Play tag, solve everything

Adults should play tag. I say this not to be cute or funny; this post isn’t meant to be the prose equivalent of a whimsical, chalk-lettered meme that says how we learned everything we need in elementary school. Rather, I propose that we all go out and play tag because it’s going to solve multiple problems, because it’s going to be fun, and because it’s logical to have fun.

A park by the road with trees.
You could look at this grass through a window. Or maybe there’s something you could do with it?

In elementary school, you have recess. Run outside, burn off some energy, skin your knees. Watch has in horror as some kid has diarrhea all down the right leg of his jeans, and thank the heavens that it wasn’t you, and that your OCD hadn’t developed yet, otherwise you’d be seeing microscopic bits of diarrhea in every hallway you walked down that Diarrhea Kid also walked down.

In middle school, you have recess. Loiter outside, take a half-hearted ride on the swings, trade the yellow cat Gigapet your brother found on the bus and named Becky for a purple puppy Gigapet your most treacherous friend** found in the restroom and didn’t name.

In high school, you don’t have recess. There is only lunch, which has become more socially terrifying than ever before, and gym class, which now has the effect of making you wish you were back to sitting in French class.

Sitting. That’s what we adapted to as recess disappeared.

It’s not so much that we learned everything we need in elementary school; it’s more that we fell into a rut since then. Movement becomes exercise, and exercise becomes penitence. And penitence leads to the dark side. Or at least it leads to unhappiness.

But maybe THAT leads to the dark side.

People choose exercises that they hate, and turn exercise into a chore. Where’s the good in that? And why is it considered a normal part of being an adult? Adult exercise takes repeated acts of willpower to pull off on a consistent basis, and I don’t believe in willpower. Or rather, I think it’s smart to eliminate the need for it from my life wherever possible.

Have you ever run down a leaf-covered trail for the sheer joy of it, as far as you could, until you could barely breathe, and stood watching the wind blow until it became your own breath again, and you could walk without your knees wobbling? That’s not a chore unless you make it one.

Running is only socially acceptable if you’re engaging in it for the sake of calorie-reducing drudgery. You have to wear the proper clothes; you have to complain. These days, in order to make sure people know you’re serious about drudgery, you need to wear a Fitbit. How do you know you did your penitence if you don’t have a record on your smartphone?

But I actually love running. I run in stores when I’m not supposed to. I run at work when I can find an empty hallway. Sometimes I want to run, to burn off energy, to calm down and exhaust myself enough that I can sit and write for 25 minutes.

Having energy isn’t socially acceptable either. We’re supposed to move the way everyone else does, which isn’t much. That goes for social gatherings, which are all about sitting and food, even if they’re ostensibly about something else like football or patriotism or role-playing games. We’re supposed to sit and talk, as if we haven’t sat enough already. This isn’t only about exercise either; it’s about movement. Does anyone else ever feel resentful of social gatherings because of the additional amount of sedentary time they add to your life? I’ve teased LARPers (live-action role players) in the past, but I kind of get it, even though I love my weekly Dungeons and Dragons and Sitting and Food gathering.

I recently heard a podcast advertisement for a new app that allows you to exercise for just ten minutes, anywhere you want. Guess what? You could always do that.

Forget consumerized institutional exercise. Gyms are cost-prohibitive; tag isn’t.

Which brings me to my case for tag. Here are some problems you might run into as an adult:

  • You need exercise.
  • You hate exercise.
  • You forgot how to have fun sometime in your late twenties, or maybe earlier if you’re one of those lucky folks who got a decent job right out of college.
  • You’re don’t get outside enough.
  • You’re awkward in group scenarios and need an icebreaker that isn’t an icebreaker.
  • You’re depressed.

Guess what? Tag will help all of those to some extent or another. We are supposed to solve needing and hating exercise with better willpower, with productivity hacks, and with putting on a new exercise outfit to make it seem fun, which works until there’s sweat on the new outfit. We’re supposed to try running in groups, which, if you have turned running into a chore, only means you’re doing that chore with other people, just the same as if you have friends help you move. Why not take the running group, forget target distances and times, and have fun? Instead of finding one solution for each problem, find one that takes down several at once.

The best way to solve a problem is to find the root cause. What if a lot of those problems had the same root cause, and that cause is a lack of movement and outside time? Even if that isn’t the root cause, it’s still preferrable to find one solution that will solve as many problems as possible, rather than generating a new solution for each problem. Outside time and playtime are both beneficial in so many ways, and if that wasn’t obvious, the science is there to back it up. But even if you couldn’t point to health or productivity benefits, would that matter? Shouldn’t feeling better and having fun be enough?

Remember how fun it was to play tag? Remember the life and death importance of running, of not being tagged? Remember how the tagger would be a finger-width away from getting you, but you’d stumble into a tree just in time, and the tree was goo so you were safe. You could breathe.

Goo. What did goo mean? What’s the etymology of the word goo? Was it supposed to be “goal?” Remember feeling awkward that you didn’t understand these things, but running anyway? In theory, you could run to goo and stay there for the entire game. But that didn’t occur to anyone because it was fun to move. You’d stumble across the yellow-painted lines on the blacktop, safe again, and stay only long enough to catch a little breath.

And if you went outside your normal social circles, you learned about different types of tag, like freeze tag. If tagged, you turned yourself to a human ice sculpture until someone else came to rescue you. And then there was TV tag, which never seemed to have clear rules, but involved shouting out names of TV shows. TV tags seems like an especially good one to pick up as an adult. I know a lot more TV shows now than I did when I was eight.

When I was a kid, I figured that one of the advantages to being an adult was that you could do fun stuff whenever you wanted because  no one could stop you. Granted, I didn’t see too many adults actually playing tag, or eating ice cream for breakfast, or throwing rocks at larger rocks to break them in pieces**. But I knew they had the power, whether or not they chose to use it.

People always say how the kids these days don’t go outside anymore. They don’t play tag. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that kids don’t have to play tag for adults to do it, and I know that no one toiling away at a treadmill has to approve either.

Let’s break everything. Let’s break the consumerized exercise and run like wild creatures. Let’s break our social gatherings and let them burst forth in a supernova from the kitchen tables they have centered around. Let’s break the idea that excerise is drudgery.

Take your ibuprofen first, if that’s what you’ve got to do.

You’re it.


*It was the 90s. We didn’t have the word “frenemy” yet. My assumptions about who does and doesn’t have recess also come from the 90s.

**Yes, I grew up in a rural area. Why do you ask?

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