Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Child's Play

Do you remember how to play? how you played as a child? Do you still have access to that part of yourself?

I used to play Barbies until I was about 12 or 13. I played with the most frustrating girl because most girls had stopped long before then. My friend frustrated me because she would spend all the time we had between school and supper, setting up elaborate houses and furniture for her Barbies. I wanted to get at the stories as fast as possible. No wonder she grew up and went into engineering -- and I didn't.

I'm fascinated by my own daughter, who can be heard hammering these days, who goes through more hot glue than candy, who sees possibilities in the weirdest spare parts, and turns them into whimsical, creative pieces of functional art.

But what intrigues me even more is the schoolyard. Even though I'm still a big kid who plays with stories now, I'm not sure I remember how to do recess. I'm sure there are some kids who go outside and play soccer every single day of every single recess of every single year, but for most kids, there's more variety. Some days, you chase the girls. Some days, you build a fort. Some days, you swing your feet up to touch the sky. Some days, you wander aimlessly kicking stones. What I tried to recall was how you decide? Large piles of leaves or new-fallen snow makes the decision easier -- some of this is not an internal process (although still -- do you build a fort or a snowman? or skate? Or sled?) You don't have long to decide -- recess is all too short.

I've started to catch a glimpse of the process in my afternoon walks with the puppy. We walk on the golf course, now that it's closed, but far from walking the same route every day, we mix it up. So much of my life is contained in lists and necessities, but walking the golf course is a pretty free-form, stream-of-consciousness activity. Both the dog and I can be diverted, literally, by something shiny. Sometimes I tell him he can decide which way we go, sometimes I take the lead. Sometimes we do take the same route over and over again. Sometimes we don't.

When I taught for one terrible year, the philosophy of the school included a tenet that in order for people to be fully creative, they needed to have an idea, a plan, and then they needed to bring that plan to fruition. So possibly my walks aren't actually creative -- they have vague ideas and they come to fruition, but there's no real plan to them at all. What I find, though, is that the lack of planning is very freeing, allowing my mind to drift into other plans.

And that sure feels like play.

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