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Filtering by Tag: play

What are you playing at?

Michael Dechane

23 curled_leaf In my mid-twenties, in a time of profound personal crisis, I began trying to draw things. I wanted, as always, to write, but I could not write at that point—I could barely talk. It was the first time since early childhood I'd even made an attempt to draw anything: I knew by then I had no aptitude or natural skills as that kind of artist. What a surprising delight to find that I was better than I expected, even with just a tiny bit of instruction, some space to work, and a few hours of attentive play. I began to learn some of what I assume most beginning art students do: how to look; how to see the whole of a thing and its parts sandwiched between back and foregrounds; how the surface and texture of a thing suggests or conceals what is underneath and inside; how to estimate proportion, the size of a thing relative to another; how to direct the trajectory of the next stroke; how light on things makes shade; how a simple thing on a table can become beautiful—a wonder; how to take these things in, and then to render. It was fun—it was true play.

It is harder for me to say how this and other experiments with art (watercolors, carving, cooking, music, photography, filmmaking) have helped my work as a writer, but I'm convinced they have. The rudimentary skills I just described with my foray into drawing overlap or translate pretty directly into a good skill-set for writing, sure. More than anything related to the craft of writing, though, it is the play that has helped me, I think. Experiencing, maybe rediscovering, the joy of dabbling, of failing without cost, of being lost for a while in the act of making: it's playing when I can't (or won't) do the work of writing that has helped me most, though I can't (or won't) say how, exactly. It's too soft or sacred a thing to say directly.

Last summer, my wife bought me a thing I'd been wanting but didn't want to spend the money on. It's called an Olloclip, and it is a tiny set of interchangeable lenses that fit over the camera built into my iPhone. The set she got me has a fisheye lens, a wide-angle lens, and what I most wanted: a macro lens. The macro lens lets me take extreme close-up photos and video. It basically straps a 10X microscope to the HD camera in your pocket. I have spent hours inching my way across the living room shooting subjects I never saw as subjects before. The carpet. Rocks in the fish tank. My pant leg. You may have no idea how thrilling dirt and dust is, until you get real close to it. I would say Extreme Close-Up Vision is a pretty lame superpower for a superhero to have, except that all of my favorite authors seem to have it. May I get real close to you, right now, and ask in a 10X whisper: what are you playing at?

(Photo by Michael Dechane)

Play, the basis of culture?

Jennifer Vasquez

18 Children's Games

Play comes naturally to young things – like these piglets, equally happy playing with their Christmas gifts or with the wrapping paper.  Or children, who effortlessly play all day at housekeeping, firefighting, fort-dwelling, save-the-worlding….

When did we lose this?  Why did we lose this?

Was it way back when working the soil became toil with sweat, when the burden of childbearing came down?  Maybe occupational labor was originally occupational play – 9 to 5 of fun and games.  Did we forget how to play when, like Tom Hanks in “Big,” we permitted “important responsibilities” to make us forget who we really are?  If so, is there anything left to be redeemed?

When adults use the word “play” as in, “We played at the beach all weekend,” it sounds strange to me, although it is hard to nail down why – is it that adults don’t have the capability to play or shouldn’t be playing?  Have we simply permitted a bent and distracted world to shame it out of us?

My husband informed me that the word “play” in Spanish as it refers to musical instruments is the same word as “touch,” so that, for example, you touch the trumpet or touch the oboe.  Play implicates the physical world, but it probably comes a lot easier for most adults to play in their minds with ideas, inspirations, wonder – although most of us could probably play more in this area as well.

I liked this idea of linking play to an object – that even performance art is tactile, although in a different sense than painting, or weaving, or landscaping.  A lot goes on in the mind during such play, for sure, and is connected to the body, to movement, to the incarnate.

Could it be that just as children are learning how to become adults through play, art is a blessing that survived the curse, or maybe one of the blessings that accompanied the curse, giving us the playing field for learning to be re-creators, learning how to come into our status as image-bearers?

"The Greatest Show on Earth"

Ian David Philpot

Gwen Weerts, author of "The Greatest Show on Earth" which will be appearing soon in Relief 4.1, writes about how her Creative Nonfiction story began.

I began drafting “The Greatest Show on Earth” in response to a very underwhelming circus performance, which at first led to an inquiry into the nature of spectacle. Interestingly (at least I think it’s interesting), the first draft of the story was written in play/script format, with scene details in italics, and narrative commentary ascribed to a narrator or voice over. I loved the form for this essay, but as the story developed, it became more and more about wonderment, the terrific, the terrible, and less and less about the observer and the observed. The narrator, stage directions, and voiceovers also quickly subsumed the dialogue. As I began to revise the story, I twisted and contorted the storyline to justify the form, but in the end the story won. Still, I love the idea of using the form of a script to advance a narrative, and I’ve been waiting for just the right opportunity to revive it.

I’ve heard it’s a bit of a faux pas to share early drafts of unrevised work (after all, we revise for a reason), but to convention I say “Ha!” So here it is, the opening scene to “The Greatest Show on Earth,” as first conceived:

Act I

Scene One

A mountain vista in the background.  This is Skyline Divide Trail on one of the last beautiful days of the fall.  The low blueberry shrubs have changed into their late-autumn attire, a brilliant russet garment that transforms the alpine meadows from gold to ruby.

    Voice Over:  About Skyline Divide, the Hiking Whatcom County book says, “The hike is steep at first, then eases off in old-growth forest for 1.5 miles before reaching a small opening around 5,200 feet. The path soon crosses the wilderness boundary and meets the meadowy crest of the ridge, at one of those places where your whole body involuntarily just says ‘wow.’”

Four hikers enter, wearing packs.

Jen: So, how was the show?

Gwen: Mm, it was interesting.  The drumming was fantastic.

Joshua: The contortionist was . . .

Kris: Pretty amazing?

Gwen: Uh, went on too long. The woman finishes his sentence, one of those irksome things that married people do.


Gwen Weerts has an MA in nonfiction creative writing from Western Washington University. She works as an editor for an optical engineering society, and after spending her days immersed in algorithms, debating the most judicious use of a hyphen in the present lens design textbook, she spends her evenings and weekends writing and speaking in run-on, but grammatically perfect, gibberish to her husband, dog, cat, chickens, garden, and anyone else who who will listen. Her essays have appeared in the quarterly publication Adventures Northwest, and she is working on a collection of stories from her year living and learning in sub-Saharan Africa.  Her short story, "The Greatest Show on Earth," can be found in Relief issue 4.1.