes we want (or not wear any clothes), and express the unique self that nobody else has in the whole world.
This is freedom. This is chaos. This is play.
There are two ways within our control of finding that safe space. One way is to make the conscious decision to go through life alone. This decision can be made at any point in one’s life. Some of us make it in our 20s or 30s and forego the joys of children, family, vacations with the in-laws, and going to bed with the same person for 50 years. Some of us make it later in life, when the kids are out of the house, our parents have passed away, and we have realized that we would rather have our toenails pulled out with pliers than smell the farts of our wife or husband one more time.
I’m not advocating an asocial way of life. Nobody is an island. Whether we like it or not, we are a part of a community. Within the larger community of people on earth, we are members of various smaller communities — a country, a town, a neighborhood, a family, a group of friends, a yoga community, a running club, and so on. We need the support, encouragement, and love these communities provide to us. They sustain us over time. They pick us up when we are down, and we stand on their shoulders to reach higher. We only need communities founded on positive principles, beliefs, emotions, and actions. These are safe spaces outside of our control.
The second way of finding the safe space is to amass a lot of money and say, “Fuck You!” to the world. This kind of money is called fuck-you money. The beauty of having fuck-you money is that it creates a wall that protects us from the opinions of others, their likes and dislikes, and their efforts to influence us. The danger of having fuck-you money is that it could lead to a false sense of self, change our character for the worse, and screw up our life. We want the money, but we want to stay humble, level-headed, and curious.
Making the decision to live alone is the easiest path to full-time play. It is almost impossible to accumulate fuck-you money while juggling a job, children in school, a spouse who is not happy with our cooking or sexual performance, siblings who constantly ask us to loan them money, and parents who need our care. Making the decision later in life to live alone and create a safe space to play is the only option for many people.
It is much easier to accumulate fuck-you money when we save and invest money alone and don’t have to deal with the weight and baggage of the people who live with other people. If we start making and saving money when we are young, we use the benefits of long time and compounded interest to create a fortune. In this scenario, not only are we having the freedom to play longer, but we are also creating the double advantage of being wealthy players.
We can play with or without money. Having money is not a prerequisite to playing and self-expression. Money, however, expands our play palette. With money, we can get to levels of play that we can’t get without money. For example, if I’m an artist without much money, I can paint a painting and have it admired by my relatives. If I’m an artist with money, I can rent a gallery space, have an exhibition of my paintings, invite fellow artists and lovers of art, and promote my art far and wide.
The manifestation of play in life is a continuum — from no play through some play to play all the time. Consciously or unconsciously, we all make a decision at some point in life about where we want to stand on that continuum. We are free to make that choice at any time in life. If we don’t make a decision, somebody else will make it for us. Chances are that they will make it in favor of their full-time play, not ours. Nobody will sacrifice themselves, so that we can express ourselves fully and create a state-of-the-art life full of play. Even our parents serve themselves through various means while they are raising us.
Nobody wants to live a life guided by the decisions of other people. I’ve lived a large portion of my life guided by the decisions of others and it’s not fun. Living like that robbed me of a lot of play and self-expression and instilled fear in me. I’ve put up with a lot of abuse (physical, verbal, and emotional), meanness, judgement, disrespect, and disregard of who I am over the five decades of my life. I’m done with that shit. Done-done. My goal for the rest of my life is to play all day long, every day, until I die. I have at least 50 years ahead of me. Imagine the fun!