Relearning How to Play
In the last few years I've been noticing the correlation between creativity and play more and more. For some reason, the theme keeps popping up in my mind. When we were kids playing with blocks or play dough or crayons (or pretty much whatever), we were creating. We were imagining something and then bringing it about: out of non-existence, into existence. The finished product wasn't always what we intended, but the journey to create it could sometimes make it even better in the end. This magical ability was something we all had when we were kids, and not only that, we practiced it constantly because we loved it. Sometimes we were even ordered to do it, just to get out of Mom and Dad's hair. I mean how many times did your mother yell something like, "That's it, out of the kitchen! Just . . . go outside and play!" Of course, we happily obeyed. Playing was exactly what we wanted to do all the time.
Even non-creative toys were inherently creative for a lot of kids. Action figures and Matchbox cars were this way for me. Pretty much any toy was. Why? Because of the story. Maybe you'd have your molded-plastic Superman punch your Lex Luthor action figure right in the stomach, but (aha!) it didn't faze him because devious ol' Lex was up to his old tricks again and had devised a kryptonite-laced fabric for his suit. Oh no! What will Superman do this time? Or maybe you'd make up your own characters from scratch using stuffed animals to stage elaborate tales.
And who came up with these stories? Well, we did. We made them up on the fly. We were the staff writers of our own TV shows, figuring out what happens next as we go. When the kid down the block came over and you were able to combine all your collective Micromachines into one big world of high speed car chases, suddenly we became collaborative writing teams, playing off of each others' ideas to make the story bigger and more interesting than it was before. Creativity was at the heart of play.
Somewhere along the way some of us—maybe all of us—forget how to play. I actually remember being maybe twelve and playing with Legos in the middle of the living room floor and my brother (who is a year and a half younger than me) walked in with a friend and they made some comment about how I was too old for it. I remember lamenting, "Yeah. I guess they're right." And that was the end of it. Some of us abandon the creativity of youth and exchange it for more sensible ventures. Others took those skills and rolled them into art or music or problem-solving. But at some point it all got too serious and too "important". Maybe it's time to relearn how to play.
There's a warmth in play. A nostalgia. It just feels good, wholesome. Fun. Maybe instead of worrying about competition or focusing on design trends and numbers and money so much (not that these things don't have value), we creative folks should spend more energy getting back to our roots and figuring out how to play again. We'll have fun figuring out what happens next. After all, it is our story.
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