One of the life changes I am working on is allowing more play in my life, something that I fail miserably at. I was reminded of how important play is to our creative self and overall well-being while recently reading the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her book is a popular classic that has inspired countless “shadow artist,” she calls them, to discover and embrace their creative selves. Although the book is well-known, I just stumbled on it before my birthday, two months ago. The timing was perfect. After reading the free preview pages, I was hooked. I am now on week seven of a twelve-week creative journey. I read a new chapter each Sunday, and sometimes I reread sections of the chapter throughout the week. Cameron’s words are encouraging and honest, and speak directly to those, like me, who have buried their creative dreams for a host of reasons, mainly, a lack of belief in ability. Each chapter has a specific focus, such as, “Recovering a Sense of Possibility,” and at the end of each chapter there is a list of weekly tasks, followed by a check-in list. The writing tasks are manageable – I usually finish those just after reading the chapter, or the following day, but other tasks that involve a commitment, beyond the notebook, are more challenging for me. An ongoing weekly activity recommended by Julia Cameron is to schedule an “Artist Date” with yourself. The purpose of the date is to do something fun, creative, and maybe even silly. I love the idea-I am not opposed to being silly-I am just having a hard time making this happen, and I know it is to my detriment.
Finding the time to play like a child doesn’t come naturally to me, at least not anymore. I suspect this is true of most adults who are consumed with job and family commitments. I remember the joy of playing as a kid, but all of us kids in the neighborhood didn’t need to schedule play time, or read a book to remind us to play, we were instinctively drawn to play. I remember leaving the house early in the day, to return only for bathroom breaks and food, maybe. Sometimes we figured out how to address those basic human needs while away from home. Our days were filled with skating, bike riding, and games like basketball, softball, football in the mud, or hide-in-seek, in areas that extended beyond one yard and into multiple yards and into the nearby schoolyard, which, by the way, was not fenced. I also remember the communal tree house in a field that is now covered with houses. The tree house did not belong to any one person, it belonged to all of us, and we would each build and add as we were inspired to do, “borrowing” items from home to embellish this magical sanctuary. I remember taking my tape player with me and listening to The Jackson Five and Donny and Marie Osmond tapes while sitting on a tree branch, listening and watching our world below – a world with endless possibilities for dreaming and imagining. Imagining who we were going to be that day.
Sometimes our creations extended to the adjacent field, that was covered with a layer of dirt and tumbleweeds. I often wondered where the tumbleweeds came from, and how they ended up in that spot. Whatever their origin and path that led to us, we delighted in their existence in our world and would use the round weeds to create walls that connected to other tumbleweed walls, until eventually we were protected by our own tumbleweed castle. We would get lost and lose each other in the mazes that led from one spikey, thorny room to the next. We played until the setting sun told us to return home, and if we didn’t see that cue, someone’s mom would either yell loud enough or send out an older sibling to scream at us that, “It is time to come home!” We made our way home, covered in sweat, dust, thorns, and bloody scratches. Our tumbleweed fortress never lasted; the wind carried it away or reorganized it in a manner that was unrecognizable from our most recent design. We didn’t mind. The purpose wasn’t to create and live happily-ever-after in our tumbleweed castle, the purpose was to just play, and not worry about our lasting legacy.
I now live forty miles from that field of creation, which was long ago turned into another subdivision. Although I still live in the desert, I cannot remember the last time I saw a tumbleweed. They are probably scooped up by landscapers long before they have a chance to escape and meet up with other dried bushes in some magical dirt field where they can be turned into something greater than what they currently are – a lonely nuisance, blowing down the street. Maybe childhood play is like that fortress. Forgotten, unnecessary, and dirty. I hope not.
In my neighborhood, I am fortunate enough to witness kids at play during the cooler months. I have observed them at play for a few years, as they have grown from babies into the young children they are now. I see them as I am coming and going and it wasn’t until recently, did it occur to me that I have a lot to learn from these kids, as I work on rediscovering my tumbleweed spirit from so long ago. The neighborhood kids ride bikes, have pretend sword fights, play hide and seek, wrestle, and roll in the grass. I am not sure if this is a common scene in neighborhoods across Arizona, America, and beyond. I hope it is.
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