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?

The connection between chocolate and depression in real life:

“I’ve had mild, pervasive depression for two weeks, but since science says this 85% dark chocolate bar can raise my serotonin, I’m waiting for a barely perceptible lightening of my mood.”

The connection between chocolate and depression in Harry Potter:

“A dementor gave me depression so hard my soul almost ripped out of my body, but I ate a chocolate bar that’s been sitting in this guy’s jacket, and now I’m a thousand times better.”

Depression is a hole

Depression is a hole, and it sucks you down again and again. Sometimes subtle, sometimes slow, you wind up in a hole so vast you think it’s a landscape, and you can’t even see the shadowy watercolor of sloping walls at the edges.

Depression is a hole, and specifically, sometimes it’s the small, jarring shock of a pothole that your smooth ride crashes down into when you were driving home in the dark.

Depression is a hole, but sometimes it’s also a pit trap, and it fucking comes out of nowhere when you’re only trying to eat some cherries you saw sitting on the ground.

Depression is a hole, but sometimes it’s also a bunker, and you think it’s pretty cool with the generator-powered TV and VCR and the stacks of Digimon episodes you taped in 2002 and the excuse to eat ramen noodles all day. It’s all glory days until you realize there’s no sunlight.

Depression is a hole, and sometimes you let it dig itself when you know better, you KNOW BETTER, and you watch while a bunch of shovels gleefully fling away the dirt like wizard Mickey Mouse’s animated brooms, and you think it’s all going great because now that there’s a hole you’ll have a far-fetched idea to plant an edible forest garden with lingonberries and chives, and then you realize, “Oh shit, I can’t plant anything in this hole when I’m stuck down here.”

Depression is a hole, and you can walk your way out. You can accrue miles step by step, walking in circles and circles around the bottom, wearing a track until at some point you find a little niche big enough for your toe. And then the pressure of your toe opens the whole thing, and what was a niche is a wide off-ramp-out-ramp, and it curves away up the walls and out of the hole, and you can walk your way out.

Depression is a hole, and you can write your way out. Even though the first few words are hard and heavy, eventually you can scrawl recklessly and type in mad clacking waves, until your hundreds and thousands of words pile up one upon the other, until eventually there’s a hill of gravel. It grows and it grows and you slip and slide as you make your way up, but eventually it fills the hole and you can stride toward the ocean as it collapses into sand behind you.

Depression is a hole and you can draw your way out. You can scribble and scratch, doodle swirling, idle abstractions. Or you can take the time to observe, watch the curve of a line, your eyes flicking up and down from your subject to your paper. You can add shading and find that a bridge pops out at you. And when you let your hand go free and draw the things that aren’t realistic but maybe are needed, you find you have drawn trampolines lining the sides of the hole like mushrooms on a tree trunk, and you jump your way out like a video game character, until you pop up in a meadow, and you walk out and down a cobbled path into a town you saw once in a dream.

Depression is a hole, and you can declutter your way out because sometimes the hole is filled with moldy old furniture like 1970s yellow couches with mysterious stains on tweed fabric. And sometimes there are also old ashtrays and books with worn corners, salad spinners and coin sorters, and you can shove them into boxes, not once or twice, but repeatedly, strategically, until they form a teetering, tottering stair that you can step up precariously until you climb up over the edge and walk out across tiles that shine pearlescent if you don’t look too closely, into an empty mall where you find the fountain you threw pennies in as a child.

Depression is a hole, and you have to engineer your way out again and again, but you can.

And you have to remember that.

Tomato soup for the morbid and depressed

When I was little, I would float saltine crackers on my tomato soup, then nudge them down slowly into my bowl, watching the tomato lava well up into the crackers’ holes. “Stay on the raft, stay on the raft,” I would whisper in the voices of the doomed adventurers on the sadly absorbent raft. I don’t remember if my poor little soup adventurers managed to jump to the rim of the bowl, or if I was a morbid enough kid that they perished descending the crater of the Campbell’s Tomato Soup Volcano.

Tomato soup is as essential to my childhood as the sound of softballs hitting aluminum baseball bats and the hot, righteous tomato-red anger of yelling that it was Greg’s fault, not mine, slamming the door, and pulling at my own hair while scream-crying.

I figured I should add the last part because I always worry about sounding sappy, which I thought might happen after writing a list of childhood memories that turned out to be only one thing. Apparently, I also already forgot* that I lead with the tragic deaths of the tomato soup explorers.

Everything I do is overkill.

Anyway, speaking of scream-crying, this is exactly the brand of depression I was experiencing one particular night when it turned out that my partner would be working late and it would fall to me to provide dinner. This is the type of mental anguish which makes even searching for a tomato soup recipe overwhelming. The search was frustrating to begin with because, somewhere, we have a good recipe from when we first made homemade tomato soup back in 2007.

Back in 2007, tomato soup was still a mysterious thing. I had only ever tried it from a can, which is weird because I didn’t grow up eating a ton of processed food or stuff made from mixes. But Campbell’s tomato soup was a pantry staple. It was not a food composed of other ingredients, but a substance unto itself, a dull martian red liquid that could be listed as an ingredient in other recipes, such as meatloaf and hamburger pie. How many other soups can be listed as ingredients? There are no recipes that call for “an extra cup of tortilla soup, added at the end” or “corn chowder, added to the desired consistency.”

The only other soup that doubles as an ingredient is canned cream of mushroom, but I don’t know if “doubles” is the correct verb because I’ve never heard of anyone also eating cream of mushroom. It goes in green bean casserole**. That’s it. Then back in the corner. And when I say “corner,” I mean “dank dungeon with one of those giant, pendulous scythes.” I hate, hate, hate mushrooms, and for this reason, created an extremely factual infographic as a service to the world.

Back to the tomato soup. Combine a missing recipe with scream-crying depression, a baby I am responsible for taking care of, and the fact that I can’t chop onions anymore because of how quickly and painfully my eyes tear up. I can’t even chop a shallot, which is the size of the flesh at the base of my thumb. The weight of responsibility for cooking a meal–normally not one of my household chores–came to weigh on me like a couch being carried up two flights of stairs.

Why didn’t I order food out instead? I can’t remember why that wasn’t an option. Maybe I didn’t have the mental energy to dislodge the idea of tomato soup from my brain. Whatever the case, I arrived home from my parents’ house with a few tablespoons of dried minced onion and and some garlic cloves to get me started.

I sauteed the onion with butter, and burned it.

Luckily, I found that we had not been out of dried onion after all. I sauteed some more, and burned them again while focused on chopping the garlic.

But then everything clicked into place; I stopped burning things; the baby played nicely, banging jars on the floor and trying to sweep our filthy kitchen.

I prefer loose methods to recipes.

Here’s the tomato soup method I came up with:

Start with allium component–onion and garlic, in my case.
Add tomato component along with other liquids: water or broth.
Season while the liquids heat. Throw in a bay leaf, some Italian seasoning type stuff, if not Italian seasoning itself. Black pepper and crushed red pepper.
Add dairy component–milk or cream, plus some Parmesan for the umami.

And here’s what’s in that:

A few tablespoons of dried minced onion
A couple of tablespoons butter
3 cloves of garlic
One 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes with added basil
Italian seasoning, or similar
Bay leaf
Black pepper
Crushed red pepper
Salt
A teaspoon of Better than Bouillon, veggie flavor
A cup of water
A little over a cup of milk

Serving suggestion for tomato soup topped with Cheddar Whisps
Sounds like my cheddar Whisps are volunteering to go on what will surely be an ill-fated rescue mission for the Saltines that have been lost these long years.

This made enough for two dinner-sized bowls of soup, and a couple mugs leftover to have with salad the next day.

Between the ingredient list and the directions, it ended up being a proto-recipe, one lacking in specific ingredients. Or does that lack make it a method? Either way, it’s something to throw together without finally-tuned spice blends, and in less-than-ideal conditions.


*If it makes it better, I don’t write in order.
**And even that’s a stretch. It’s pretty easy to make a quick sauce of broth and cream instead.

The universe “takes care of it”

There is a certain view that if we just sit back and stop worrying, the universe will take care of it. But there’s more than one meaning of “take care of it.” Sometimes, “take care of it” is what the villain says upon learning that the hero, or one of the hero’s plucky associates, is alive and well and making trouble. Turning to Henchman Number One, the villain says, “Take care of it.” And you know that the Henchman off to murder/ ambush/ kidnap/ maim someone.

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Let it not be said that the universe doesn’t look out for us, for surely it does. Sometimes like a benevolent guide, sometimes like a sadistic yet curious mad scientist.

Sometimes, that’s how the universe is too. Here’s a real life example:

Me: So I was thinking that I’d leave for work early and stop to get that computer mouse.

Universe: That’s one idea. But, ooh, how about instead the heat and hot water at your apartment stop working? And you can make a phone call about that.

Me: I hate phone calls.

Universe: Would it be better if a glass shattered on the floor right before you have to make the phone call?

Me: No, not really.

Universe: Ah, well, too late. No big deal, right?

Me: No, I suppose not. The glass broke in large pieces.

Universe: Right! Look at you, taking care of stuff like a champ.

Me: Yeah! I even still have time for lunch.

Universe: You know you have to clear off your car, right?

Me: Fine, no time for lunch. At least I have time to eat in the car.

Universe: No, now there’s blood. You have to take care of this.

Me: Blood? Where the hell is it coming from?

Universe: Your finger.

Me: Fine, I’ll put on a band-aid.

Universe: No, you can’t reach those.

Me: Well, then I’ll awkwardly wrap my finger in a napkin that I can kind of reach.

Universe: There you go. Now you can have lunch.

Me: No, I can’t. My finger is awkwardly wrapped in a napkin.

Universe: If you drive fast, you’ll have time to eat a few bites of sandwich before you walk into the building.

Me: That actually worked. You know, I’m not even in a bad mood. Despite all this.

Universe: Ok, that’s great! Now, how about you meet the person who was hired for that job you asked about all those months ago, but you didn’t follow up on it because you’re a big wimp and now you’re stuck making $10 an hour with the least flexible job in the world?

Me: Hi!

Universe: Good job. Now, how about that bad mood you mentioned earlier?

Me: Yes. I am totally depressed now.

“Checklist,” a blackout poem

What I like about blackout poetry is that it’s sort of an inverted version of pinhole cipher, where a hidden message is concealed in printed matter by pinholes under the words of the real message. I used to make pinhole ciphers on discarded newspapers in cafeterias and coffee shops, just in case someone noticed.

checklist

“Checklist. Smile smile smile smile. Imagine the lie.”

If I had nine lives, I’d use one of them to be a spy who retires and opens a coffee shop.  Preferably, the spy part would be in the early half of the twentieth century, before analogue cryptography was completely outmoded.

With blackout poetry, I can just sort of pretend that someone sent me a secret message and pick out whatever words or syllables interest me.

I didn’t have any particular plan when I did this one, but it’s clear to me that this poem explains how I deal with a lot of social niceties, particularly being asked how I’m doing when I’m not doing well, but I don’t want to say so. Smile, smile, find some sort of lie, and try not to sigh depressively.

Not that I would put on such a charade at my spy coffee shop. I like to think I foster an atmosphere of erudite grumpiness.