Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Life is a Playground

When I was little, I could play all day. ALL DAY. From the minute I woke up to the second I fell into bed, I was in play mode. For weeks on end I could live in a world of my own, a fantastic landscape filled with talking animals, altered realities, and pith helmets. (I always had to wear my imaginary pith helmet.) Not that I didn't get into trouble; I don't think a single report card ever went home without "Too much daydreaming" scrawled across the bottom. Sigh.

Report cards aside, I still managed to grow up into a fairly disciplined person, so much so that when I made the comment in my writer's group that "life was a school," I was somewhat surprised when another member countered with, "Actually, life is a playground."

When I started thinking about it, however, the idea made a lot of sense to me. Playgrounds, as I remembered them, were a place to let off steam, have snacks, and learn to take turns with the ball. They were a place to sit quietly and talk with my friends, or else to go find a team and run around and scream--as loudly as possible.

Being allowed out of the classroom was a reward for enduring what seemed like endless hours of boredom and repetition: math, spelling, "current events." Instead of rulers and leaky pens there were slides and swings, scraped knees, split lips, and badge-of-honor Band-Aids. When it rained we couldn’t go outside but we invented indoor games and turned our classroom into a makeshift playground. And when nobody was there on the weekend, the empty fields could sometimes feel like the loneliest place on earth--a feeling I rather liked when it conjured up visions of ghosts and captured fairy princesses.

So what made me turn my back on the playground? Perhaps it was the fear of looking too happy, or even foolish. Real writers frowned and worried about their manuscripts. They complained about editors and constant rewrites. Yet I should have known better: literary history is ripe with successful fools: wise fools, holy fools, jesters, clowns, Nasrudin and Silly Billy. In the tarot deck, the fool can be the smartest person in the room. So shouldn't we all be fools for our art? Fool around. Just fooling. April Fools. Feast of Fools. Ship of Fools.

The best way, I realized, to get back to the playground is to examine what is so much creative fun we're embarrassed to admit it. It can be anything: from crayons to mud pies aka ceramics. It can even be an obsession with cats.

Some of the benefits of returning to a playful mindset can include:
  • Play is infectious. Editors and readers will pick up on, and appreciate, your ability to entertain.
  • Constantly marketing or submitting work for publication or other venues can be depressing if you're not seeing the results you want. It's good to take time off from relentless social networking and always being "on."
  • You can withstand rejection and negative critiquing better when you remember that you started all this to have fun. (They don't call 'em "screenplays" for nothing!)

Tip of the Day: When’s the last time you chose the playground over work? If it's been a while, you might want to ask yourself why. Write a journal entry, perhaps in the form of an unsent letter to whatever, or whoever made you stop playing. Or perhaps you'd prefer to create a collage mapping out some future play dates. Be sure to take them!


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