Excerpts from Emily Martin’s hybrid manuscript, Routine & Leisure, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.
Six core characteristics of play:
It is not obligatory.
It is separate from the routine of life, occupying its own time and space.
It is uncertain, so that the results of play cannot be pre-determined and so that the player’s initiative is involved.
It is unproductive in that it creates no wealth and ends as it begins.
It is governed by rules that suspend ordinary laws and behaviors and that must be followed by players
It involves make-believe that confirms for the players the existence of imagined realities that may be set against ‘real life’.
-Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games, 1961
Routine & Leisure
The dinosaurs were distracted. They stood in a row, watching something off screen. A comet perhaps, a single black mark against the sky. They began to shed their skins, fluorescent at first, peeling off in sheaths until they were naked, more naked than they thought could ever be possible. They looked at each other slyly and fell down, one by one, under the weight of a solitary language. “They must have lain like that for centuries,” the voice-over says, “without anyone to clean them up.”
Unobserved, three children arrange small stones, polish them smooth, bury them together. They cover the stones with tape and then unwrap them. They commune with each; they try to decide which one to become.
Pretend it’s a mountain
Pretend it’s a submarine
Pretend it’s a birthday cake
I’ll be this one, you can be this one, and you can be this one.
But I want to be that one.
Okay, you be that one, and then you can be this one.
He takes a bite, perhaps he savors it.
Images of the ocean on television: a repeated horizon opens out toward a single black mark, a whale, a body awaiting rescue. A burden in the center of the frame, still and saturated.
He sees his reflection in shapes that are dark, billowing smoke, various heaps. A skin pressing up against journalists and refugees.
The Tourist surveys the airport. She looks for the name of her destination on the monitor displaying gate numbers and boarding times of departing flights, then for a magazine stand in the terminal. She looks for a mark of the axis around which her route revolves, an orbital point, the center of gravity of a vase on a potter’s wheel. I am looking for an authentic experience, she thinks, casting knowing glances around the gate, desperate to commune.
Inside the body of the airplane, small screens are arranged in rows, receding into the horizon line at the front of the cabin. Identical figures move across each screen at varying brightnesses. Below, the shadow of the airplane undulates, wrapping itself around the foothills, the lands of low relief, the territorial palimpsests.
His skin presses up against the darkness of the carpet, a crowd of figures in suits. On the right side of the screen, the Interpreter sits in a soundproof booth, listening to the Seismologist’s speech through headphones while watching her gesticulations through the glass walls of the booth. He produces the target language simultaneously, superimposing his own voice upon the Seismologist’s, carefully applying layers of semantics and intention.
The small pavilions of the resorts congregate around bodies of water, lining the shore, shading their eyes from the sun. At night, men and women drive to the beach to perform dances with flaming ropes and batons, dances outside of tradition, for the tourists. The tourists are expecting them—it is their own tradition now—clapping and laughing, posing for photographs, turning their backs to the sea.
A row of journalists and a row of television cameras face each other, each journalist turned away from the sea, each camera framing a single figure. The journalists keep their eyes pointed in a straight line. They do not become distracted by the figures on either of their sides, or by the cameras on either side of their own.
Observational drawings of huddled bodies lie in a pile; pieces of tropical fruit are arranged for a still life.
A piece of fur is nailed to the wall; it is beautiful. He reaches out to touch it but realizes it is framed behind glass.
Children twist by the pool before the swimming lesson. They calculate the depth of the water, chanting, counting in even numbers and in rhymes. A block, a drawing of a car, four chairs in two rows. New words are invented, serve their purpose, are forgotten.
Pretend it’s a bundle of asparagus
Pretend it’s a pewter jug
Pretend it’s a platter of oysters
Pretend it’s a nautilus cup
Refugees move across each camera’s frame, watching the row of journalists, turning their backs to the movement of the plates, shading their eyes from the sun.
Small bodies of clay, rolled up into balls, rest atop one another. Glazed, fired, and glazed again, until the figures drip with glass, which collects in hardened pools at the bases.
He sits by the window. He watches several stationary lights blinking at regular but unsynchronized intervals on the horizon. He watches the phasing of the blinks converge, offer a single unified blink, and resume their own cycles. He repeats a single word aloud until it loses its meaning. He records several measurements in a notebook.
The Tourist walks through narrow passages along the perimeter of the prayer hall. She looks in toward the center of the hall through carved marble screens on the inner sides of the passages.
“If you would like a closer view—” a guard says, directing her gaze upward to a monitor displaying a silent live stream of the worshippers arranged in rows in the center of the hall. The Tourist looks at the monitor until her muscles begin to ache. She walks toward the exit.
He sits in the chair by the window until he is no longer comfortable. He shifts his weight. He sits comfortably again until his muscles begin to ache. He gets up and moves to another chair.
Footage of a single journalist standing in front of a beached whale plays on the television. Gases build and froth inside the bloated body of the whale, inflating the mound of weakening skin. His reflection, nearly opaque, stretches a membrane around the dark shape in an attempt to hold the rotting body together.
The fur is pressing up against the glass.
Three bodies rest against each other, supporting each other’s weight, on the left side of the screen. The body furthest to the left extracts itself from the formation; the remaining two bodies shift their weight almost imperceptibly, in order to remain in the same position. The single body circles the two joined bodies, and comes to rest again with them, on the right side. All three bodies shift their weight, noticeably this time, to support each other in a new position. The cycle is repeated, each body on the left side of the formation extracting, circling, rejoining, shifting, and in this sequence the three bodies braid themselves across the screen.
Discarded oilcloth tarps printed with advertisements for brands of milk and cell phone service providers are hung above stands selling soup, flowers, or pieces of fruit, to provide shade from the sun.
The Tourist records a video of a parade moving through the town on her camera.
He watches a ritual broadcast on television; his skin presses up against vines painted to look like bungee cords and dark bodies falling from the sky.
Billowing smoke, women with purses, eyes rolling. Witnessing the functions of the earth, they spray spittle onto the beach in an attempt to keep the grains of sand in place. Measuring the length of an illness, unraveling the skein.
He lies on the floor. He reaches for several items and places them on his chest in a small heap. They rise and fall with his breathing. The items on the outer edges of the heap slide away from the center of his chest as it moves. One item falls off of his chest. A second item falls off of his chest. He records several measurements in the notebook.
The Tourist sees two children she recorded earlier in the day. She approaches them, offering the screen of her camera.
“Would you like to see a video of the parade you were in this morning?”
The children watch themselves move through the town on the camera’s screen. They begin to reenact the parade, clapping and singing along with the video, marching in tight circles. The Tourist records the sounds they make.
He rolls pieces of tape into rings with the sticky side facing outward. He sticks these to the bottoms of cereal boxes and secures the boxes to the shelves in his kitchen.
Figures move across the screen; mountains crawl with bodies. He rewatches the broadcast recorded on videotape, pausing at regular intervals to examine the scene and render the still life.
Pretend it’s a stack of wafers
Pretend it’s a mirrored tray
Pretend it’s a book of hours
Pretend it’s a porcelain plate
In the museum, embalmed skeletons in sealed vitrines are displayed in rows, forming a central aisle through the archaeological wing. Thin sheets of rock painted with reproductions of the designs found in nearby caves are grafted onto the walls of the galleries.
The Tourist edits the audio track of the parade video. She removes the noise of the town and inserts the clapping and singing of the children’s reenactment.
Bodies twisting in the park engrave tracks in the ground. They follow directions, making dough for bread and letting it rise, kneading it, letting it rise a second time. Braiding the dough, brushing the dough with egg white, forming a mound. Put the tooth in a glass of milk to keep its root alive. Trace the footprints of the herd back toward the beginning of the hunt.
I want to be the big sister.
Okay, you be the big sister, I’ll be the teenager, and you can be the baby.
Yeah I’m the baby, and pretend this is our house and we have to get ready to go to the ball.
Women selling strings of carnations surround the temple’s compound. The Tourist moves through the palisade and across the courtyard. Inside, she sees a presentation of objects on a low table: a bowl of wax, a dark porcelain vase, a statue wrapped in plastic, clay figurines coated in layers of glaze. She takes several photographs.
He arranges two piles, one of silks from an ear of corn, one of stones varying in size. He wraps a single corn silk around one of the smaller stones. He ties a knot without pulling the ends too tight. He wraps another corn silk around another small stone and ties a tighter knot. Some silks have dry brown ends, and these he wraps around the larger stones, leaving the shriveled end hanging loose. At each end of the longest silks, he ties a stone with a single knot, making sure that the stones at both ends of each silk are of similar size. These he drapes over a long nail protruding from the wall. The weight of the stones pulls at the silk slowly, until the knots begin to unwind. He calculates the rate of the unwinding and records these figures in the notebook.
The children run in a circle around a tower of blocks.
Pretend this is the stage and we’re about to put on a show.
The Tourist directs her gaze toward the mountain. She wonders, for how much longer will I gaze at the mountain? She takes several photographs. She turns away.
Mothers rest on flat stones. They pass the time before the crucifixions of their children, before the outcome of a surgical procedure is known, before the plates begin to move. They cover the stones with tape; they tie strips of silk around the wide bodies of the stones in an attempt to hold them together.
As the Tourist ascends toward the summit of the mountain, she encounters a group of circumambulating pilgrims crowded around a blazing thing. She sees the backs of their craning necks and the glowing screens of their cameras and cell phones held high in the air. She cannot see what they are taking pictures of. She tries to watch through one of the screens, but it is moving unsteadily. She raises her own camera above her head, angled toward the thing at the front of the crowd, but her lens does not reach far enough. She leaves the group and continues upward.
A chain of braided corn silks, an instinct to home, a string of carnations wrapped around a thing of stone.
His fingernails break as he picks apart the videotape. An attempt to calculate the return journey of the pilgrim, the coordinates of the mark, the shape of the shadow.
A group of tourists stands at the top of the mountain. Their gazes are cast below in sheaths, swaddling fields of monuments encrusted in imaginaries, key chains, magnets wrapped in plastic, tiny ceramic plates. Films that feature the various monuments, or similarly shaped monuments, are projected onto the crusts of paraphernalia, such that photographs taken at the site appear to be mottled film stills wrapped around the angles and bulges of the marble and bronze bodies.
She stands several feet from the group, turning her back to the centuries-old bodies. She arranges the landscape spread below her on the screen of her camera. She gives the arrangement her own name. She takes several photographs from a single position, afraid that movement to the left or right will dislodge her footing.
Bodies crawl across the screen. Bark slides down the trunks of the plane trees, gathering in folds at joints in the branches and just above the ground. Experiments deprive infants of human interaction in an attempt to observe the emergence of an autonomous natural language.
Pretend it’s exotic
Pretend it’s a cracked egg
Pretend it’s nostalgic
Pretend it’s a bowl of figs
Pretend it’s a plate of artichokes
Pretend it’s a ritual
Pretend it’s an astronomical instrument
Pretend it’s traditional
Prostrate on the floor of her hotel room, the Tourist arranges her souvenirs in a row. She takes a photograph. She turns away.
The distended balloon of decomposed skin bursts. He sees pieces of his reflection splattered on dark chunks of blubber and meat flying through the air. Flecks of whale press up against the lens of the camera and the screen of the television.
The unraveled reel of magnetic tape wrenches megaliths from their mounds, kindly enclyning, trailing wakes of torn earth and splayed wrack.
The cereal boxes fall from the shelves. A dark porcelain vase patterned with small pavilions and turtles on rocks breaks against the floor.
An aerial shot of the airport, a horizon repeated across a split screen, still frames taken from the Seismologist’s animated model of the sea floor sliding away from the ridge. A single black mark blinks along the transform fault. Cranes circle above crumbling palisades and condominiums.
The Tourist looks at a low wall of the ruin. She sees the wall begin to crumble. She feels the weight of the camera in her bag. She watches the crumbling.
Pretend it’s a mountain
Pretend it’s an earthquake
Pretend the whole world is cut up into a million pieces
Swarming at the edges of frayed rock above the hot walls of the earth, journalists climb on top of one another in an attempt to catch the photographs thrown up out of the fault. They lay the photographs flat on cooling faces of exposed crystal; they line the edges with small stones, polished smooth, weighing down the corners to keep the prints from curling up.
He picks up the pieces of the broken vase and arranges them until they are whole again. He begins to cover them with tape. He wraps the tape around the vase in layers until the pattern becomes unclear.
He holds the hollow bulb of the vase to his face and inhales its center of gravity. He allows his body to orbit this breath before exhaling into the vase. He leaves his breath in the bulb for a moment, until it leaks through the layers of tape.
The journalists and the refugees regard each other, shading their eyes from the sun, congregating around bodies of water. Communing, forming a pidgin language, teaching it to children.
Pretend it’s primordial
Pretend it’s a vacation
Pretend it’s a reenactment
Pretend it’s a parade
Polished stones and tiny plastic things, molded dregs of production, forgotten pieces of stalagmitic machinery, central axes of a seemingly infinite number of orbits lie in intact piles under tarps on the side of the road.
She picks up one of the things. She communes with the thing. She tries to become the thing for a moment. She lays the thing down and begins to cover it with tape.
Pretend it’s a beached whale exploding on the coast.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily Martin is a writer and teacher raised and living in Brooklyn, New York.
Routine & Leisure concerns itself with the space between the symbolic order and the real, the veil of daily routine and the desire to peel back the layers of routine, to slice through the veil, in order to see something further: the ‘authentic experience’. It concerns itself with the burden of filling up a day, with the ways that people spend their time, why they move through the world, and why they stand still. What constitutes a meaningful life for an individual and what violence is caused by that search for meaning?
I am interested in symbolic play in the context of early childhood education, and in global tourism as events inhabiting a space outside of everyday routine yet failing to reach a space unmarred by codes and layers of mediation. Play (Pretend it’s a mountain / Pretend it’s a submarine / Pretend it’s a birthday cake) occurs in its own space outside of ‘real life’ and follows its own rules that exist only for the players. However, symbolic play is the foundation for language acquisition, representational thought, and thus, indoctrination into the symbolic order.
An economy of tourism employs the rhetoric of escapism, inspiration, and authenticity, however in the context of global cultural imperialism and capitalism, the Tourist succeeds only in applying new mediating layers between herself and the real: layers of screens, documentations, colonial encounters, languages and translations.