On Work and Play

      Each chapter so far has opened with some event in the life of one of my cohorts. Let me open this chapter with an event which did NOT happen. Since the traditional retirement age is 65, me and my cohorts should have retired with the century in the year 2000. Most people of my generation spend most of their lives working for some organisation. They are allowed some spare time for themselves at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the year, at the end of their lives. They are so exhausted at the end of their lives that they look eagerly forward to retirement at 65 so that they can spend their last few precious years hitting a ball into a hole with a stick. I whimsically imagined having a retirement party for all of us at the Willow Inn here in Hudson, Quebec.

      No member of my karass, as far as I can tell, retired at 65. Indeed, many of them have done their most important work since then. Apart from Elvis Presley, always an innovator, who had taken early retirement, I found that they were all busy.1 Elvis was decomposing but most of his musical cohorts were still composing. Woody Allen was writing and directing a film a year - one of his best films, Match Point, which demonstrated that he was not stuck in New York City. E. Annie Proulx was writing a prize-winning novel, That Old Ace in the Hole, and the screen play of Brokenback Mountain based on one of her short stories. Christo and Jeanne-Claude were working on their biggest project yet in Central Park.

      In 2000, Small Time Crooks, written and directed by Woody Allen, was released. He has followed this with a film a year - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), Hollywood Ending (2002), Anything Else (2003), Melinda and Melinda (2004), Match Point (2005), and Scoop (2006).

      On 10 March 2000, the Dalai Lama published his important statement on the 41st Anniversary of Tibetian National Uprising Day, On 26 April 2000, he published a report on Environmental and Development Issues from his Tibetian Government in Exile headquarters in Dharmasala, on 3 July 2000, he delivered a major speech on the National Mall in Washington, and another on his visit to the Dzogchen Monastery. He has continued at this pace in the intervening 6 years.

      On 10 February 2000, E. Annie Proulx released a collection of short stories called Close Range: Wyoming Stories. She has since followed this with a sequel Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 (2004) and a novel - That Old Ace in the Hole (2002). The last story in the first collection - Brokeback Mountain - has become an award-winning film under the same name (2005). She has written a book about the process of transforming a story into a film with Larry McMurty who wrote the screenplay. She didn't start writing till she was in her 50s and thus must have to make up for lost time.

      Christo and Jeanne-Claude have built 7500 gates over 23 miles in Central Park and are fighting bureaucrats to be allowed to build a 7-mile roof over the Arkansas River in Colorado. On 12 July 2000, Ronnie Hawkins released Rock and Roll Resurrection, and has since released many more. Luciano Pavoratti continues to perform despite a number of farewell tours. David Lodge has done some of his best writing since 2000. Edward Said did some of his best scholarly work right up to his untimely death in 2003. No doubt General Gnassingbé Eyadema was still busy feeding his rivals to crocodiles right up to HIS timely death in 2005.

      In The Three Boxes of Life, Richard Bolles suggests that we typically lead our lives in three boxes - the childhood box, in which we spend most of our time learning; the adult box, in which we spend most of our time working; and the retirement box, in which we spend most of our time playing [BOLLES]. His book is subtitled And How to Get Out of Them, since it is mainly devoted to strategies for acquiring a better balance between learning, working, and playing throughout our lives.

      We tend to have three sets of space boxes corresponding to this set of three time boxes. Learning is done in the school box, working in the office and factory boxes, and playing in the home box. Those sharp lines between the activities in the various traditional institutions may become blurred. Perhaps, for example, the home may be a place where one learns and works as well as plays. Perhaps, too, electronic technology may be a means of escape from the three boxes of life - one can attain a better balance of work, play and learning throughout one's life. The possibility of living in an electronic cottage, where learning and playing and working (which had been sub-contracted out to contractual relationships) could once again take place within the home. This hope is represented visually in Figure 4.

      The significant number in all of this is 2000. That is the year when the members of my karass - born in 1935 - reached the traditional retirement age of 65. Most of us, after years of unsatisfying work, are delighted to stop working and start playing. What is the Extra which differentiates those people from the Ordinary? They have got interested - nay, obsessed - with something and doing it IS no longer working but playing. They have no need to stop working and start playing - they have been playing for most of their lives. Most of my karass are following their interests. They are doing their own thing. They can no longer tell whether they are working, playing, or learning. It seems they are working-playing-learning (woplling) most of the time.2

      During the 1970s, I was author-in-residence at Brooks/Cole Publishing Company in Monterey, California. My Summers were spent in Canada and my Winters in California. I had the same migratory pattern as the Canadian goose. They were freer than me - they ignored the border entirely. I had to stop at Customs and Immigration to have the following conversation:

Where are you going?
To California.
For how long?
The Winter.
How will you support yourself?
My publisher will give me money.
They can't do that.
Why not?
It will deprive an American of a job.
They can't hire an American to write my books.
Good point - have a good Winter!
That is one of the advantages of doing your own thing.

      J. J. Gibson, a professor at Cornell University while I was a graduate student there, was the most important influence on my scholarly life. I never understood what he was talking about. But he was very excited about something, whatever it was, and I wanted in on that excitement. While I was teaching at UC Santa Cruz, we got a notice that J. J. was coming to give a talk. One graduate student said "Shouldn't he be retired by now?" The vision of J. J. switching off thinking at 65 and devoting his last few precious years to hitting a ball into a hole with a stick is preposterous. That graduate student is not going far - he is unclear on the concept.

      My meeting with Oliver Carmichael set me off on an upward spiral. I took courses in psychology because I was interested. Interest led to competence which led to more interest which led to more competence. Thus I was rescued from the standard life of most of the members of my depression generation. Our parents, horrified by the devastating experience of lacking money in the depression, consciously or unconsciously, taught us the supreme value of a steady job with a good income. I remember seeing a well-dressed elderly man asking a question of a young man passing by. For a moment, I thought he had said: Say, brother, can you spare some time? He had devoted his (life) time to making money and had found himself still with a lot of money but running out of time. If you have money left over when you die, you have miscalculated; if you have a lot of money, then you have really screwed up!

      In an five-year project on development in developing countires for the United Nations University, my colleagues at GAMMA and 1 used the concept of Quality of Life (QOL) as a measure of development. We were criticized by more traditional scholars for not using the precise, measurable index - Gross National Product (GNP). We found a psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who was measuring what could be called quality of time [CSIKSZENTMIHALYI]. He called his subjects, who had been given pagers, at random intervals and asked them "What are you doing? How are you feeling?" The feeling scale ranged from 1 (agony) to 9 (ecstacy). By multiplying this index for each activity with the time spent on those activities, he got an index of the quality of their time. Since life is just so much time, then he had a measure of the quality of life. QOL is a better index of the success of an individual, as of a society, than GNP.

Return to the Table of Contents       Continue to Chapter 10.1

1   By the way, the early retirement of Elvis Presley turned out to be a good career move. His career was careening down-hill when he died, but it got a great boost on his death.
2   Woplling - a state in which one can no longer tell whether they are working, playing, or learning - is my candidate for inclusion in Webster;s Dictionary. So keep on using the term and keep on woplling!