July 1, 2023 | Volume I, Issue 4:

Playtime

Prioritizing Play:

The Importance of Goofing Off, Giggling, and Having Fun.

Julia Morrison

The last time I saw my friends from high school, we spent hours catching up on each other’s lives, reminiscing on our adolescence, and laughing until we were too tired to speak. As we gathered our things and started saying our good nights, my friend, Sarah, said: “Right before I left, my mom said, ‘What are you girls going to do all night? Sit around and giggle?’” 

 

And we giggled even more because that’s exactly what we had been doing. Part of what made her mother’s comment so funny was hearing the word “giggling” in the context of a bunch of mid-twenty-somethings. But it was exactly the right word. There’s such a distinct difference between laughing and giggling, and “laughing” just didn’t quite describe what we had been up to.

 

Giggling is uncontrollable, soft, and constant. Giggling, to me, implies a certain sense of intimacy and comfort. It’s just sillier than laughing. Laughter can be cruel and hurtful when in the wrong hands. That night with my friends and other, similar nights are some of my most cherished memories. The older I get, the more infinitely grateful I am for the time I spend giggling, goofing off, and being completely unproductive with the people I love.

 

Part of that is because evenings like this become rarer the older we get. We move away from our friends, we work ourselves to exhaustion, and we find ourselves on the hamster wheel of constant self-improvement. We spend our days at work, and when we leave work, we spend our free time tending to our errands and household responsibilities. In our precious leisure time, we meet friends for meals, coffees, beers, movies, and concerts. We come home and watch TV or scroll to distract us from our racing thoughts about tomorrow.

 

As children, we spent most of our time playing. And at a certain point, we stopped. Playing, like giggling, is distinctly childlike and a word rarely used in the context of adulthood. 

 

Playing is all about fun and games, but it’s also a way for children to learn how to socialize, become resilient and well-adjusted, and experience fear and joy in safe, controlled environments. I recently watched a TEDx Talk by Dr. Peter Gray called “The Decline of Play,” which means I am now a highly qualified expert on this subject matter. In his talk, Dr. Gray explains how “animals with the most to learn play the most.” That is to say: complex social animals use play as a way to learn about their environments and their peers, and to develop the skills they need to survive. 

 

He goes on to note that young, play-deprived animals struggle to adapt to their environments, and instead freeze in fear and react inappropriately to social stimuli. Not only is this extremely sad to think about (my mind conjures the image of a baby polar bear standing alone on a playground), it makes me wonder: What happens when adults don’t play enough? 

What makes this challenging is how we define “playing” once we’re past the age of playgrounds, building blocks, and mandatory recess periods.

 

Shopping, going for a run, and meeting friends for coffee may feel like playing, but, is it? It seems impossible to find after-work activities for adults to engage in that don’t involve spending money or being “productive.” This New York Times article takes a deep dive into what does and what does not constitute play. The crux of it, as Dr. Jeff Harry puts it, is as follows: “A lot of us do everything hoping for a result. It’s always, ‘What am I getting out of this?’ Play has no result.” 

 

This means, scientifically speaking, playing has to be silly, goofy, and with no ulterior motive of achieving some kind of result. No hope of improving at something, losing weight, or accomplishing some kind of goal other than having fun. These activities are harder to find than you’d think. As my dear friend and colleague, Beal St. George, wrote about in her piece on Third Spaces, it is increasingly harder to find spaces as a grown-up that don’t revolve around working or spending money. In addition to the lack of time we have for play, a lack of physical spaces to facilitate playtime makes it harder to play. 

 

While most of our brain development is complete by the time we reach adulthood, it turns out there are still several benefits of play for adults. Playtime can help us relieve stress, improve our ability to work through interpersonal conflict, and keep our minds sharp. If I think about it too hard, I might then argue that play in itself has a benefit, so is it actually work? For the purpose of this essay, I am saying no. No, because these benefits are unintended, positive consequences, not the primary motivators for playing.  

 

With very few designated spaces for sober, G-rated adult play, and so little time, where does one go? What does one do to fulfill their childlike sense of whimsy? 

 

In the past few months, I’ve tried to incorporate playtime into my life more and more. It started as a bit (which made it easier, because there is nothing less ‘grown-up’ than sincerity), but once I realized how truly difficult it was to find time for myself to have fun and let loose, I realized how critical it is. I learned that even something as benign as picking up the guitar came with the crushing guilt that I hadn’t played in months or gotten “better.” Going outside to run around felt like a waste of time when I wasn’t pushing myself to run as far and fast as I possibly could. Lying down and listening to a record felt silly, especially when there were about 4 albums sent to me by friends that I promised I would listen to this week. 

 

So much of how we move through the world as adult humans means being surrounded by constant stimulation, seriousness, productivity, and self-improvement. We’ve reached the point at which playing can induce stress, because shouldn’t we be journaling or meditating or taking pilates or being fabulous somewhere? Don’t we have groceries to buy and dates to go on and friends we promised we’d grab lunch with? 

 

The important thing to remember about playing is that you can never be the best at playing. It is inherently imperfect and deeply personal. For some, playing might look like doing math problems and puzzles. For others, it might look like dancing in your living room or climbing a tree. Playing can start with small steps. Take your AirPods out on your next walk. Walk slowly and look at every house you pass. Pick up an old hobby or try something new without the pressure to improve. Play your instrument or struggle through another knitting pattern. 

 

Be really bad at whatever you do because you have all the time in the world to be good at things, and such little precious time to turn your brain off and do something that makes you giggle.

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Playtime Relics

A Zine by Lily Garnaat

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Playtime

Beal St. George

The year I turned 5, my father spent the fall building me a treehouse. It had a working wood stove and windows that closed and opened and shingles on the roof. By November, it was time for my birthday party, and he was still nailing the last baluster on the porch railing as the families pulled up. I think a few of them decided right then and there that they wouldn’t let their kids play up in the sky like that.

In my imagination as a young child, there were whole worlds inside of that treehouse; the backyard contained universes. This is the bakery. Over here is where the fairies live. Under the lilac bushes we play hide and seek. We’ll change it again tomorrow.

The Treehouse in October 2019

It’s possible the treehouse was as much for my father as it was for me—he would go up there to meditate. Maybe there’s a metaphor here about how my dad, a pilot who spent more time in the air than on the earth, felt most grounded at great heights.

I was never big on carousels, but I did learn what a metaphor was from Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game. My dad would play it on the guitar and sing; I’d prance around on the lavender carpet and chime in every time the painted ponies went up and down.

Last September, within months of my 30th birthday, that mammoth maple that held up my treehouse began to fail. My dad’s building skills hadn’t—the house itself was still structurally sound, but it had outlived nature. Twenty-five years into its existence, the supporting limbs were giving way. Some hemming and hawing ensued: do we pay thousands of dollars to get the thing removed? Muck up the yard with machinery?

In the end, a brave soul in a bucket truck came by with a mandate to protect the power lines. From the roadside, suspended in an aerial lift, he cleanly severed the necessary tree limbs. My dad sent me the video of the treehouse meeting its demise in just four seconds. The amputated tree lives on. And the seasons, they go round and round.

Utility worker pictured next to wreckage

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Black Mage

Raven Reynolds

Pixel art of "Black Mage": a little creature with a yellow witch hat, a blue robe, and glowing yellow eyes.

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Pretty and Brave

Lisa Kribs
in collaboration with Fox Kribs-LaPierre

Exhibit A - Battle Mallet

Exhibit B - Battle Helmet

Exhibit C - Village House with Chimney

Exhibit D - Armed Villagers

Exhibit E - More Armed and Unarmed Villagers

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A Pleasure Hunt

Courtney "CB" Brown

It can be easy to forget that there’s a whole world right outside, especially when the whole world appears to be right here on my phone. Why go for a walk when I could watch someone else go for a walk in a much more interesting place? They even have a cat hanging out of their backpack, for Christ’s sake!

 

Despite being a chronic daydreamer, always considering imaginary places, people, and things I could envelope myself in (bit of a noun-ophile), I know there is no “more interesting” place in reality. No matter where I go, it will be my responsibility to find meaning in what I find. I mean, I could put my cat in a backpack if I really wanted to…

 

If you, too, struggle to click into the right-now, may I suggest an activity? It’s called a “Pleasure Hunt.” It’s like a scavenger hunt, except you let delight lead the way. The purpose is to engage with the little moments of joy that are available to you, and only you, right now.

 

I followed a list by educator Lena Peak at The Expansive Group, which is shared below. If it’s accessible to you, it’s highly encouraged that you look for these things outside your home and uncover new ways to connect with the world outside your door.

Try your best to find…

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“Playtime! Is! Over!”

Dannie Marsella

Digital Photograph

Digital photograph of a room-- on the floor is a colorful dollhouse with illuminated windows atop a green turf. The image is warped as if it was on an old television that was malfuctioning.

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