Sunday, May 1, 2011

It is OK to Play?

Originally Posted on November 11, 2007

How did Friday evening’s presentation of the Creative Process interview go? The professor seemed pleased with everyone’s interviews and self-examination. I think I did OK. One never knows how some one grades, really.

One of the observations our professor made as a common thread among the creative process is an artist’s propensity to use play as part of their tools. When we first examined the book Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People by the Root-Bernsteins, it is confirmed that play is a common and prominent tool among creative and scientific people. This was quite an interesting observation, but it also explains everything about the creative world.

Essentially, play is a way to let the creative process take a breather and regenerate the energy back into the work. Play seems childish, but the artist needs imagination to fuel the elements that go into the end product.

As the Root-Bernsteins point out, many great creative and scientific people have used play to help them think clearer. Take Alexander Calder, for example, who had a room devoted for play. In order to create the amazing mobiles and installations along the way, Calder played in this room, which he called his ”circus,” to help understand how to shape his creations.

The noted American physicist Richard Feynman balanced his research life with play. During his career, he was known as a practical joker, a juggler, a painter and a bongocero. Can a guy who was involved in The Manhattan Project be so balanced as to incorporate play as part of his scientific process? Just read the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

As I compared my own creative process with my interview subject, play came up as something that helps me in my writing. My play is fueled in the imagination, something I have not shaken off since I was a child. You were taught to let go of anything you had a child, but to maintain a creative life, you need that balancer to help understand what you are creating.

Now, before anyone gets any ideas…I need to disclaim that my play does not involve anything childish in the sense. When I write, I try to find humor somewhere to help liven up things. A MotorGeek review may need something ripe to save a dry piece. An Heirloom post might use something to replace stats and technical jargon with something from left field…and not literally.

How does play work? I take a break from a piece and do something else completely different. There may not be a specific route I will take, but something to keep the mind regenerating as the writing “cools down.”

The ultimate vehicle of play is Boomer, my conga drum. It does not have to involve drumming a pattern or to solo out, but a few strokes to explore the head a bit and some improvisation helps create play for me. See, I do have something in common with one of the creators of the atomic bomb!

Ah, but Boomer does not encourage destruction (nor should any shaman's drum), but of peace and love. Even Boomer is involved with some of my creative work. The photo above, for example, was done for a photo shoot of a MotorGeek subject. I figured I wanted to try something different, so I wrapped up the drum in a blanket and have it sit in the back seat of the car, as it was keeping warm in a cold Minnesota morning.

One thing you may have noticed is how I refer to my drum as the name given it. If you ask B.B. King why he calls his guitar “Lucile,” you can tell there is an element of imagination and play in his interaction with his guitar on stage. Think of the language legendary punk/alternative bassist Mike Watt uses to describe his instruments, his music and his home base of San Pedro, California. We all certainly share this creative tool through a musical instrument normally reserved for “serious” work. This is indeed justification for Boomer’s existence in my creative world.

The imagination itself is a source of play, but of work as well. The possibilities seem endless for play if the imagination is let loose…if only for a short time. Novels are created from this idea, as are poems. How can you let the poem generate a feeling without revealing its real source of emotion if you mold it into something semi-oblique? The element of playing with a poem is similar to a chef playing with the look of a course for aesthetic purposes. Read my “A Scene from” to see where some elements were a result of playing with the poem.

If there is something I can take away from this class is perhaps this acknowledgement of something that seemed embarrassing to me is legitimate in the eyes of my fellow creative people. Play is a beautiful thing and must be incorporated into everyone’s creative process. Never be ashamed that you play as you work. It will help you become a sharper person in the end.

Let the child out sometime, or engage in an adult version of play. Either way, the end result will be a healthy piece of creative work.

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