#YesIPlay: Essential Play
Right now and for the next few weeks, I’m under a self-imposed ban on LEGO building. I’m moving, so instead of building, I’m dismantling my LEGO models. It’s horrible. Not that I mind the dismantling process, it’s still gives me something to do while watching TV, but dismantling does not hold the joy of building. In addition to moving, I have a lot going on this summer (dissertation, articles, beginning the job market process, etc.), so there is a lot on my plate. I’m not saying these projects necessarily make me “busier” than usual or even busier than anyone else, and I don’t buy into the notion that “busy” is better. But, these are stressful projects and fairly high stakes if I hope to have an income after this year. Typically it’s during times like these that I rely more heavily on play to help get me through.
Throughout grad school, I have found play to be critically important for both managing my stress and helping me work through ideas. Recently, I’ve been listening to Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg Mckeown, while packing. Although it’s not necessarily a ground breaking book, it’s interesting enough, and it keeps me focused on the task. I’m working through a pretty large downsizing of my possessions, so it keeps me thinking about whether I actually need something as I work through packing up my stuff.
I’m finding the book useful, but even more so when Mckeown started talking about play. He talks about how play was “pure joy” when we were children, but then seen as trivial when we grow up. The idea that play is trivial matches with my experiences with the perception of play, particularly when the pressure to work, work, work can be so high. He talks about how play can improve everything: health, mental function, etc., while stress causes an inability to function effectively. He used the examples of losing your keys or forgetting important reports when stress takes over. Even though I didn’t find the chapter particularly ground breaking, it did cause me to think more about my relationship with play and the guilt that often comes with playing, when I’m “supposed” to be working.
This summer, in particular, I feel the pressure to be “busy” all the time. I feel like any real academic would be working all the time: all work and no play makes a good academic, right? But, I know myself better than that. All work and no play leads to less productivity and more spinning of wheels. So, I play, and I’m letting go of the guilt. I thought about the advantages of play a lot while I was studying for prelims because sometimes I had to put Aristotle down and play some Rayman Legends. I probably felt a lot guiltier about it that summer than I do now. These days, I’m working harder at integrating play into my schedule deliberately. For example, every night from about 5-7 is reserved for making dinner and play. I’ve also been working with a writing partner for dissertation support, and this year, we’ve decided to incorporate playing with LEGO during our weekly meetings. Hopefully, this will help ease our anxiety and open up room to let ideas develop.
I’ve written mostly about play and LEGO here because I’m going through a bit of withdraw, but video games tend to have the same calming affect. Really, it all applies to whatever type of play inspires joy. Some examples from our NYMG conversation include LEGO and video games, of course, but also, coloring, puzzles, knitting, etc. I can’t tell anyone else what will inspire their pure joy, and I certainly never expected to become so involved with LEGO, but I can tell you that experiencing the pure joy of playing with LEGO helps me not only manage my stress, but it can almost instantly pull me out of a panic attack or overly anxious state of mind. Everyone should find his or her joy, but if you struggle with stress or anxiety, active involvement with whatever gives you that joy might help. If for no other reason than play’s affect on stress management, play tends to increase my productivity.
Luckily, I can still play video games, and I’ve kept a few games unpacked, and of course I still have my handhelds close at hand. So, I’ll still be able to play during the next three weeks. Maybe I’ll go play some Lego Jurassic World.
This piece was written as part of Critical Distance’s Blogs of the Round Table feature, “Pure Fun.”