After I spent some time yesterday musing about the relationship between work and play and concluding that “the play must go on,” that we should consider bringing the same enthusiastic approach to our work as to our play, the artificial intelligence at Facebook reminded me that I had written something along the same lines three years ago.
Maybe it’s a “first day of summer” thing — the solstice puts me in a more playful mood.
In any case, here is an encore performance from 2018:
It’s your game
OK. No games this time.
Now, see? That’s your problem. Why “no games”?
Well … this is serious.
Is it, now? Or maybe the way to be serious about it is not to be serious at all. Play a game.
It’s not a game!
Well, maybe that’s the problem: Maybe you need to make it a game. Here are the rules, here’s the ball, over here is out of bounds, and there’s the net or the goal line or home. Get out there and play!
I think I see what you mean.
There is no “think.” You either see or you don’t.
Put me in, coach. I’m ready.
Oh, there’s no “coach,” either. You get to decide if you’re going to play today.
But if it’s a game, you need a coach to decide.
Not that decision – that one’s all yours. So – are you in? You gonna play?
But this is serious!
That’s one way to see it. Try another way.
Like, keep score? Set the time clock?
If you want. It’s your game. Just play. You’ll figure out how to cross the goal line, produce what you came here to produce, and do what you came to do.
I have day-job writing to do today, and the inertia is palpable. Perhaps if I approached it with the joy that I try to bring to my creative writing. There is a pattern to day-job writing that can feel restrictive, but there is a pattern to creative work, too. Perhaps …
perhaps … perhaps … perhaps!
“Find me in my next book,” I said in the postscript to my last book. Find me on the next page. Find me with your hands and eyes and ears.
Steven Pressfield tells the story of finishing his first book, and going to his mentor to proclaim victory, who said only, “Good for you! Now start on the next one.”
Start the next one. Here is my 10th book. Have a nice time with it, but I need to work on the 11th. There’s my 15th journal — I’m sure there are some nice nuggets in there, but I need to be here, in the 16th. I dropped my 324th consecutive daily blog post yesterday, and I’m proud of that, but my mind is here in the 325th and thinking about 365 at the end of next month.
It’s actually no different from the day job. Here’s today’s news, but, excuse me, I’ve got to be working on tomorrow’s news now.
The play must go on. More to the point, the play must continue. We are born to play, and so we play until we can play no longer.
… And in the space between the last two paragraphs, I found an answer to the inertia. You see, I started to write “the work” must go on, but I realized no, not work, we are playing at life in the sense that we seek joy and comfort and a sense of triumph, and while the games can be deadly serious, we are most fulfilled when we feel a win coming on … even when the win is defined as a loss in which we gave the task — or the game — all we had to give.
“I have to go to play,” the bread winner might say.
Instead of “Will you marry me?” the suitor might ask, “Can you come out to play?”
If our hard work were child’s play, would we feel better about it? And by child’s play, I mean the attitude, not the difficulty level. “Become as children,” Jesus said, or was it Paul or someone else speaking holy words? In the curiosity and open-mindedness of a child is an approach to everyday life that needs to be preserved or recaptured and rebuilt and reasserted.
The play must go on. Find me in my play. Look! I made this. What are you making there?
All of these creations I have surrounded myself with in this room — including the comfortable old chair — were made by children who grew up and made things — serious things, whimsical things, profound things, silly things, musical things, colorful things — that spark of childlike curiosity still aflame and still marveling at the possibilities. If we could bring that pleasure of discovery to all of our actions and interactions! What a world that would be.
If the day was always a new chance to see what we could find and learn and improve and share … If we moved from sand castles to skyscrapers but still had time for sand castles … remembering the joy and investing it into finding and creating new joy …
If we approached each day with the eagerness of a child at play — no, no, no, not “if.” The play must go on. The play must go on.
Although must is a command word. Mandated play is not play at all. I say “the play must go on” to convey a sense of urgency in myself, to suggest a way that seems right ot me. If you feel better to tell yourself “the work must go on,” that a time comes to put aside childish things, and this gives you a sense of accomplishment, who am I to say you should think of it as play?
So I speak for myself when I say “the play must go on.” Think of it as an invitation. Try this attitude out for size and see how it fits.
As for me, I see by the clock that it’s time to set this journal down and move to, well, playtime.
The most bearable part of winter is that the days start getting longer. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year — sunrise around 7:30 a.m., sunset around 4:15 p.m. in this neck of the woods. As dark and as cold and snowy as it can be, the one constant of winter is that we gain a minute or two of daylight every day, so even as we descend into the cold we literally see more light every day.
The best part of spring is reaching toward this glorious longest day of the year, the first day of summer, when the darkness is as vanquished as it ever will be. The most bittersweet part of summer is that for all the sunshine and warmth, we start losing a little bit of daylight, a minute or two at a time.
“It’s the four seasons,” we like to say, and I would rather have all four than to be somewhere where it’s the same all the time. On the other hand, being sunny and warm almost all the time doesn’t seem so bad anymore.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about when I turn 70, even though it’s 21 months away, and what’s the point? It’s going to happen anyway.
After all, I spent a lot of time over the years thinking how devastated I would be when Willow The Best Dog There Is™ dies, and it didn’t make me any less devastated when it happened. So why worry about being almost 70? because it will be just as surprising — no, astonishing — as I imagined it would be when it happens.
It means I’ve been stumbling along for a long, long, long time, long enough to know the 10 or 20 or 30 years to go will be a long time, too, so better to get down to living it than wondering about how long a time has passed.
I remember “Volare” by Domenico Modugno being a new song my mom loved, and that was the summer of 1958, and I remember hearing “Calendar Girl” on my brother’s transistor radio from WKBW in Buffalo, New York, and I was amazed to learn there were other radio stations in other cities far away, and that must be early 1961.
It was a long, long, long time ago, which — especially on the days when it feels like the years passed in a flash — is good to know, because I have less time left to live than I have lived so far, but (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise) it all means that I have a long time left, which is good to know because I have a lot of stuff left to do (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise).
What’s that you say? The creek seems to be rising? Oh, heck. I guess I’d better get busy.
I saw the little sign at a craft show Sunday and had to have it — especially when I saw the crafter only wanted 5 bucks for it. The message is priceless.
Today only happens once — make it amazing. Don’t bog down with what could be better or what went wrong yesterday. You’re only going to experience this day once, so concentrate on making it memorable (in a good way, of course).
Why stop there? This lifetime only happens once. Some people believe in reincarnation and new chances to get it right, but even if you do, this particular lifetime only happens once. So make it amazing. Take that chance. Reach for that star.
The ride will be worth it. And you get a new one every day — Amazing!
The people who run the late Ray Bradbury’s Facebook page posted this quote the other day:
“Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”
Mr. Bradbury made a lot of sense. When I write about people and thoughts and dogs I love (OK, I was a cat man first, so cats, too), the words scamper across the page like a feline chasing a pesky ball filled with tinkle bells, and when the writing feels like a chore or an obligation, the words trickle out like blood from a turnip after the longest drought Mars has ever seen.
And then there’s that fatal desire to make sure the words are crafted “just right” — whittling them to perfection in your mind before applying fingers to writing implement. The balance between caring about what you write and taking care to get it right is not really a balance at all, and yet it is — you want to say what you mean and mean what you say — but if you get all tangled up in saying it, you end up not saying anything.
Sometimes in the still of morning, you just have to write whatever is spilling from your soul and sort it all out later. In fact, that’s sound advice any time of day. It pays to set your fingers free to say whatever your mind wants to say.
Case in point: When I was scribbling that last paragraph, my impulse was to write “sound advice,” but I paused. “What is the right word here?” I thought. “Sound advice? Not-unsound advice? Not-bad advice?” I finally wrote “not-bad advice,” and in hindsight, when it was time to post this little bit, I ended up deciding my first impulse was the best.
Bottom line: Write only what you love, and love what you write. Somebody very wise said that once. or twice.
Great poets write of wastelands and despair, of the constant-dwelling angst that haunts their souls, say the scholars. Not I.
I say joy — I say passion — I say love — The bursting boasting glee that dares to run where artists may plod — that cries fire and foul to the dark lords of the ego —
when I see a white-tailed deer step into the evening spotlight and catch my breath — the faltering fawn steps into the softening sunset — I laugh, and delight is the only word that springs to mind —
this green world, this green woods full of life to be savored (life I tell you) to embrace and to leap into the air like a child or a spry old man who remembers enough of spryness to taunt the creaky old joints and shout love into the darkening night. This is no desert devoid of humanity, this is lush this is life this is well love —
in the warmth of a hug is the secret the comfort the reality of – of – of – it all.
In the warmth of a hug is the knowledge that all is not lost, all is waiting here — right here — you feel it even if you deny — the power of the hug unleashes the tension, softens the blow of the harsh —
all is not lost — the message from eons ago waits and it is the same message from the last 5 minutes — this is life this is love — this life is about love, not the bitterness left behind by the wearing —
at the very heart of the heart of the heart — at the very deepest place in the soul of the soul’s soul — in the most brilliant corner of the most brilliant mind’s mind’s mind — is life — is love — is passion — is hope —
I say joy, scream joy, shout joy in the life and the love and the hope. This day was grand, the next will be more.
OK, so this is the day the “pre-order” phase ends and people can launch the print-on-demand process immediately when you order my new book, Full, from your favorite book store. Someday, no doubt, books will be printed on the same day they’re demanded, but I think the existing tech is pretty awesome in itself.
Since I posted this photo on Facebook with the tagline “I made this!” the interest in Full has been greater than my usual book launch, which is gratifying. I’ve always been happy to let my books find an audience at their own pace, which is to say I do not aggressively market my stuff. (That, no doubt, is one reason why I still have a day job and the books are my side hustle.)
I hope to get a little more involved in sharing this little book with the world, including the unprecedented step of talking with local book stores about stocking their shelves with Full, and I’m going to make some calls that may result in a modest book tour. It probably won’t extend outside of Door and Kewaunee counties, but who knows what might happen once I get out there?
And sometime before my 70th birthday (now a mere 21 months away) I want to plug that microphone back in, warm up the old radio voice, and join the audiobook revolution.
But don’t wait on that possibility — with my tendency toward procrastination, my next book will probably be published before I get around to recording the Full audiobook. (Or maybe by publicly shaming myself, I can light a fire under my tail.)
But yes, Full: Rockets, Bells & Poetry, my latest collection of random-ish thoughts, is now on sale through your favorite bookstore, either print-on-demand or ebook. Thanks for snapping up one of the first copies!
Look, you can find darkness wherever you go. There has always been the dark, people doing unspeakable things to each other for their own selfish reasons, or for someone else’s selfish reasons. The challenge some days seems to be to find the light, the redeeming acts that show the best in people, the beauty, the evidence that something good and valued can still be found on this wretched planet.
But the plain truth is we overlook the bright and golden parts of life because they’re so commonplace.
People gather to listen to music, play or watch others play, buy groceries, exchange goods, and that’s what happens: They hear music, they play, they interact. The cliche is “A plane landing safely is not news,” because the simple fact is millions (billions?!) drove the roads and did not crash, went about their business and were not robbed or swindled, and made their lives better.
The seekers of darkness will show you the crashes, the thefts, the swindlers, the aberrations and abominations, but the plain and simple fact is we come in peace, we work and play in peace, and while we are constantly seeking to make it better, this life is worth living.
For every dark act there are a thousand acts of good and mercy and light, for every killing there are 100,000 peaceful interactions, for every act of hate there are a million smiles and acts of love. Breaking news of horror comes from all over the world because what we encounter in our everyday lives, in the here and the now, is anything but.