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https://www.flickr.com/photos/marc-flores/ Marc Flores

Reclaiming Recreation

This ‘Fun in the Sun’ series started in a garden (http://us14.campaign-archive2.com/?u=2bcb7588e60b55d3de7f33b21&id=2f979e68d9) , of sorts (my backyard), and to wrap it up with some symmetry we are going to conclude in another garden, of sorts (a beer garden, of course). That first truly warm day is a magical time in the new year for a Northeast city. It doesn’t matter that we have left January several months ago, a new summer is about to happen (https://youtu.be/ZPS3qLtaFtw) and that, for many of us, is the effective new year. That warm day, made even more wonderful should it fall on a weekend, is fantastic for the abundance of energy and skin seen everywhere. The new warmth hints at new beginnings and new promise. The older heads may be more skeptical about the lyrical embellishment but even most of them will be in a better mood nonetheless. With the warmth comes longer days and the combination makes it seem as if you are recovering a part of your life that’s been hiding from view or hibernating, waiting for the right opportunity.

As with the new there is also the old. This is a call for reclamation. Time to reconnect some friendships. What better excuse than a pint after work to catch up over and have a conversation? With just a little bit of timing you should be able to grab the final rays of light while downing a beer and having a talk. As for grabbing a seat you’ll need luck to partner with the timing. There is a lot of latent desire for a drink alfresco, by no means an original idea, so seats might be at a premium. Enjoy the surrounding energy in that case.

So much of life is ascribed to survival (in the weak sense but still applicable) and getting by. There is the sleep, the work, the commute, the daily hygiene, shopping, working out, and then what’s left? Just a small daily sliver that we too often cavalierly throw away on distractions, small addictive screens and other junk trivialities. Reclaim these moments too, this small space, before you reset and do it all over again tomorrow. Far from it being a disheartening thought, keep in mind the idea that these small slivers add up over time and that through the stringing of many days they sum to a significant endowment. For a depressing example look at the amount of television people rack up.

Start painting, reading, dancing, walking your city, learning to code, write, get a pet, meditate, volunteer. Whatever, just do something good for yourself and those around you. Few things can recharge you better than spending time with those you care about. Family, friends and furry companions, each of them grounds you and helps you appreciate what the hell you’re doing all this for, the moments you can call your own, usually best spent with other people. The inviting weather, the bright skies, the open air seating, the cold pint and the warm companionship of a friend in conversation. There are far worse ways of distracting yourself and few better for feeding your soul.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/peyri/ Peyri Herrera

Now headed to the bar in earnest I am looking forward to sitting down and unwinding. The first pint will be all about that, just exhaling a bit from the day. It is the second pint I look forward to most. After exchanging pleasantries and going through the menu of options, selecting a beer and doing some quick catching up… With the second pint we begin getting into topics a bit more, we begin having a more meaningful conversation beyond the pleasantries, which are nice and have their place. There’s rarely any prep that goes into these meet ups and yet we always manage to cover one subject after another, from the trivial to the substantive and back again. Always back again. We share the things we have read, the ideas we have come across and while I cannot deny a fair amount of confirmation bias in the views we express I am especially delighted by the issues we disagree on.

These areas of agreement, these moments of confirmation bias, are not all bad and not all good either. As long as they can be identified more often than not then you allow yourself the opportunity to do something about them, including the decision to do nothing at all and simply continuing right on with the conversation. Naturally, you cannot stop at each point and go off on one tangent after another. That would risk running your informal talk into a winding maze reminiscent of an Escher drawing or the verbal equivalent of a David Foster Wallace novel. You might get so lost within the labyrinth of your own thoughts and the thoughts spawned by those thoughts you give Jorge Luis Borges vertigo. Not likely but headed in that direction nonetheless. No, you don’t go chasing down every rabbit hole.

However, you could “put a pin” in some of these assumptions and, having several, identify a common group or theme. It is at this point that things can get interesting. Taking these “agreed upon” items or collection of assumptions start questioning their solidity, their foundation. Even in speaking with someone you are in total agreement with on a topic you might find differences of opinion on your reasons for holding the same position, just under the surface. Why is that? Was this taught, learned from the environment, a product of schooling, influences from books, movies, friends? What if you believed the opposite, or mostly the same thing with one detail altered? How would that change your perspective and lead you to behave? Now we’re talking.

Many times I find myself fumbling for the right words to more fully express my point and push the meaning of my argument and then I am happier than ever. I’ve hit upon something, a topic, that I have a position on, I can understand it within my head, but my inability to make myself equally well understood verbally signals that more thinking is required. The best part of the conversation is having these moments to think out loud. I am fortunate to be in the company of someone who understands me well and grants me the leeway to bumble my way around the point, never holding against me the circuitous approach. That is when a pint is at its best, when it occasions the getting together of friends and strangers and promotes an opportunity for communication and open discussion. A pint also has a natural pacing to its consumption that helps set up a more human rhythm than the go-go approach of our digital lives…

A pint can be like a conversation in the taking down of it in bits, the contemplation, the appreciation, the movement of ideas and expressiveness fostered. Not all beers are created the same and that goes doubly for conversation. Further, there is no guarantee the quality of the beer will transfer over to to the conversation people are having but they can each positively influence one another, making each better together than they might have been apart. This is not to suggest this is the only way, but still a wonderful symbiosis: one liquid and the other effectively mental.

Let’s not make more of a pint than it already is. It is only a beer after all. An alcoholic beverage, just another opiate for the masses. It keeps people amused, distracted and dazed. These are all true and the darker side of a wonderful drink we need to acknowledge so as not to become complacent. However, a pint is also a very human, even civilized way, to socialize. Beer has been with us as long as civilization has, probably pre-dating history in one form or another and can be painted as a rival to wheat for the cause of our settling down, building permanent residences and developing agriculture beyond the picking of hunter gatherers. In that sense it has been with us from “the beginning”. It is a social element and a powerfully binding one (when done right?!).

Life is chaotic and unstructured. We avoid this truth because it gives us reassurance. Our ability to explain things, or attempt to, provides the grounding and structure from which to build… What conversation helps build is a worldview with another, to create together, to develop the one thing that can provide reassurance, namely community.

Conversation and a pint are natural bedfellows. They parallel one another and complement each other well. A good conversation is marked by a give-and-take of ideas where participants hear each other out and take into consideration what the others are saying. Listening is the key here, not simply the act of waiting patiently for your turn to speak. While the outwardly demeanor is appreciated it will not take long for your fellow co-conspirators to realize that below the surface you are not in fact paying attention. And there it is, paying attention, being present in the moment, and taking into account the ideas being shared. A pint can assist in this…

First, there is the natural break in conversation that calls for a sip. This can refresh and re-energize the participants. It also allows for a moment of introspection. While your mind takes in what it has heard your nose and sense of taste are also revived. A sip allows for an intermission; it allows for introspection; it provides an object of attention; it lubricates the mind and tongue. It allows for a habituation of tempo.

A pint, in today’s world is superior to conversation in one fundamental way. You cannot upload the experience of a pint, you have to be present to enjoy it. As such, it is a great piece of bait to use on someone in getting them to come out and meet. You can have a conversation in many ways, many mediums. Before cell phones people actually used their phones for talking with one another. Now that has been cut down to texts, tweets, and emails. These are pseudo-conversations. Helpful for exchanging information and making plans. The real thing is much richer, more varied, and messy. The act of conversation helps to reveal and uncover things rattling around in your head. Writing is great for this as well and having a pint is not far behind. The pint helps lower inhibitions a bit, helps put the executive function of the prefrontal cortex on chill.

So use a pint to jujitsu someone into meeting in person, spending time together, out of doors when the weather permits and, I think with increasing importance in our time, unplugged. All that messaging and coordinating was being done so that you could enjoy moments like these. So enjoy them. While you may feel a bit awkward at first not having your digital crutch by your side, stepping out of the machine zone (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/the-machine-zone-this-is-where-you-go-when-you-just-cant-stop-looking-at-pictures-on-facebook/278185/) , you should also realize that you are retraining aspects of being a human being.

There are many challenges and many distractions, we will routinely fall short of our aspirations. Accept this and embrace it. Perfect execution is not nearly as important as doing the practice itself. The conversation you are participating in is a reaffirmation of your values, as are the conversations you are not having. Remember, that at each moment you are choosing and molding the person you are (becoming).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aturkus/ aturkus

We say one more beer before calling it quits but not here. The other spot is a ten minute walk away and worth the extra effort. Besides, the day is still with us, the sunlight bouncing off the building and windows. At least that’s what we tell each other. When we hit the street and head out the streets seem more lit by the streetlights than the setting summer sun. The crowding out of our sky by buildings exaggerating the effect.

We had been talking about some book he just finished, another pop sociology title about what is playing in our primate brains in this modern world. The talk returns to primate minds in concrete jungles, leaving the content of the book aside. I go over familiar terrain, being in wonder over what we have while at the same time unable to appreciate it. Additionally, the glacial speed and repetitive themes of non-technical advancement, fields that might do as much, if not more, at improving our quality of life than the technological wizardry we are all wrapped up in. We are on the right side of the elbow when it comes to the economic growth chart, in both senses, but this heady position is as much uncharted territory as reason for celebration…

After parting, whether at the bar, further down the street, or at a subway stop I like to walk a bit alone in silence. The words and energy still ringing and enveloping me. This may be a small expression of denial but even more so these quiet moments are an opportunity to appreciate what just transpired and how fortunate I am. Many things are taken for granted, it’s just our nature, but when you can momentarily snap yourself out of this default and appreciate what you have you are doubly blessed, at least: once by the good fortune and a second time by your disposition and outlook.

Among the promises of warm days is one about them not lasting. Parting ways is an immediate reminder of this sorrowful thought. While in the moment time takes a back seat to the talk. Topics touched upon, piqued interest, and vacillating enthusiasm are the markers of progression when engrossed in a conversation with a true fired. The slivers of time all of a sudden don’t feel so stifling. The open air removing the familiar restrictions of space as well. Within a matter of minutes you have fallen back into step with each other as if no time has passed at all.

On the other side of these conversations we more easily see how tightly these moments of levity are compartmentalized among the numerous obligations that crowd our attention. It is probably this view, as much as anything else, that helps rationalize the way we try to squeeze more things into our week, days, hours. We seek efficiency so as to gain time, but far too often get caught on a treadmill that requires us to run faster just to stay in place. Efficiency is fine conceptually but to what end and for whose benefit? There’s always more to do, read, watch, learn about. Work itself has a devious way of filling up time (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_law) .

In a world of so much stimulus the real strength comes from saying “no” and creating borders, brackets and compartments of your own choosing, not those pressed upon you. Here is where a pivot to being effective seems natural but beyond having just mentioned it I will not bother. There’s just a little bit of time left before my train arrives and I think I have said enough. Perhaps I have spoken too much. It is time to kick back and let it all float: my thoughts, worries, a sense of time. Whatever…