Friday, November 7, 2014

Play Right // Write Play

I've been thinking a lot about play lately, in all aspects of my life. Naturally, my teacher brought it up during out workshop class this week. She mentioned a few books to check out so I picked up Homo Ludens at the library by a Dutch cultural theorist, Johan Huizinga. Homo ludens means "man at play" or the species that plays (although we aren't the only ones). 

Play is an integral part of our childhood and an important factor in our human development. Huizinga argues, though, that it does not end there. According to him, "play is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing.” (Huizinga 1)

According to him, these are the 5 characteristics of play:
  1. Play is free, is in fact freedom.
  2. Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.
  3. Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.
  4. Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.
  5. Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.

My writing teacher, Heather, says we must write the unthinkable (write without thinking), and if as Huizinga suggests that "play only becomes possible [...] when an influx of mind breaks down," then perhaps ... 

writing is play? 

She had us do an exercise in class on Wednesday where we were to draw cats - while I sang to the class. The moment she told the class that I would be singing while they drew, blood pressures rose. "Imagine if you were a child again, and your teacher said that a classmate was going to sing while you draw," she said. "Would you be afraid for that person? No. You'd think it was the most natural, normal thing in the world."

We have replaced play with fear - fear of messing up - because we have been tricked into believing that there is a right and a wrong. 

Huizinga writes: "The play-mood is labile [i.e. easily altered] in its very nature. At an moment, 'ordinary life' may reassert its right either by an impact from without, [...] or by an offence against the rules, or else from within, by a collapse of the play spirit, a sobering, a disenchantment." (21)

We, as writers, must try our best to cling to that liminal space between our conscious and unconscious mind. We will be granted beautiful gifts if we can learn to stay in that space, and it will be apparent to our readers when we fall off it. For example -

This week, one of my pieces of nonfiction was workshopped in class. I produced that piece over several sessions of furious handwriting at my sun-drenched desk where I like to think I was "in the zone." ("The zone" is that place where you have stopped thinking - that place where play blossoms.) My classmates agreed that the writing read true and real. Heather had only one comment to make and I knew exactly what part she was going to point out before she said the words. "This took me out of the story," she said, referring to a part I had added after the fact, once I was typing up my story later on. She caught it! I had to laugh. You can't trick your reader...

Like with play, writing is neither good or bad. We must resist the urge to write from a feeling state. Rather, we must write from a state of playfulness, that place that is time out of time, no-holds-barred, perfect in its spontaneous creation.