Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Halloween - sanctioned public play

I love Halloween. I always have. My earliest Halloween memory is of my Mom reminding me and my brother that we had to make our costumes since Halloween was coming up. I don't remember the initial conversation about it, just the reminder. And that year (I was maybe 3 or 4?) I went as a fish, with a paper bag body on which I drew fish scales, and a shower cap on my head.

I met DH at a Halloween party. We were both recent liberal arts grads, and dressed like it. I was a Greek Chorus, dressed in a toga, intending to repeat the salient points of any conversation I was in. (That got old, fast.) He dressed as Munch's painting The Scream. I remember he gave up a coveted couch seat to cross the room to come talk to me.

As a kid I remember dressing as a pencil (hard to sit down), and a thief (because my brother was dressed as a lock), and a fairy. Not that original, but all homemade. But as an adult, my costumes have gotten funner and punnier:

XeroXena, Copier Princess (a Xena outfit made out of office supplies)
The Parking Goddess (grey street robe and a parking meter staff)
OB-GYN Kenobi (did you know you can order a speculum online?)
Genetically Modified Corn (complete with pieces of fish)
Blood Flo (vampire waitress)
Heavy Metal Zombie (I know, what's the difference, right?)
Bridezilla (Godzilla with a dress and veil)
Magic 8 Ball (simple black outfit, holding a cardboard die with different answers - great conversation starter at a party where I didn't know anyone)

It helps that some of our friends throw a theme Halloween party each year. For some reason, having a theme helps focus my creative energy. I wouldn't have thought of OB-GYN Kenobi if the theme that year hadn't been Spaceport Bar and Grill. The Parking Goddess came from the theme of Deities and Demigods. I suppose that's why poets like using sonnet forms - having limits gives us something to bounce off and makes us re-imagine how to make what we have fit, whereas limitless freedom is an abyss that's hard to escape.

This year the theme is 1001 Nights. So I'm thinking: Cher-azade. Not Sheherazade, not Cher, but a combination of both. I don't know if the wig I got will really make me look like Cher, but I'm gonna give it a shot.

I love the fact that on Halloween, it's ok for everyone, adult and child, to dress up. It's even expected in some quarters. We are encouraged to look funny, be creative, make something never seen before - some companies have costume contests, some schools have a parade. No one gives you hard looks or reports you to the police for dressing like a baby or a priest or a bunch of grapes (again, hard to sit down). (Remember in The Incredibles when Edna Mode tells Mr. Incredible she won't make a costume with a cape? Well, for Halloween capes are fine, but masks make it hard to eat, drink, and breath. Costumes that are hard to sit down in will also be hard to use the toilet in. Face paint will itch and smear. Just saying.)

I guess I wish every day life was more like Halloween - publicly ok to be foolish and silly, try something new and strange, without getting shot down. OK to dress up, suit up, wear a different personality for a while. Speak in a goofy accent, or walk on our hands, or wear all our clothes backwards. In other words - play.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pirates and Zombies and Robots, oh, my!

In my search for playful companies, I have found two that just tickle me pink. (Which is good, since I started out a pink-ish color. If they tickled me purple or orange, you might look at me funny.) One is, which posts instructions on how to diy (do it yourself) almost anything. The other is Three Rings, which makes computer games.

So, people at Instructables wrote an instructable on how to launch a pirate attack, and went and launched a pirate attack on Three Rings. Complete with cardboard swords, newspaper hats, and a large piece of plywood labeled The Plank for their victims to walk. Some time later, the Three Rings folks launched a zombie attack at Instructables, where the zombies were intent on eating brains until someone turned on Thriller and everyone started dancing.

I love it!!!! I want to do this. I want to get more companies to do this sort of thing. Is anyone out there running a company bringing people pirate raids and zombie attacks? I want to work for you!

Seriously, this sort of play is great. It makes people laugh, which offers health benefits to the body. It makes people work together to create something, which is great for a team. It lightens the mood, which helps creative ideas flow and lets people try new things. I think this is the kind of thing more companies (heck, other groups too) need to do to stay healthy.

The robots are just in the title because Instructables offers instructions on how to make a robot. And Three Rings has an office that looks like a submarine, complete with a giant squid couch. Awesome!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Laughter is the best medicine

One thing that my Dear Husband brought to our relationship from the very beginning lo these 16 years ago was a great sense of humor. He would make jokes when everything seemed dire to me, and it got me to loosen up a little, and then things got better. Over the years he's rubbed off on me, and now I make jokes when things seem dire to him, and he loosens up a little, and things get better.

Now we have our Dear Son, and tonight when I was soooo frustrated that he wouldn't even pick up the damn (scuse me, darn) train tracks and put them in the fricking basket right in front of him, I started joking. "Does the train track go here?" (I put it on his head.) "No," he laughs, "in the basket." "Oh, not here?" I put it on his knee. Laugh. "No, in the basket." "Ohhh," I say, "in the basket." So I sat in the basket. More laughter. "Not you in the basket, the train tracks in the basket." "Ohh, can you show me?" And thus some, if not all, of the train tracks got into the basket.

Which brings me to: Hospital Clowns.

Bet you didn't even know there was any such thing, did you? I think this is the coolest job ever. Clowns, who go into hospitals, and perform for the kids, pretending to be doctors. They perform kitty cat scans, red nose transplants, check to see if you are seeing spots (by holding up a polka-dotted handkerchief) (Oh, no, it's worse than I thought!). I think this is brilliant. It gives the kids a chance to laugh, which relaxes them, and lets their bodies heal. It gives them a feeling of control and power which they don't have the rest of the time in the hospital. It gives them a feeling of connection which is also lacking in the hospital. It takes their minds off their pain or illness for a while. It makes the families relax and laugh too. Brilliant! And the clowns aren't doctors like Patch Adams, they're performers who care about laughter as a means of connection, not put-downs. In Australia, they have clown doctors in every childrens' hospital in the country. Paid. Here in the 'States, I think it's more volunteer and occasional, not 9-5 M-F clowning for sick kids.

This is play in service to connection and belonging, hope and caring, laughter and joy. Hooray for Hospital Clowns, and all those like them who play for connection!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tub Time Play with the short one

I often feel like play is a lot of work. Especially when I need to play by my son's rules, which aren't always very clear, and often change. I like helping him build a train track, for example, but driving the trains around the track is boring, and when he doesn't let me move them because I'm not doing it right, it's downright frustrating. DH is great at the kind of play where he chases our son around the house, and I can do that some, but I get tired of it quickly.

But tonight, it was time for a bath, and DS was playing in the water. I sat down next to the tub, and joined in pouring water and suds into his boat. When I couldn't get the suds out of my cup, he washed them out for me. When I put some suds on him, he washed it off himself. We had a very warm, tender, connected time, I didn't feel bored, he didn't correct me (much), and neither of us wanted it to end.

What is the difference? I don't usually take baths or play with boats anywhere, so it's not the things we played with that made it fun. Why was it easier to engage him tonight? Maybe I didn't go into it with any expectations. I tried to meet him where he was, and just be with him. Maybe it was that he didn't have any expectations. He didn't ask me to play with him, he didn't have rules in his head already, so he was open to seeing what we could play together. Maybe the scent of the bubblebath made us both loopy! All I know is that's the kind of play I love, where we are both present, open, a little goofy, smiling and laughing a lot, loving a lot, enjoying each other a lot.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Play, it's the new work

So, I'm discovering that I feel the most joyful and connected and buoyant and myself when I'm playing and being creative. That, in fact, play and creativity can make room for things that need room to show up, like lightness and love and acceptance. And that I want to figure out how I can do that for a living. So, I want to study play a little. Talk to people who play. Find out how play can make work better, not just as a way to make the day suck a little less, but as a way to build community, increase work efficiency, and keep employees happy. If anyone has any ideas of anyone I could talk to about this, I would be indebted to you if you would share!

I have found out about a book called Play: How It Shapes The Brain, Opens The Imagination, and Invigorates The Soul, written by Stuart Brown, MD. I really want to read it, since this seems to be very much in line with my experience of play as essential to my emotional well-being. I have also been told about a book called Playing By Heart, The Vision And Practice Of Belonging, by Fred Donaldson. I think that aspect of play, the belonging and connection, are part of what calls me. Again, a book I want to read. Seems like a trip to a library and/or bookstore are coming up this week!

So, how do you play? I think that's something I want to explore too. What is play for me? I don't like a lot of games. I do like dancing, exploring ideas, being silly, roughhousing with my son, and the kind of game that promotes laughing more than winning. I don't want to have to figure out a lot of complicated rules, and I think the best play happens organically without a lot of rules ahead of time. Maybe that's why I don't often learn how to craft before jumping in, because I want it to unfold organically. Which means I'll never make a sweater I can wear. But I know that some people really enjoy games with lots of rules, and that playing those games makes them happy. So that's interesting, how play is different for different people, and how play can separate people and bring them together.