“Every Rule”

Not so very long ago, before the cold and wet, I had occasion to play foursquare with a group of elementary school kids. It got competitive and wildly hilarious both. Rallies were sometimes long with dramatic saves and shots. I began to play for real, and our collective energy intensified. We taunted each other and did spins and slams and low shots that couldn’t be gotten.

Now, you may not know it, but these days each time you end up the server in a game of foursquare, you get to set the rules for that round. It could be basic rules, no additions or subtractions. Or you might allow double hits, or serving outside the box (“birdie out of the cage”), or “bus stops,” “back stops,” and the list can go on and on.

One of the kids was new to me and had moved to the states from another country some time ago. I had a sense that he might feel a little bit the outsider, though we all got along great. I liked him; he had moxie. He introduced us to a new notion when he got to the server’s box. He called it “every rule.” It’s a little hard to define “every rule.” In practice it meant every player could try any move at any point, and could try its opposite too. “No” did not exist. Some players liked trying this and kept calling for “every rule” when serving. Others were disgusted by the chaos it created and tried to reign us back to sanity.

But by that time a mania had taken hold and we found ourselves in the thrill and hilarity of breaking down the very notion itself of rules. This was lots of fun. Then, at a certain point, different for each player, it became dull. If all was permissible, then the server could devise a serve that no one, not even a superhero, could possibly return. Taken to its logical extreme, “every rule” took the fun out of the game. It spelled the end of the game, actually.

Still, I feel fondly towards this experience of everything permissible. I can’t even try to describe the irruption of fantastic, here-to-fore unthinkable moves made possible under the reign of anarchy. We broke through to a new level. At the same time, as we danced on the edge of the thinkable, just one more step and experience became dull, predictable, since any player could exploit permissiveness to score a boring personal win.

I offer these memories as an instance of breaking down and breaking through the given rules; of soaring into permissive freedom; of recognizing both the necessity, and the relativity, of boundedness. In a strange way, some degree of boundedness was necessary to experience the thrill of unboundedness. Otherwise, the unbounded thrill lost its interest and its creativity.