The Importance Of Being Playful

Dec 1, 2010

I am a refrigerator decorator. Oh yes you might think, as you imagine the door covered in orderly fashion with photos of family, friends, good time memories…but this is not what I mean. On my fridge door there are no family pictures (except one of a dear deceased cat, Elvis, whose holding magnet is a red crown), no sentimental cards, doodles or to do lists. Instead, it is a playground, a map to the landscape of creative powers—a collage of social play envisioned through stories, art, poems, quotes, imagery, Navajo cosmology, postcards, cartoons, fantastic magnets, magnetic geometric shapes, both fantasy and reality. In some ways the essence of my philosophy of life is portrayed on my fridge. Let me give you a few examples.

If I get down or feel lost I can look at my ‘frillage’ for support, encouragement, humor. I can even play on it! For one, I can change the attire of the magnets, Michelangelo’s David and Venus de Milo. In their classical nude state they stick to the metal door. But alongside them are clothes— biker jacket, boxers, jeans, t-shirt, Doc Marten style boots, mini-skirt and bra, just to name a few items. I also have magnetic words and letters available for leaving notes, writing poetry, sending word vibes—both of these have been favorites of my teenage son and his friends as they’ve come and gone from the house.  They created homages to the wonders of the teenage mind. They would create things just to see if I’d notice…you can only imagine some of the things David and Venus have ‘said’!

A quote by Robert Frost that particularly resonates with me, “I’m not confused I’m just well mixed”, fits in perfectly with the door mélange.  There’s also my ‘Take me to Paris’ magnet, a not so subtle hint at play along with a cartoon of a guru sitting lotus with a balloon above him that says “OOOOOMM”. Next to him stands a bull with the familiar “MMMMOOOOO” ballooned above.  I’ve carried this cartoon around with me for decades. It looks like an archaic artifact of wisdom that I dug up. Numerous guests in my home have spent considerable time ‘reading’ the fridge. It’s definitely a conversation starter. So, my point is that play can be an everyday activity, not saved for the weekend, or vacations, or after school activities, but integrated into our daily activities, especially living in a ‘play full’ region. And it’s certainly a social activity. Play is best appreciated by experiencing it. Remember when you were a child, what kind of play did you engage in? In Stuart Brown’s book Play, he states that, “The work that we find most fulfilling is almost always a recreation and extension of youthful play.” He explains that often if we look at our “play history” we can see what we are missing in our adult lives. That what we did as a child is our core, our essence of who we are before society’s norms got under our skin and took our play away. Guess what my favorite types of play were? Dress-up, playing with dolls, writing and art.

Brown also states, “Sometimes, the best way to get the feel of a complicated subject is to just play with it.” And what’s more complicated than most of our modern lives. Giving ourselves the opportunity to play offers us opportunity where we can let our sense of self breathe a little differently. In doing so, we energize our world. What if you brought play into your work and instead of feeling drudgery you enlivened your work with spontaneous play. Play = Creativity + Imagination and in the business world the buzz word is Innovation. Play is the spirit of creativity alive in a culture that perhaps doesn’t always seem to value creativity or play. Everything is about work…the puritanical work ethic…but, remember the old adage “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy?’  

In between my New Orleans voodoo doll magnets is a photo of a Caribbean bird reminding me of my desire to one day spend the winter holidays in the Caribbean happily playing under palm trees entwined with Christmas lights. I live to play…and play to happily live.  The door of my refrigerator is a powerful reminder to stay seriously playful.