I’ve been taking an online class about creative writing. In fact, I have to submit a piece that was assigned last week. I find it fun to open up the lessons on Wednesdays and Fridays and read what the instructor has to say before I discover what the writing invitation is for that day. I’ve written the beginning of a novel (or perhaps a short story-hard to say just yet) and a piece on the color white. I enjoy reading what other students have posted and wonder if their creativity is work or play.
Because I’m on summer vacation, I have a stack of books sitting next to the couch. I’m often too busy during the school year to read much, whether for information or entertainment or growth. When a book is recommended in three different places, by three unrelated sources, I sit up and take notice. I purchased the book and have loved nearly every word. I say ‘nearly’ because there are things that the author writes that push me to look at stuff I’d rather not deal with. But then I ask myself if I want my writing to improve. And so I’ve looked at the trash heap and have decided to do what the author suggests. Summer is a good time to clean out the closets, get rid of the cobwebs, and take all that luggage we carry around and leave it on the curb.
If you’re like me, your email inbox is the receptacle of various ezines and newsletters that arrive daily, weekly, or monthly. I clean it out regularly, but occasionally it gets a little out of hand and I start skimming and then deleting just to get things back to a reasonable amount. One of the emails I read recently was by a poet who has published a book about poetry and spirituality. In this email, Robert McDowell included a poem he’d written about play. In another email I’d received, there was a list of what the entrepreneur planned to do during their vacation. When I read through the list a second time, I noticed it was all about play. Go to the movies. Hit a bucket of balls with Dan. Go to the arcade with the kids. Drive to a scenic spot for a picnic. Get concert tickets. Go horseback riding (I like this one!).
Invariably what is uttered from a fellow teacher’s mouth upon returning to school the first day is, “What did you do this summer? Where did you go? Did you have fun?” In other words, did you play? I’ve been told by more than one person that I work too much, that I should take a break, and that I shouldn’t work so hard (I think they equate my ‘busyness’ with ‘work’). For those of us who stretch ourselves and are always striving to serve others, we sometimes lose sight that our creativity is play. If not, that could be why we’re struggling with our medium, or perhaps why the project is coming in fits and starts. Just like the book I’ve been reading, The Artist’s Way, that was recommended in three different places, this idea of play has also been mentioned certainly more than once.
At school, it is easy to lose sight of the opportunities for play. A difficult parent meeting, proctoring state tests, or consoling an athlete who has been benched due to low grades certainly takes me out of any ‘play’ mode. But when it comes to spending time with my horses, I certainly find that fulfilling, even when I’m training my yearling filly. Whether I’m teaching a yoga session or attending a class, there is a certain peace that arises when I don’t take it so seriously. If I can laugh at myself because a particular bind is just so out of my reach, then I can stay out of the ‘adult’ part of me. And when I sit down to write, I admit that I occasionally banter with the critic before giving over, wholeheartedly, to the ‘child artist’ within, and just play with the characters, the plot, the setting. Where is the story going? Most of the time I don’t know until after it has arrived.
Both the creative writing class and the book invite me to play. It is something novel. It asks me to think in a different way, to challenge myself to conform to the assignment, to get the adult junk out of the way so the child can skip and play hopscotch and jacks and be in joy. I would urge you to try the experiment: how is your creativity if you approach it as a ‘job’ or something you have to do to meet a deadline or receive a paycheck or give up opportunities to ‘play’ with others so you can work? Does it feel like work, or like play? This isn’t to say that for those of you who earn a living with your art shouldn’t call it ‘work’ or that sometimes it doesn’t come easily and so you have to ‘work’ at getting the project completed. What I’m asking you to look at is your approach to your art. Do you find it fun, joy-filled, like play? Or is it drudgery, hard, the bones in your fingers aching from the brush or the pen or chisel or the guitar strings?
What would happen if you did something a little different? Maybe you paint a giant piece of sketchbook paper in pastel water colors, and when that has dried, you use a colored marker to write a poem about a rainbow, or the leprechaun at the end of it in his pot of gold. If your medium is wood or stone that you sculpt, why not try a piece of soap? Dipping your finger in a cup of water would make ‘sanding’ any harsh lines much easier! Always playing lead guitar at a jam session? What would happen if you volunteered to play acoustic and just hold down the cords? Or grabbed an egg rattle or cow bell? A gourmet chef could cook something in a Crock Pot and serve it family style. A ballet dancer could hit a club and try hip hop. By moving away, just a little, from that which we may attach an adult attitude of ‘work’, to one where our artist-child can just ‘play’, imagine (HA!) what affect that would have on your project, both in your approach and in the quality (and quantity!) of your usual medium. I think the results would amuse, or perhaps, shock you.
To do something because it fills us with a sense of joy, allows our inner child to skip and toss baseballs, gets us out of our own way, allows the ‘adult’ to sit in a lawn chair in the shade of a tree and just watch, interested but not interfering with, the play that begets creativity. Try something different, a little fun, maybe a half-step away from your usual (start small!), and see if a smile doesn’t rest on your lips, a lightness floats in your heart, an ease comes to your muse. www.myjoyenterprises.com is where my artist-child has played, and the timorous adult has unveiled the pieces for the world to see. More will be posted soon, as the front of my refrigerator is filling up with paintings of rainbows.