Reading Notes #2

Infinite play resounds with laughter

“When I think about creativity, it is always in relation to a foundation. We have our knowledge. It becomes deeply internalized until we can access it without thinking about it. Then we have a leap that uses what we know to go one or two steps further. We make a discovery. Most people stop here…

…we cannot calculate our important contests, adventures, and great loves to the end. The only thing we can really count on is getting surprised. No matter how much preparation we do, in the real tests of our lives, we’ll be in unfamiliar terrain.”



I don’t use many exclamation points. Kind of frowned upon in the whole techy-writing-SaaS world. You gotta be Serious if you are Making A Tech Thing that will definitely, no question, Change the World. None of those frivolous punctuation marks with their glamour and pizzazz. No sentences containing the word pizzazz. I kind of understand that last one.

News is maybe too generous of a heading.

News in my world:

  • The library is shutting down for an indetermined length of time for a major overhaul/remodel. That’s cool, except for the part that I work at the library 3 days out of the week. Guess it’s time to start that coworking space I keep talking about.

  • HALLOWEEN HAPPENED. We survived the chaotic trick-or-treating experience. Is that news? I don’t know. I feel like it’s significant.

  • That’s really all I have for you.


A few important reminders for myself or anyone like me:

  1. You can learn what you need to learn when you need to learn it.

  2. Nothing is wasted.

  3. You can’t go backward.

  4. You do not want to do all the things. You want to do some of the things. You want to do them so bad, in fact, that they scare the shit out of you, so you avoid doing them by trying to do all the other things. This is called procrastination and it’s a waste of your time. Go ahead and fail at the things you really want to do. You’ll learn how to do them better, next time around. See #2.

  5. You’d rather spend more time and effort on something you enjoy than get more results faster on something you don’t enjoy. Because the process is the outcome. If you depend on the outcome of a particular process, then you’re locked into that process. Exceptions are possible. Sometimes you can buy your way out, but that tends to be a trap.

  6. More people care about you than you realize. And they’re willing to do things – extraordinary things – to help you and support you when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t hide behind your barriers of privacy or independence or self-sufficiency. None of us are self-sufficient. Autonomy is a lie. We depend on each other, we create communities, and those communities sustain us… Or, if we refuse to take part in them, we wither, slowly but surely. Don’t try to be a lone wolf, don’t pretend that you always have to be the hero. Those are self-defensive reactions built on fear and ego mythology. Let ‘em go. Say, “I could use some help, and here’s how.” See what happens.

  7. 80% of the stuff you spend time on isn’t important. If you only had electricity for two hours a day, how would you use that time? If you could only access the Internet once or twice a week, what would you do? The few things that pop up as your top priorities – the items you would accomplish in your limited accessibility – that’s your 20%. That’s your Most Important Things list. That’s what you pay attention to, that’s what you give time to, and you let the rest slide off. It’s a distraction.

  8. You tend to overestimate yourself in some areas and underestimate yourself in others. It’s difficult to get a good, objective view of what you’re capable of. That’s okay. Go ahead and try whatever it is you want to try. Be open to your own potential. Maybe you can do more than you think. Maybe you need more help than you think. Maybe both.

  9. There’s enough time in each day for the work of each day, if you don’t pressure yourself into trying to do things that seem important but aren’t, really.

  10. You only need to know the next step.

  11. You can step out of roles, obligations, or commitments that don’t work for you. Very few things are meant to last forever. Maybe you’ve already passed a good endpoint and you didn’t recognize it, and that’s why you’re so tired now.

  12. What’s in your head matters more than anything else.

  13. Getting up early is good.

  14. Solitude is important. Get some everyday. You’re cranky if you don’t.

  15. Your brain works a lot better when you free it from distractions and short-term urgencies. News, internet randomness, social media, dinging emails, irrelevant urgent now now now now now items flooding in. Control the inputs.

  16. You don’t have to force yourself into anything. Say no. Say not now. Say never. Say let me think about it. Say no thanks. Wait until you’re sure, until you can say Yes with an open-hearted joy (there may still be fear in it, that’s okay), or don’t say Yes at all.

  17. Without fail, what you ask for will show up for you. You may not recognize it. It might come in a weird, unexpected way. Try to be open.

  18. Every possible scenario in this growth of life is good and acceptable and beautiful. There is no wrong way to go about it. Judge not anyone you encounter, but most of all, judge not yourself. You are doing fine.


I finished it and immediately started reading it again.

“It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play, cannot play.”

I don’t know what else to say. It makes my brain hurt a little bit, but in a good way? Is that a thing? Yes. That is a thing. It is stunning.

“Infinite players cannot say when their game began, nor do they care. They do not care for the reason that their game is not bounded by time. Indeed, the only purpose of the game is to prevent it from coming to an end, to keep everyone in play.”

It’s another case of the absolute right book at the absolute right time, so maybe it’s not the right time and you’ll look at it and think, Meh, but maybe it is the right time for you, so at least give it a try.

Because it is fucking amazing.

“Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.”

If you have too many books on your to-read stack, you can podcast-read it instead. There are a few lengthy discussions/summarizations of the book: here’s one from Made You Think and here’s one from Stuff to Blow Your Mind (who names these podcasts?) and here’s an interview with author James Carse.

“At which point do we confront the fact that we live one life and perform another, or others, attempting to make our momentary forgetting true and lasting forgetting? What makes this an issue is not the morality of masking ourselves. It is rather that self-veiling is a contradictory act—a free suspension of our freedom. I cannot forget that I have forgotten.”

The idea of wearing masks, or playing roles, is one that keeps coming up for me. Must be something I need to learn here.

Jung mentions that the individuated person can step in and out of roles at will.

Carse echoes with the statement that finite play isn’t possible without “self-veiling” of some kind, which means stepping into a role, performing, acting a part, wearing a mask in one sense or another:

“The issue here is not whether self-veiling can be avoided, or even should be avoided. Indeed, no finite play is possible without it. The issue is whether we are ever willing to drop the veil and openly acknowledge, if only to ourselves, that we have freely chosen to face the world through a mask.”

There’s a naïve view that says, “Let’s all be perfectly honest and completely real all the time with each other and drop all the masks and the roles.”

Perhaps that’s the ultimate goal, but getting there is a process. Getting there requires first being completely honest with ourselves, and that’s not easy. There’s no deception like self-deception.

“…all the limitations of finite play are self-limitations.”

The important distinction between infinite players and finite players is not that finite players wear masks, and infinite players do not. Rather, it’s that infinite players realize consciously what they are doing; they don’t take it seriously.

“Since finite games can be played within an infinite game, infinite players do not eschew the performed roles of finite play. On the contrary, they enter into finite games with all the appropriate energy and self-veiling, but they do so without the seriousness of finite players. They embrace the abstractness of finite games as abstractness, and therefore take them up not seriously, but playfully.”

Finite players, on the other hand, forget that the role is a role, that the mask is not the face behind the mask. They get lost in the parts they play. They forget that they can unmask, that they can step out of any role, or change it at will. They forget that their identity, or self, is not contained in a role but that a role is simply a way to play with other selves.

“We are playful when we engage others at the level of choice, when there is no telling in advance where our relationship with them will come out—when, in fact, no one has an outcome to be imposed on the relationship, apart from the decision to continue it.”

Carse extends these basic concepts of finite and infinite play into all the big areas of life, and that’s where it gets really interesting. Relationships, politics, economics, property, patriotism, sexuality, health, all these games we play with ourselves and each other: understanding them in terms of finite and infinite play is eye-opening.

There’s a path here towards that ideal of openness, honesty, realness. I like how Carse describes openness as vulnerability, as an ongoing process of growth and play with others. It’s not about rejecting privacy. It does not require unrestrained emotional vomiting or masochistic exposure.

“Because infinite players prepare themselves to be surprised by the future, they play in complete openness. It is not an openness as in candor, but an openness as in vulnerability. It is not a matter of exposing one’s unchanging identity, the true self that has always been, but a way of exposing one’s ceaseless growth, the dynamic self that has yet to be.”

It is about getting to your own core, and then operating from that core. It’s about seeing that the limitations of finite play (thus: any system, any role, any mask) are all self-limitations. Then choosing freely how to play with those limitations, put on and off those masks, step in and out of the roles, and use those games as opportunities—not to win, not to defeat, not to manipulate or control or hide or deceive, but to play.

“To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence. The finite play for life is serious; the infinite play of life is joyous.

Infinite play resounds throughout with a kind of laughter.

It is laughter with others with whom we have discovered that the end we thought we were coming to has unexpectedly opened. We laugh not at what has surprisingly come to be impossible for others, but over what has surprisingly come to be possible with others.”


Journey Through Grief Without Losing Yourself: I was pregnant with my second child when we buried Mom. I visited all three boutiques in my hometown, shopping for a black maternity dress. I felt strong, almost stoic, through the entire service. The songs, the eulogy, the procession, the graveside prayers. Then it was time to place a rose on her casket and walk away. My whole body began trembling.

  • Alternate title for the above: You Want Emotions? I GOT EMOTIONS!

Action Over Perfection: So here is a cool thing that happened. I wrote this little post some time ago. Then Adam Holownia, founder of Eudaimonia, wanted to make an animation out of it. So he did. Here it is:

It’s super fun to see my words put into a new creative output. Partnerships and collaboration and community and cooperation — these things are great. They make us more than we are.

So here’s a weekend challenge for all of us. Pick one or two or none. Have fun.

  • Play with the limitations. Take the masks on and off. Step in and out of roles.

  • Find a partnership or start a collaboration.

  • Think about what you want from relationships and community. What do you want to give? What do you want to receive? Define it for yourself, and be deliberate about offering and accepting only what you want. Let the other stuff pass by. It’s not for you; it’s for someone else.

  • Tell somebody something real. Peel off a layer. See what happens.

  • Tell somebody you like them for who they are. Look them in the eyes. Mean it. We all need to know that who we are is good, is enough, is fucking amazing.

  • Tell yourself the same. Look in the mirror. Do it for real. Do it over and over.

  • Dig dig dig dig dig dig dig to the core. I think we have to keep doing this. I think we can probably get better at helping each other do this. I think that’s worth thinking about.