Saturday, May 23, 2009

Creative Play

For me, Memorial Day Weekend is always the beginning of summer. Although I am a completely non-violent person, I am grateful to our military and those who choose to serve and sacrifice for our country.
I am also glad that the weather has changed in Ohio. Birds and butterflies abound in my yard and both Kings Island and Cedar Point are open for the season! There are few places more playful than amusement parks.
Our family has already been to both KI and the Point. Our 8 year old son Ely is tall enough (and brave enough) to ride the Beast (and lots of other full-sized coasters)!

Last month, I was fortunate to attend and present at the National Art Education Association conference in Minneapolis, MN. It is always a great environment to reconnect and to learn. I had a major epiphany about creative play. In addition to attending numerous sessions on the topic, I took the chance to seriously play. I rolled down a GIANT hill on the property of the Walker Art Museum with my fabulous friend Kurt Van Dexter. Dave Modler and I walked around the city for a couple of days with finger puppets. We found that while the super nice people we met in Minneapolis generally spoke to us, gave us directions and helped on the light rail, once we "came out" as the silly, playful adults we truly are, people found us very hard to acknowledge. Even at the conference full of art teachers, our puppets were mostly ignored. Oh well, we laughed a lot! The puppets helped us notice the details of our surroundings (since we were experiencing the world through their eyes) and examine our own fleeting feelings. Daisey noticed every flower in an urban space prior to Spring's big push and Dave and I were able to become better friends with our serious, academic selves out of the spotlight.
From past experience, I knew that my logical left brain would succumb to the creative right as the conference progressed. This year was no exception and long before the puppets came out to play I was feeling spacey and losing my ability to articulate with words. At one point when I asked my new conference friend Emma Allen if she understood what I had said, she replied, "I know all the words that you said individually, but I don't understand them as a sentence!" I've learned to accept that my ability to cognitively process things becomes inhibited as my creativity soars. What I am beginning to understand is that playing has an important role in keeping me balanced. Rolling down the hill with Kurt was such a physical release, it prepared me to see more art and return to the conference able to listen better. I also found that my journal of conference notes became more and more visual with fewer words to document my experiences as the days progressed. At some point I needed to "think with my hands" by drawing, doodling and designing on the pages. The biggest realization came to me in the swimming pool.
Growing up, I LOVED playing in the pool. I have never been a strong swimmer, but thankfully my parents provided years of swimming lessons, so I am comfortable in the water. As an adult, it seems you are only allowed to play with children in a pool. Otherwise, you are expected to be a serious lap swimmer, or if you are me, sit on your behind in the hot tub. As an adult, I LOVE hot tubs! I specifically select hotels based on this amenity. You can imagine my disappointment when I learned that our conference hotel's 2 hot tubs were both closed for renovation.
I complained at the desk, I pouted, I told friends in other hotels to expect me to use their hot tubs. But I didn't seriously consider using the pool. But as the days wore on and my body grew tired from all the walking and carrying of stuff, a splash in the pool seemed more appealing. I started to consider taking a swim, but there were a lot of barriers. Like the glass walled poolroom was adjacent to the complimentary breakfast area. Did I really want to be on display in my bikini as others dined? And I didn't have an accomplice. No one else seemed at all interested in swimming. Plus, the water was probably cold. Finally, I decided to cut through the poolroom and test the water. It was warm! That was it, I planned my pool excursion in the late morning. Breakfast was over and I had the place to myself. At first I just waded around. And floated on my back. This is probably my best pool trick. Then I started swimming; doggy paddling, back stroke, underwater mermaid style, big kicks, making a splash. I walked as far as I could on my tip toes. Since no one was watching, I did a couple of hand stands. Then I remembered how my brother and I would spend HOURS jumping off the side of the pool. How big of a splash could I make? I was concerned that I might slip on the edge of the pool, and of course that a guest or employee would see me being so childish. But I decided not to resist.
At that point there was no stopping me. I was splashing, diving down to rescue my hair tie from the bottom of the pool and really whooping it up. And the rewards were many. My full brain was able to process all the information it had been storing. My ideas were flowing (including the concept of this post!) and my body felt a lot better. I remember when NAEA was in Boston, I played in the pool a little, but I was too embarrassed to keep it up for long with the lap swimmers going by. Next time I will be brave. I give myself permission to play in pools from now on, for the sake of exercise and to re-balance. I promised Ely that I will say "yes" to playing in hotel pools with him, even if the hot tub is working!
So what have I learned? Adults SHOULD play. We need to give ourselves the space to pretend, goof off and look silly. It doesn't matter if strangers accept your actions. Actually, we can be role models for them.

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