Saturday, February 8, 2014

HoneLife: Play

"In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play." —Friedrich Nietzsche
"Adulthood", the 100% serious kind, can be such a sad state when it comes to play.

I've never really understood the concept of 'work hard, play hard'. Perhaps it's because I tend to be more introverted, but I find playing hard just as exhausting as working hard. To me, that's kind of exhaustion isn't play, and it's not much fun. Yet if that's your cup of tea, more power to you. It's just not for me.

Plus, as children grow into young adults, most play and games become infused with competition. Competition requires a winner and a loser. The winner is rewarded for the exertion put forward in the activity, but the loser isn't so fortunate. Is there joy in losing? Not so much. 

Competition isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if we start to believe that competition and play are inseparable, we're bound to miss out on the joy of playing for its own sake. Some games are played not solely for the victory, to see who wins or loses. Some games are just meant to be experienced.

CousinThat's where some of my best memories come from when I was a young child. Yes, we played soccer and tee-ball and other such competitive games. Yet we found more enjoyment playing games that we invented, just for the joys of imagination and the world of pretend. My siblings and I used to turn our camper into the best, bike-accessible-only McDonalds drive-thru. School recess would find my friends and I inventing games to play out in the open field, away from the swings and merry-go-round that was always congested with older kids.

Even now that I'm older, this experiential playtime is what I enjoy most. There's no anxiety over winning and losing when you play doll-house or hunt Easter eggs with a young cousin. Telling stories with a group of Sunday school kids becomes more fun when they begin to invent stories with you. After all, would you think of turning Frankenstein into the size of Godzilla with the power of slime to disintegrate buildings? And would you think to get the Transformers involved to keep him at bay and save all the 'city folks'? I know that wouldn't be my first thought... and that's what makes this kind of play so fun. 

Blue Heeler DogWatching animals at play also brings out that simple joy in the experience, like how our outside dog never gets tired of catching sticks or snow balls (and seems to always wonder where they go when he bites and eats them). And if my family had never moved into the mountains, I never would have witnessed our cat play 'tag' with a young deer.

All this reminds me of innocent play, a kind of play where people can jump in and out of games without interrupting them, and no effort is wasted because playing isn't dependent on winning or losing. It's play for the sake of experience.

With all this in mind, this is my "Honework" of the week:


It was a game she made up,
sprung from imagination like a shooting star
as all children's games begin; what's more,
her friends loved the idea too,
couldn't wait to get started
as she explained the guidelines and clutched
the braided lengths of white horse hair
in her tiny fist,
binding her and her favorite mare together
with the ring of a key chain

They all knew horses,
saw them, loved them, experienced them,
if not in their own backyard ranches
then at the home of a friend
or the bin of a playroom,
plastic legs forever running;
Sometimes they even pretended to be them,
learning to neigh, trot, and gallop on two legs
and eat grass with one leg extended,
though their arms transformed into lips and teeth
so they could reach down without kneeling;
After all, no real horse would do that,
except babies curled up on the ground,
and they didn't want to be babies

But this new game was special,
she knew,
she'd imagined it;
And soon they all did,
pure white horses as they usually were,
they could easily grow a horn
and become magical;
After all, unicorns were a lot like horses,
Only better, because they were said to favor maidens
and they graced the covers of their favorite notebooks,
white and neon brilliance

So they set off
together as a herd,
discovering hidden wonders in the playground,
seeing magical things
only imagination sees

And it gathered attention;
The boys wanted in,
only she had to tell them how, they all agreed
it was the girls' game,
and she was the guide, she led the experience,
not one questioned it
because it didn't need to be,
since not all games are for winning,
some are just for experiencing

Little brow furrowed,
white braided hairs woven in her fingers,
she added the wolves, and thus the chase,
to their enchanted playground field; yet
rules were needed
to balance the boys; they all knew
boys are clever and strong
and when caught up in games
might act too rough; then harm replaces fun,
and none of them wanted that

It was all agreed that the wolf-boys would be
true to their totem
and run on all fours
to chase the girl-unicorns
and catch them in they can; the girls would be
swift, act like they didn't know
a stalking was taking place
until jumping free at the last second
to gallop across the field
neighing in fierce joy,
waiting for the wolf-boys to catch them,
oblivious to the curious stares that followed

She thrilled in the game,
at the unhindered idea that sprang to life
in the hearts of her classmates;
Forgotten were the swings, merry-go-round,
jungle-gym, monkey bars;
All they needed
was themselves
and wide open spaces;
For that moment
she was free,
they were all free
living the purity of play

A little fist raised triumphant,
braided white hair on a key ring
wrapped around a tiny finger; finally
the loss of a favorite, four-legged friend,
a fallen Star
was made whole again
in the memories of two-legged unicorns
and the wolf-boys who chased them

See more "Play" at HoneLife.