Bring that beat back to me again…

I recently got back from an amazing vacation, visiting a wonderful, playful, up-for-anything friend and seeing my most favorite band in the world (Dave Matthews Band ♥love them!♥).

I went completely on my own–no kids, no husband–and it was beautiful. For five days I got to play, play, play and do exactly what I wanted to do. As a mom of young children, I can assure you, this never happens (although my husband might beg to differ).

It was a trip filled with so many new experiences for me. When I got home, I admit I was a little sad to be returning to my normal, predictable, responsible life. I truly love my life, and I love my family, but it was such a refreshing break to be just Jaime for a short time–in as pure and powerful and unadulterated a form as possible.

I think everybody needs this kind of reconnection to self every once in awhile. There are lots of ways to get there, but the way I do it–the way I get back to my essence and remember who I am, really–is through play.

And, the more I think about it, the more I realize a large part of my need for play as an adult is to fill a craving for new experiences. When we’re kids, everything is new; everything is an adventure. Sometimes as adults, if we’re not careful, life starts to get a little too routine. We lose that wondrous, innocent feeling of experiencing everything through fresh eyes. But we don’t have to…

The experience of my transformative trip inspired me to make a list of all the ways I loved to play as a kid… and the ways I love to play today, as an adult:

The ways I played as a kid:

    • Go exploring in nature (my family had a dairy farm; I’d spend all day roaming around the pastures and woods, naming and mapping out landmarks and having adventures)
    • Ride my bike
    • Play with my animals (at various times: cats, dogs, a goat, ducks, chickens, a calf, box turtles and tadpoles I’d caught, etc.)
    • Draw
    • Play dress-up
    • Pretend
    • Make up stories
    • Daydream
    • Dance and sing, listen to music
    • Make movies, take photos, write stories, pretend to be a reporter
    • Read
    • Bake (actual edible) cakes and cupcakes… and also mimosa-leaf soup and roly poly mud-cakes
    • Climb trees
    • Build forts (in the cedar tree in my mom’s yard, between the hay bales at the farm, in that old oak with the nails in the bark…)
    • Play in the rain/mud/creek

This is me playing today... at DMB Caravan with Susan. I swear I have not been happier in ages!

The ways I play as an adult:

    • Go exploring in nature; explore my neighborhood
    • Travel
    • Ride my bike/run
    • Play with my kids (it’s a good excuse to slip in the occasional game of hide-and-seek or tag)
    • Play dress-up (although now, unlike when I was a kid, I usually have somewhere to go after I get all dressed!)
    • Pretend/make up stories/daydream (aka “I’m a writer”)
    • Dance and sing, listen to music (at home, at concerts, in my head, all the time)
    • Write/blog/think about interesting ideas
    • Take photos
    • Read
    • Cook, enjoy, try new foods
    • Good conversation and laughter with friends
    • Climb trees, play in the rain/mud (yeah, sometimes!)

So… what about you? How did you play as a kid?  How do you play now? See any similarities? Feeling the urge to dive back into some forgotten passions? Listen to this and think about it a bit, then I wanna hear all about it!

“Scream and shout it loud, oh innocence! In the days when all we did would never end. …Bring that beat back to me again…”

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011

PLAY: you can’t escape it!

On my way to Chicago a couple of weeks ago, to play (of course!), I discovered this in the in-flight magazine (Sky Magazine, July 2011).

Unfortunately the article’s not available online (for some reason), but I scanned it. Just click on the images below to read it.

It seems like everyone’s thinking about play these days! I mean, you can’t get any more mainstream than Sky mag.

“[There is] a growing number of evangelists for play. But not just play in the dictionary sense… also in the sense of anyone at any age tapping into that same childlike sense of wonder and playfulness, whether it’s in sports, in the workplace, in a hobby, in the kitchen or even just playing with one’s own kids.”

Monkey on a satellite

I’m leaving for vacation this afternoon, and I’m (of course, as always) bringing my camera. One of my favorite parts of traveling is the opportunity to see new places, with new eyes.

When every sight is new-to-you and you know you’re not coming back around these parts soon, each little moment takes on greater meaning. The world is crisp and fresh and in focus. It’s like having super vision.

But even better, I think, is when I’m able to practice my powers of super-seeing at home, sometimes with a little help from my friends…

I go on a walk with my six-year-old one evening. As we turn to head back home, suddenly she stops and squints her eyes as she looks at the roof of one of our neighbors’ houses.

“Oh,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Is that a monkey sitting on that satellite?”

I look, but unfortunately my adult eyes do not see a monkey. In fact, they’re having trouble seeing much of anything detailed in the fading light of early evening.

My daughter squints a little bit longer. “No,” she decides. “It’s not a monkey. It’s just two satellites together on the roof. See?” With that, she shrugs and walks on.

What I absolutely love is that, in her mind, either option would have been equally plausible: a monkey on our neighbor’s roof (in South Florida) or an extra satellite dish. And why not, really?

There are so many common everyday wondrous sights to see in the course of being alive, if we just take the time to look: wood ducks in the swimming pool, rainbows in the sunset, and maybe–right under your feet–the tiniest snail shells in the whole world! Given all the magic that surrounds us, would a monkey on a satellite dish really be that out-of-place?

Look around the world where you are. What do you see?

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011

Freshness Factor Five Thousand: Beginners Only

The following is an entry from Jason Mraz’s now defunct Freshness Factor Five Thousand blog, from circa May 2011.

Yes, exactly what Mraz says! Turns out I’m a beginner in a lot of different ways… and that’s a pretty awesome feeling. Wow. Now, just think of all that’s possible!

“Beginners Only

A beginner’s mind is a brilliant place to come from. After all, beginners are granted permission to fail. In that sense, it’s not uncommon for beginners to have more fun.

I have the word beginner tattooed in cursive on my right arm. I almost wish it were tattooed across my face so I could remember to breathe when I feel like I don’t have it all together. Oh yea, I’m a beginner at writing 4th albums. I’m a beginner at intimate relationships!

I didn’t start surfing until I was 28. It was with a beginner’s mind that I excelled, not taking flopping around in the water as a sign of weakness. Instead, all that flopping made me more buoyant and a much better surfer.

I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 18. During those awkward college years I could’ve quit as other boys my age already had bands and tight jams. I knew as a beginner I had permission to suck and that eventually I’d rock. And now I do.

So remember this. We are all beginners. We haven’t done this before. You haven’t been you on this day before. I haven’t been someone’s solid rock before. I haven’t been me at 33 before. Each day is new and we’re all allowed to fall down as often as we need to. It is through these mistakes and fumbles that we’ll likely get it right next time.

–Jason Mraz”

**Edited Nov. 6, 2011: You can still find archives of Mraz’s Freshness Factor Five Thousand posts if you search around. I found them by subscribing to his feed on Blogger, then feedly. Also you can read them on the RKOP discussion boards.

Right now I’m enjoying reading Mraz’s latest journal writing on his official website.

I love reading Mraz’s posts. They are truly well-written, inspiring, personal, creative and funny. He’s one of my favorite writers of both lyrics and personal essay/blog prose–so I’m kinda happy he can’t seem to stay away from writing!

Bubbles

Oh, I’d forgotten about bubbles!

On a recent road trip, my little girls and I discovered the perfect bubble wands: over a foot long, their bubble-blowing ends shaped like giant purple flowers. When we tried them out at the gift shop by the beach, waving them lazily in the air around our bodies, we thought they made the most wonderful, hugest bubbles ever. Viscous rainbows on a mission, floating past the heads of passersby, rising up into the humid sky like silent, untethered balloons: they were beautiful.

After we got home I searched our cabinets, rounding up forgotten bottles of bubble soap for us to pour together into the bin where we would dip our wands. When the girls saw that most of these bottles came with their own little wands, they had to try them out. They breathed in, pursed their lips, and blew out medium bubbles, and tinier ones, and minuscule ones that darted around our kitchen happily like sunbeams.

When I took the wands and started to blow, the girls danced and sang and popped and giggled in the shower of bubbles I created. For a while time stopped, like a bubble frozen in flight, and we just were, in that place at that time–anyplace, anytime–until the moment popped (because that’s what happens with bubbles) and we came back into our lives. Only this time a little different,  somehow seeing things with newer eyes.

Some people meditate on their breath, or on a mantra, or a flickering candle flame. I dream of meditating on bubbles.

Feel it: uncomfortable and questions and worries and doubt. Fear. Breathe in… Now blow! See the fear dance away, transformed: circles and circles of rainbows, floating worlds, possibility, hope, laughter, lightness. Magic.

Right. I’d forgotten about bubbles.

I’m glad I remembered.

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011

Flow test! Ready, set, go!

So I feel like I could use a little more play in my life. But where to begin?

One of the best parts of play is how it puts you completely in the present moment. When you’re having fun, it’s hard to think about anything else–and why would you want to?

There’s a word for this focused feeling: it’s called “flow.”

Flow is a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to described the feeling we get when we are fully present, completely focused and immersed in an activity for its own sake, much like kids are when they’re playing. People are at their happiest when they’re in a state of flow.

In his work, Csikszentmihalyi uses the concept of flow to understand how we find happiness, fulfillment and meaning in life. Flow is not the end-all, be-all of playfulness. Really, it’s only indirectly related to playfulness (play is one of many ways people can achieve flow). But I figure, as a gauge of how engaged I am in my life, it’s a pretty good place to start. So a couple of weeks ago, I set myself up to take a “flow test.”

In his original studies, which were subsequently repeated on hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, Csikszentmihaly gave subjects an electronic pager that went off at random intervals throughout the day (about eight times a day, for a week). At the prompt of the pager, people were supposed to write down how they felt and what they were thinking about.

After briefly considering the fun of roping a friend into texting me eight times a day, at random intervals, I decided that it actually made much more sense for me to set my own calendar reminders on my iPhone. So that’s what I did: I closed my eyes and spun the numbers on my clock like a roulette wheel to try to get some approximation of randomness. It’s a little hard to be random on purpose, but for my completely unscientific self-experiment, it worked well enough.

At the end of a week I had a snap shot of My Life Right Now. Csikszentmihalyi calls these descriptions “a written film clip of… life, made up of selections from its representative moments.” To me, they read kind of like a collection of (none too exciting) Facebook posts. (Sample entry: Day 1, 11:18 am: At the coffee shop, alone, reading research and taking notes for my book blog. Hey, I’ve got an idea! I think I’ll take this flow test! Actually, what I’m doing right now feels like flow. Nice. Okay, they weren’t all this well written. And all but this one were decidedly less meta. Most were illegibly scratched in the pages at the back of a notebook I keep in my purse.)

What did I discover after my week of testing? Apparently, I spend a lot of time driving kids to and from various activities, waiting around to pick kids up from various activities, being online or texting/e-mailing friends (who I see all the time in person, but we’re all too busy running around with our kids to actually connect in person) and just generally stressing out and not living in the moment. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, I did have some really great moments–going to a series of concerts and hanging out (in person!) with my friends, spending time with my kids in nature, immersing myself in my work… and even (go figure) shopping at the grocery store (just something about that particular shopping trip–having only one child (my oldest) in tow and having a fun conversation with her as we zipped around Whole Foods ticking off items on our list, running into a good friend while we were shopping–made it particularly pleasant). I’m not sure that anything in my week, at least during the random moments I recorded, would qualify as earth-shatteringly optimal, but apparently, some of my activities did make the cut as “optimal experiences” as Csikszentmihalyi would define them. (In his best-known book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi begins by defining flow simply as “order in consciousness”: “when psychic energy–or attention–is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action.” So I suppose I can see how grocery shopping could make the “flow” list in my life.)

But here’s what I’m struggling with… these were optimal experience, I guess, but are they all really play? Sure hanging out with my friends and splashing around in a pond with my kids have to be classified as play. But immersing myself in a project at work? Going to the grocery store? Really, is my adult life so un-fun that grocery shopping is what passes for play these days?

Part of me wants to say, that’s great… I’m bringing a sense of playfulness and enjoyment to everyday activities, an order to my consciousness. But then another part of me really, really, reeeeaaaally wants to get more out of this play experience. Beyond finding happiness in my everyday adult life and responsibilities, I still have a huge desire to play the ‘traditional’ way. Sometimes I want to (need to?) jump in a mud puddle, climb a tree or challenge my co-workers to an impromptu game of tag (I don’t know; I just do). Is that immaturity (or craziness) on my part, or is that a fact about myself that I need to embrace and run with?

So yes, I think understanding flow is a good start to figuring out how to wring more playfulness out of life… but there’s got to be more to it that that.

(to be continued…)

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011

Things I CAN

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.  Pablo Picasso

In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink suggests stretching your creativity by “celebrating your amateurness.”

“If you want a creative life,” he says, “do what you can’t and experience the beauty of the mistakes you make.”

For a perfectionist like me, there is something oddly freeing in the idea of trying something totally and completely out of my element and realm of experience. I don’t have to do this thing perfectly because it’s just not even remotely something that I would normally do. Simply the fact that I’m doing it at all is a big deal. And, actually, in this kind of situation, the perfect thing to do is to make mistakes. I like it!

There are plenty of things that I’m naturally good at, but for much of my life, especially when I was a kid, if I wasn’t absolutely amazing at something on the first few tries… I’d give up doing it. My husband puts it this way: I am so competitive that I can’t handle not winning; so if I think there’s a chance that I’m not going to be the all-time, number one, absolute champion at something, I don’t want to do it. (I know that sounds awful on paper. I swear I’m a lovely and charming person in real life!)

Now that I have kids of my own, I realize that’s absolutely no way to live life. I certainly don’t want them picking up on that attitude. Plus trying new things, being open to new adventures–and yes allowing yourself to make mistakes–is a big part of being a playful, creative, whole person.

So in that spirit, here are some things I can’t (yet):

  • Play the guitar (or the banjo)
  • Stand up paddle yoga (Honestly, this sounds like an awesome sport and a fun(ny) thing to be able to say you can do; the main reason I say that I can’t do this is the fact that I can’t…
  • Swim (Very well. Yet. Yes, this is a skill that I should have learned about 30 years ago. Why didn’t I? It’s a long story…)
  • Be a published writer (My days as a features reporter at a daily newspaper do not count. Did I mention that I’m a perfectionist?)
  • Drive a car with manual transmission (Helloooo, my husband’s super-hot, blue 1997 Dodge Viper! Looks like I’ll be driving you soon! ;)
  • Adventure racing (This is a sport that involves the ability to navigate with a compass, run, bike and paddle a canoe. In total, this is so far removed from my normal sense of self and skill level… how could I not do it!?)
  • Have a conversation with a person I don’t know (This is about as basic as you can get, I know, step one in making new friends. But it’s just one of those things that I’ve always dreaded doing, and I’d like to get better at.)

Okay, I’m going to try my hand at some of things and see where they lead me. Plus I’ll probably add some new items to the list as I think of them. I’ll keep you posted on my progress…

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011

This is an experiment…

As I’m title-ing this very first post of my brand new blog, I find myself wondering how many millions of blogs must have started out with this very same title. I hate losing points for originality, but I feel like I’m probably in pretty good company. It seems to me that many of life’s great-big experiences feel like an experiment in the beginning: choosing a career, getting married, becoming a parent, writing a book blog… But in the end, things work out. Sometimes they work out really well.

Here’s my project: I’ve spent the last few years, and the last year especially, advocating for children’s play through my work with the fantastic nonprofit Sunflower Creative Arts. As my colleagues and I shared books and conversations and films about the importance of play in the lives of all children, and as I allowed play to be an absolute priority for my own children, I started to feel… well, honestly I started to feel a little left out.

You see, for children play is fun (of course), but also it’s creative and transcendent and social. It’s a way to try out different situations and roles/relationships–to experiment–in a safe environment. It’s a way to deal with, and make sense of, complex emotions. <–That’s my favorite. I can assure you–as an attachment parenting, stay-at-home mom to a six-year-old and a three-year-old (and as a generally passionate and thoughtful human being)–I have complex emotions. And no real outlet. Where, I wondered, was the play in my life?

If it wasn’t already there, I decided, I needed to go out and find it. And understand it. And figure out how all of us adults can (re)learn this seemingly simple, vital skill. That’s been my mission the past few months. So far the experiment is working out well–but hopefully this is just the start.

Fortunately, I believe I’ll have a lot of help in my journey… I have plenty of crazy, playful friends. Heck, I even have a friend with a college degree in play (true story!). I have a stack of research and thoughts by Michael Meyerhoff, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Darell Hammond… but even better, I have access to the world’s real leading play experts–the kids at Sunflower’s play-based co-op preschool program, where my younger daughter goes to ‘school.’ Not to mention the invaluable help of my six-year-old creative consultant and partner in crime. And my husband, who is whole-heartedly supportive of even my most random, off-the-wall ideas (even if he thinks they’re too crazy to actually join in himself).

So, this should be a pretty good adventure. Let the experiment begin…

 

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2011