Just Play

“I didn’t paint the morning after her visit. I drew. Little caricatures, cartoon figures really. Sitting. Running. Walking. Swimming. Fast, fast, fast. No time for me to think. Skiing. Bicycling. Dancing.

Just play, Laine had advised. So I tried to play. I worked at playing, determined to keep trying until I could play without having to work.”

When I came to this spot in Robin Black’s Life Drawing last night I had to stop reading and put the book down. Work at play?

Gus, a  middle-aged artist who’s dealing with her father’s dementia and the fallout from her own infidelity, finds comfort in her painting. Everything she paints, the chairs, the walls, every brick, is alive — everything except the people. She even says she thinks she might be missing the “life-drawing gene.”

She’s become cautious since her days of “preaching the virtues of risk and of failure…” She says that mistakes have “lost their appeal.”

Like Gus, I’ve known that cautious feeling. I too have “preached the virtues of risk and failure” on my blogs and to my students.

Every day I see that I am one of those who has to “work at play.” But I know that when I finally get to play without work, that’s when the work will come alive.

Now I will savor the rest of Life Drawing as I feel a kindred spirit in Gus, and a true appreciation for the author, Robin Black, who brings these characters, with their real-life issues alive on the page.

(Read The Rumpus interview with Robin Black)


 

I’m looking for inspirational women! Do you know anyone who incorporates play into their life? Someone who has a 9 to 5 job or family obligations… but still finds time to incorporate creative play into their life? Please email me at catherine (at) gmail (dot) com.

9 Reasons You Should Start A “Go Play Project”

1.  Your work will improve. When you make a commitment to do one thing every day (or every other day) it usually gets easier and easier. That’s not to say there will be those days when your amateur work will look or sound, well, a little too amateur, and you’ll want to chuck the whole project. But on the whole, by the end of the thirty days, six months or one year, you’ll probably feel more at ease with whatever it was you decided to put your effort into.

2.  You can make new friends. Tell the world you’re recording one piano piece every week and all of a sudden there are people all over Twitter and Soundcoud – composers, pianists, improvisors – all doing the same thing. Reach out to them. They’re happy to support you. The only person you’re in competition with is yourself.

3.  It saves you from time-sucking activities. Don’t you just hate it when you sit down to watch TV and the next thing you know hours have flown by – precious time that you’ll never get back? You might not remember what you watched, or you might have even fallen asleep. Start a project and, sure, you’ll see time fly, but at the end of the day you’ll have created something.

4. It might lead you down a different path. When I was recording my Go Play Project I started with the safe pieces. Short pieces I’d played before. Pieces I know everyone would enjoy. About eight months into the project I started seeking out pieces that spoke to me. Music I’d never been exposed to. This upped the challenge because not only did I have to learn the notes in one week, I had to immerse myself in the new style of an unfamiliar composer. In the end I moved away from my beloved Chopin, into the more mysterious world of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Janacek, and Medtner.

5.  It’s good for your health. When you’re so immersed in and concentrated on a project that time passes in an instant and all the background noise and chatter seems to disappear, you are said to be in a state of “flow.” Flow is likely to occur when your challenge is just slightly above your skill level. Flow leads to happiness and happiness leads to health. For an extra boost, add a higher purpose to the mix. And that higher purpose might simply be taking your project and sharing it with the world.

6.  You end up with a body of work. When you set a goal to complete 30 ink drawings for the month of InkTober, you will end up with a whole pile of drawings. You’ve made something! And no one can take that away from you. What you do with them is up to you. Post them to Tumblr or hide them in a drawer. Sell your work on Etsy. Or better yet, start another project!

7. You have a sense of urgency. Most of us have a tendency to procrastinate. And when the only person we have to answer to is ourselves, then it’s even harder to do those things we “should” do. It’s even harder to get to work on the things that may seem frivolous like those creative projects that always seem to get put on the back burner. By setting a deadline for ourselves and declaring it to the world, we quickly get down to work play!

8. There’s no room for perfectionism. When you set a goal to produce a large body of creative work in a short period of time, you don’t have time to linger over the details. Work this way and you avoid all the second-guessing that comes with perfectionism. There will be plenty of time when the project is done, to go back and work out all of the fine points.

9.  You come away with a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps this is the best reason to start a “Go Play Project.” Nothing can beat that feeling when you stand back and take a look at what you created. Whether it’s a 50,000 words of a half-baked novel, or 52 home-made piano recordings, or 30 pencil sketches of the same hand.

 

It’s InkTober

I love that October is Inktober! 31 days. 31 ink drawings.

The rules are easy and and familiar to anyone who follows the Go Play Project.

INKtober rules:

1) Make a drawing in ink (you can do a pencil under-drawing if you want).

2) Post it on tumblr (or Instagram, twitter, facebook, flickr, Pinterest or just pin it on your wall.)

3) Hashtag it with #inktober

4) Repeat (you can do it daily, like me, or go the half-marathon route and post every other day, or just do the 5K and post once a week. What ever you decide, just be consistent with it. INKtober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better.)

That’s it!

Jake Parker originally set up INKtober five years ago to give himself an excuse to draw every day. He held himself accountable by posting his drawings online while his online audience watched. Now everyone has an excuse to pull out their Micron Pens and draw. Don’t worry if you don’t get in a drawing every day. Jake says it’s the commitment that matters and if you commit to 3 times a week for the month, go for it. Set your intention and stick to it. And don’t forget to post your drawings online using the hashtag #inktober. Got it? Good. Now Go Play!

Fearless Creativity

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, has presented a terrific TED Talk on the topic of creativity and play. He opens his presentation with an exercise from Bob McKim, creativity researcher and leader of the Stanford Design Program. Tim asks his audience to pick up their pen and paper and sketch the person sitting next to them. There are giggles from the audience before they even start to draw.

When he tells them to put their paper down after thirty seconds, the audience reacts just as we would expect. They laugh. They are embarrassed.  And they apologize for themselves! Every time he’s had an audience perform that exercise they reacted the same way.

As adults many of us fear the judgement of our peers. When I did my Go Play Project in 2012, the most common comment I heard from friends was “I could never do anything like that.”

My goal was to learn and perform as many pieces in one year as I could. Once I got over the fear of posting these recordings “in the raw” I became more adventurous in my choice of repertoire. I learned new pieces quickly, sometimes only hours before turning on the recorder.

But, surprisingly, the real benefit of that Project, was finally finding the courage to step away from the piano bench and explore avenues of creativity – writing and drawing.

Tim talks about how many businesses are beginning to realize the importance of play, trust, and friendship in the workplace. A sense of trust and relaxation in the workplace encourages the employees to think creatively without fear of judgement.

Let’s use our Go Play Projects to create fearlessly and find out what happens when that creativity spills out into other areas of our lives. I’d love to hear from you about your next Go Play Project!

 

Risk and Play

As a kid I remember how much fun I had exploring the partially built houses in our development. After the construction workers left for the day my best friend and I would climb over boards and cinder blocks to play house. Around that time my younger brothers and their friends would go on “hikes” through the fields and and along the railroad tracks next to the river. They were just little kids but they came home with stories of snakes and such. My husband tells me about the how he wandered the city at age ten, alone.

The Land is a playground unlike any other. Located in North Wales, this patch of land looks like it could be a trash heap. With piles of tires, old mattresses, puddles, and wooden pallets it is heaven to the exploring child. How things have changed that in this day of micromanaging our children, we have to build such a lot where children are free to engage in risky play.

Peter Gray, author of the blog “Freedom to Learn” has written extensively about risky play. He says we adults do a great disservice to children by managing their play.

We deprive children of free, risky play, ostensibly to protect them from danger, but in the process we set them up for mental breakdowns.  Children are designed by nature to teach themselves emotional resilience by playing in risky, emotion-inducing ways.  In the long run, we endanger them far more by preventing such play than by allowing it. And, we deprive them of fun.

Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education at Queen Maud University College in Trondheim identifies the most important element of risky play is “exploring alone.” As adults we can recapture that sense of adventure by taking on our own projects.

I don’t think I’ll be exploring any construction sites, but I can pick out a new box of charcoal and a big pad of newsprint. I can scribble or copy or draw from life. It can get messy. Is it risky? Sure it is…. but that’s the topic of another blog post.

Go Play Then and Now (Day 9)

The original “Go Play Project” was meant to be taken literally:

As in Go Play the piano.

My intention was to get over my fear of “not being good enough” and get rid of a sort of self-indulgent perfectionism that comes from years of being told that your work is never done. There would always be that finger that thumped a little to loudly at the end of a phrase or that introspective moment that wasn’t quite ethereal enough, or the octave passage that was ever so slightly labored. By recording one piece a week for a year I was determined to just “put it out there” warts and all. Some pieces were more polished but others were fresh and less than perfect. I suppose I was trying to capture the spontaneity that comes naturally to those lucky enough to be comfortable with the art of improvisation. .

One of the unexpected consequences was that I began to feel a little bit braver about other creative endeavors.

The idea for this month’s Go Play Project came to me out of the blue. I am not an artist. I’ve never doodled. I’m not crafty. As a kid I don’t remember coloring books. So of course I was surprised that I found myself drooling over paper and charcoal at A.C. Moore. I really don’t know what made me turn the corner on this and declare that this August was the month I’d start drawing, but whatever it was, it’s working and I’m having a blast.

With some coaching from my kids (two of them are art students) and some paper and charcoal  from A.C. Moore, I’m starting to feel at home with getting messy and drawing quickly to meet the daily deadline.

So here is Day 9: my first attempt at 15-second gesture drawing.  I captured my daughter in this pose.

Gesture Drawing

Gesture Drawing