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What is 'play'?

I am reading a book that's been on the back shelf for years and years, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This book has its pros and cons, but one of the most vexing-though-valid concepts in it for me is the notion of the "Artist's Date." This is an hour a week you set aside to let your inner child out and give it freewheel. The idea is, soundly enough, to feed that creative part of you without goal or expectation. To simply play.

But what, for me, is "play"? It's a bit of a family joke that I was born 40 years old. It just took a while for my body to catch up to my intellectually-inclined mind and serious personality. But looking back now, I can see ways that wasn't true. I was a kid, once. I did kid things. I "played" in a way that's difficult to do now.

Is writing "play"? It's my favorite activity, but a lot of time, it feels like work. Cameron's "Morning pages," for example--free writing every day for 15-20 minutes--still falls in the "wait and see obligation" category, and so feels like work. God knows composing a story or essay, or editing same can be a LOT of work. Is "I pretend I'm writing even though what I'm actually doing is looking at pretty pictures on the internet and calling it research" play or work?

Usually when I'm tired at the end of the day and too sore to write, I collapse in front of the TV, or grab my kindle. But many (my momma included!) would say passive absorption of someone else's content, as relaxing as that can be, isn't "play." Play is Active.

When I was a kid, I hated sports and bored easily of bikes and roller skating. I spent oodles of time in my room with the door shut inventing my own planet complete with its own language. That was play for me. Or my brother and I would build entire cities out of blocks and Little People buildings. We'd work hard on our cities, then when bedtime arrived, we played "It's the end of the world!!!1!" and tear it all down.

Nowadays, it would be unthinkable to engage in an imaginative activity that was so light-hearted I'd nonchalantly tear it all down when I was done! No, all imaginative activities must have an end goal! They must be precursors to writing or writing itself. But that makes them work more than play. Letting the imagination run wild for no reason whatsoever….

Sometimes, I tell myself stories without writing them down. I even act them out. That's play, right?

"Play," I guess, is whatever random calming or enjoyable activity I do that makes me feel guilty because "I should be working on something where the goal is productive and obvious." Play may even be all those times I fool around at whim/randomly and even make a record of the results, intending to go back to them and "do something with them," but never do.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2015 10:06 pm (UTC)
Play is what you want to do at the moment, whether other people see it as work or not.
Work is what you think you ought to be doing at the moment, whether you're actually enjoying it or not.
Drudgery is when you can't concentrate on what you are doing because you wish so badly you were doing something else. This is true whether or not you enjoyed doing the exact same thing yesterday.

When I begin to explain to other people what I like to do for fun, their eyes glaze over and I don't blame them. What seems like play for one person can easily seem like a lot of needless work to somebody else. For me taking a long walk is fun. Golf wouldn't be. Walking around a long time shopping wouldn't be unless it were for books or something else I especially like. It's all relative.
May. 27th, 2015 11:37 pm (UTC)
Play is most definitely an individual thing. My struggle is less with "what is play?" than "what is play to me?"
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )