Electromagnetic pumpkin, or a load of squash?

Play = joy + learning
— Caspar Henderson in 'The Book of Barely Imagined Beings'

Okay, I'll be honest. The title and image for this post were made up so that I’d have a pretend blog post to learn how to use this platform. I'd been dragging myself through the process of setting it up, using a mixture of well-contained dread and the kitchen timer set to half-hour intervals.

Then, suddenly, something switched. I remembered to make it fun, and then it was fun. Now here it is, a Real Blog Post.

What switched? I pressed PLAY.

Sometimes, often even, I forget to. I get caught up in outcome focus. Or I fixate on the outcome I don’t want, while trying to move in the opposite direction (note: this doesn’t work).

The power of play lies in its focus on what’s happening in the moment. Instead of output, we pay attention to process, to the pleasure involved, to what it actually looks like if we paint the damn thing orange instead.


If you need a reason

Here are some gold medals for play:

Play is intense. Do you remember, when you were a kid, being able to actually see what you were imagining overlaid on reality?

Play is at the edge of control. That’s where we need to be able to make ourselves at home if we want to make our most interesting work. The balance of structure and destruction is what makes certain kinds of play so compelling. 

Play is simple. You do something and pay attention to what happens. Then you do another something.

Play is liberating. If you’re stressed and overwhelmed with outcomes, play is a great opportunity to say fuck you very much to productivity and make something 'just because'.

Play is affirming. It connects you with the kernel of your creative practice – some kind of joy and fascination that arises out of doing that thing you love to do. If you've lost touch with this, play is the fastest way to get back in contact.

Play is fun. This makes it motivating.

Play lets you practice the art of being attached and detached simultaneously. You get to be totally committed. At the same time, you get to experience results as data from a mad experiment.

Play is self-justifying. It exists for its own sake.

Play is amazing exercise. It makes you stronger and ready for new challenges. It can also generate material for you to use later.

Play is luxurious. If you’re reading this, you probably have enough practical wealth to be able to afford regular time to play creatively. If you’re not doing it, it may be that you consider play to be frivolous. Or you may be scared of it.

What does play look like for you?

(A caveat – perhaps you play so often and so much that you neglect to craft, undertake projects and share your work. In the words of Regina Spector, ‘You can write but you can’t edit.’ Guess what? Editing, and its equivalent across the creative forms, is a skill you can learn. You may also need to tweak your mindset to reduce perfectionism, and the terror of foreclosing on possibility.)


Play attention

Enough praise for play. Let’s get down to business. How do you bring more play into your life?

If you’re a person who loves routine, you can literally schedule it into your day in the form of a fifteen minute block of time. Then find things to do, like make work in the style of people who interest you, create in different places, or mash together ideas and see what results. Tie one hand behind your back, write upside-down, use exercises off the internet…

Once you dedicate this time, you’ll find that questions arise for you to play around with.

If you’re more of a big-chunk-of-time kind of creator, you could plan a weekend at a friend’s place when they’re away (make sure they know, so you don’t have to break any windows). Take your favourite gear, or maybe materials you always mean to try but haven’t yet. Then play, eat, wander, play, eat, play, sleep, repeat.

A bubble will appear in which new things happen for you creatively. 

The key to play is to go with what calls you. When you watch young animals play, they have an urge to rehearse behaviours that will be useful to them later.

We are amazing because we continue to play our whole lives. One theory holds that the human brain is neotenous – our minds retain juvenile characteristics (like learning lots and mucking about) into adulthood. Play makes us able to keep radically reshaping our brains.

Creativity is intrinsically playful. We move our brain between different states. We set projects and dedicate our lives to them – until they finish and then we abandon them for the next thing. We take what is and pull it apart to see how it works, and how it might fit together differently. As a creative person, you are inherently playful, so it makes sense to take care of that energy in yourself.

Lose that deadly seriousness.

Go forth in deadly playfulness.

If you'd like more help with bringing play into your creative life, please contact me.

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