My intention for this weekend was to begin writing some of my application essays for graduate school. However, due to the unusual presence of caffeine in my possession, my brain appears to have taken a vacation from its usual focus and drive, so my essay draft looks more like an explosion of thoughts. Ultimately, I think I unveiled something that will provide some meaningful insight that I can put into my essays.
For now, I’m embracing my brain divergence. I hope to be writing about the importance of play in my life. I will address its personal meaning as a child, as an adult, as a teacher, and as a peacemaker. Right now, I’m gathering basic information about play, others’ experiences of play, memories of my own play, research about play. I’m taking time to sit with each thought, weighing the ultimate meaning and my own reaction. It’s turning into therapeutic introspection.
Without expecting to find much, I pulled up the thesaurus and typed in playful. I have a feeling that most people do not find a greater meaning in thesaurus results, but I found this experience enlightening. What struck me most was the antonyms. Some of them can be combated with some healthy play, some of them make space for a different kind of play. Words like apathetic, depressed, dispirited, inactive, lifeless embody the hurt and struggle that is so present in the world. It’s normal to have these experiences. When hurtful thing happen, it’s important to slow down and grieve. Play is there to pick you back up.
When I watch my children playing, I can see where their work counterbalances these emotions. Whatever the play scenario, they are fully engaged. Their spirit oozes from every pore of their play. Their emotions are genuine, their thought process obvious. This week we turned our dramatic play center into a waste management facility, so our children could explore what it feels like to be a garbage collector. My children loved putting on hard hats, work gloves, and safety vests as they repeatedly filled and emptied garbage cans, called their boss on the phone, and worked on the “computer.” I took a picture of one of my girls hard at work. She was wearing a yellow hard hat, holding a phone between her ear and her shoulder, and typing on the computer keyboard. There was such a look of focus on her face. Her play was full of investment, full of spirit, and fully of life. She was far away from a world of apathy.
The other antonyms that stood out for me were the words with slightly less of a negative connotation: behaved, serious, working. These traits do not automatically exclude play. As I mentioned in my last post, sometimes play needs to be loud and big. Sometimes I need to realize that my “shhhh”s and “please clean that up” are useless and futile. I need to release my notions of control and appropriate behavior, and just let the play spiral into merriment.
Other times, we need to play seriously. We need times to process our dispirit. Play provides a safe space to do so. I’m reminded of the book Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia Axline. The story follows a young boy who is withdrawn from life. His teachers are concerned, and his mother has given up on him. He begins play therapy, where in his own serious way, he grapples with the meaning of what he knows about the world. By the end of the book, he is able to find flourish in his life. His play therapist provided him the safe space to invest in his own work. He is not one of the squealing, effervescent players that I know all too well. He is struggling, he is breaking down. But, he is still playing.
I think it’s time to start playing with those antonyms. Losing spirit is part of the life process. Sometimes even the best players feels apathetic. I wonder what would happen if we established the space to play with what’s troubling us. I think this would involve two things. The first, an antonym space. A safe space to play in our own way. To work through what it means to have dysfunctional relationships, to introspect, and to be OK with dwelling in our hurt. The second is exposure to those synonyms. To at least watch, if not participate, in exuberance. To remind ourselves that there are people out there who are rich with the creative spirit. And to hope that we, too, can catch the spirit.
Looking for a place to start? Read over the synonyms for playful and for play. I can’t help but smile when I read word like frolic, rejoice, vivacious, and lighthearted. I laughed when I noticed that the very first synonym for play is dance. At this point in my life, I am dancing constantly. I contra dance at least once a week. I dance with my children daily. I dance while I’m cleaning my bathroom. It’s my most meaningful form of play. I’m not going to stop dancing. I’m not going to stop playing. Even when it’s hard.
– “Perhaps there is more understanding and beauty in life when the glaring sunlight is softened by the patterns of shadows” – Virginia Axline, Dibs in Search of Self