Friday, April 10, 2009

Industrious Drudges of the World Unite: Take Back Our Play!

As you can see from my previous three blogs, I take the subject of play very seriously.

I am one of those rare people who love my work. But I tend to fall into the dangerous trap of confusing work with play. Work - even when it's fun - is all about deadlines and responsibilities and no end of stresses. Play - even serious play - is not.

So what about hobbies? Beneficial, yes, but I tend to engage in mine in "adult" mode. I love to cook, but working a knife with four burners going and something in the oven is not the time to get in touch with my inner child.

Socializing? Getting out with others? Same thing. Adult mode, especially when I'm networking, even when I'm cracking jokes. Certain social norms are in play - or, more accurately, at work. Fart jokes, for instance, are off-limits.

Kicking it up a notch? As in white men dancing? Your honor, I rest my case.

Robert Putnam's 2000 book, "Bowling Alone," is a metaphor on our increasing social isolation and lack of community - from dwindling civic involvement to not getting together to have fun. Participation in organizations such as PTA is way down, as are bowling leagues.

Is bowling play? Close enough. Well - guess what? - we've just about eliminated it. Hardly anyone bowls in regular groups, anymore. It's as if someone said to us: You're adults now. No more recess.

Oh, and by the way, no more recess for your kids, either. We're gonna turn them all into humorless industrious drudges.

Hmm, child bipolar on the rise, along with ADHD, various conduct disorders, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and obesity. Could there be a connection?

The pressure is always on. Our way of relieving stress is to work even harder. We experience temporary relief at nailing a deadline, only to face our next one with a worn-out brain, not a fresh one. Trust me, our brains weren't built for this.

If I bowled, I would make sure to put on a funny shirt at least once a week and find a tribe of like-minded people to share fart jokes with. I happen to play water volleyball, so shirts, even funny ones, are not allowed in the pool. But fart jokes rule.

Fart jokes is my metaphor for playing like the true experts - five-year olds. If I were to write another book, I would want to call it. "Fart-Joking Together." But my publisher would probably insist on changing it to "The Wisdom of Being Five." I can live with that.

Or maybe "The Stupidity of Being Seven." Really, I have no idea how I survived age seven, but that's when I mastered kickball and learned an important life lesson in the process:

I arrived at school that day determined to kick a home run. No doubt about it. I could visualize it perfectly in my mind. All morning, when I was supposed to be learning multiplication and cursive handwriting, I was focused on my game. Finally, my moment came.

The ball rolled toward home plate. I ran to meet it. I lined up my shot and aimed my kick as hard as I could in the direction of right field ...

The ball skittered off the side of my foot. A girl in a pink dress picked it up and touched me out.

A week or two later, I got my home run. I trotted slowly to the ball and gave it a controlled kick. My foot hit the ball's sweet spot and the thing sailed over everyone's heads in center field. Even in my wildest dreams, I could never imagine kicking the ball that far.

All these years later, I vividly recall watching that ball take off like a rocket. No, I take that back. This was 1957, the year the Soviets launched Sputnik. Their rockets worked. Ours blew up on the launching pad.

Anyway, here I was, standing at home plate, surveying my handiwork sailing higher than our best rockets could fly, too surprised to even start running. Then I collected my wits and headed for first, then second, third ...

And they want to take that away from kids? Guess what? They're not going to take it away from me.


Sign up now: World Adult Kickball Association.


Moira said...

Play may now be found in a museum, the Strong Museum (

You lament about adults bowling alone, children losing recess and more and you wonder about:
"child bipolar on the rise, along with ADHD, various conduct disorders, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and obesity. Could there be a connection?"

I think so. Colleagues of mine in early childhood education think so, too. They talk to me about children who suffer from AFFECTION deficit disorder.

Perhaps you've heard of the Leave No Child Behind act. Are you aware of the counter-revolutionary "leave no child inside" movement? They're for real here:

I leave you on this Easter weekend with a little poetry for inspiration:

Dinner at McGlinchey's

Two warm chili dogs.
A frosty glass of Guinness.
Beware, those nearby!


John McManamy said...

Hey, Moira. Very interesting points. I definitely need to keep pursuing this. I'm a big believer in getting kids connected with the outdoors.And fart haikus are the way to go. :) Happy Easter -

Cristina Romero-Sierra said...

Moira, that looks like a fun museum! We have a pathetically boring Children's Museum where I live. But I plan to check this one out in Indie this summer while going to the National DSBA conference:

I too think play is crucial to the well being of the minds and bodies of children and adults. Your series is refreshing, John.

Bipolar plays a huge role in my play time - both the quality and quanity. When I'm depressed, I can't enjoy play as much(anhedonia). When I'm in the high end of bipolar, I place too much importance on work and 'special projects' to be able to focus on play.

But I've gotten better with this over the years, and even if I have to force myself, regardless of my bipolar state, I always schedule play time. Play time can be as simple as going out to dinner with friends, going for a walk in the park, watching a movie, taking a bath or going shopping with friends. Or it can be as grand as planning a trip to Indianapolis. :)

John McManamy said...

Hey,Cristina. I'm back to confusing work with play. I'm "playing" with Garage Band, trying to turn my play blogs into my first podcast.

When will I ever learn? :)

Anonymous said...

Hi John,
Being a 23 year student I have discovered that often my work time and play time overlap a lot, the result of which is me missing out on the full benefits of my play time.
This came up recently at a dinner with my girlfriends who after listening to me talk about my progress on a research paper for five minutes incited an intervention. They told me every time I started to talk about work I had to make an animal sound. Within twenty minutes I had already broken into crowing like a rooster and mooing like a cow. We were all giggling and I found myself really relaxed for the first time in a long time (and aware of how much my work has taken over my life). This was really an effective method that we have used time and time again to break me out of one of my moods.
This leads me to my point. I feel that in ignoring play or avoiding it my cycles become more and more pronounced, which in turn leads me to be more and more focused on work. The stress of which can drive me even deeper until I am no longer aware of my moods but drowning in them. By scheduling weekly dinners with my friends or taking time out to go lay out in the sun with my roommates I find I am a much healthier, happier person.
Thanks for this website. It gives me hope and strength in my recovery.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Jamie. Wow! You figured all this out at age 23? I feel so glad for you,, and for your future prospects. This is a vital life lesson that takes most of us way too long to learn. Many many thanks for sharing your story - I know my readers will appreciate this very much. Welcome to "Knowledge is Necessity" and please keep sharing your wisdom with us.