Play & the Perhaps: A Mini Manifesto

Dear Bella: 

It is December 13, 2018.
You are taking a class called “The Art of Play.”

You have been asked to write a manifesto.
This manifesto must be on Play.

This manifesto must be 10 pages.
These 10 pages must be double-spaced.

These double-spaced pages must be read by a professor. 
This professor will give you a grade.

This professor is a human, and thus an equal and a peer. 
And I am working through her to bring you an opportunity. 

This assignment is a chance to play with wisdom and with wonder. 
Explore your understanding. Let it help you to recover. 

Your Higher Power, Spirit Guide, or However-You-Understand-Me. 

The Isabella Florence Playground Manifesto:

[Title subject to change]

“The world is your playground.” –Isabella Florence

I just quoted myself. 

‘Cause I can 

That’s play.

A manifesto on play? Tall order. Except, really, it’s not. I have an abundance of thoughts on play. An abundance of thoughts and an abundance of feelings, more than I need for ten double-spaced pages. More than I need for ten single-spaced pages.

So now it’s just a matter of tapping into that flow, that flow that allows these thoughts and feelings to appear on the page in their natural, self-designated order. In fact, tapping into the flow of this essay is a form of surrender and thus a form of play itself. I am merely the vessel through which my manifesto manifests.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is meant to be my intro. Oh well, I guess it’s finished. Cheers!

I’ll start with finding play in tasks. 

Back in September, I was tasked to read a book. I was tasked to read a book called Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga (g-d bless the specificity of that name).

Huizinga’s “task” was to discuss the, ahem: “importance of the play element of culture and society.” My task was to…read it. But I decided to go further. I wanted to dissect his every word. I embarked on this task with force, efforting the words into my consciousness, rather than absorbing them naturally.

Finally, though I had 60 pages to go, I made a decision. (I omit the number “60” because a) it’s arbitrary, and b) I might send this piece to my professor, and, well, you know).

Where was I?
Oh, yes.
My decision.

I decided to let go. I even talked to my journal about it. 

Shall I share my words?
I shall. 

Shall you read them?
You shall:

On September 18th, 2018—in the moment that is now—I hereby decide to abandon Homo Ludens, having read most of chapter one and skimmed some of chapter two.

I have gleaned the author’s purpose. 
He aims to define play. 
A cool motive, but alas:
He is wordy. 
And redundant. 
His metaphors, on me, are lost. 

I aimed to dissect his every word.
But I am bored. 
Confused and bored. 
I’m confused, and bored, and I hereby affirm that muscling through this text will do more harm than good.

I have Jean Piaget ahead of me. Time to shift from Dutch to Swiss. 
Having stopped learning, I shall now stop reading, and move to pages with more pizazz. In the language of recovery, I shall take what I want and leave the rest.

I reside in the wide-open-world of Perhaps.
Do you know what happens in the world of Perhaps?

The People of Perhaps subscribe to Possibility.
It’s possible I’ll return to this text.
But it’s also possible that I won’t, and that’s okay, too.
In the words of Doris Day, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.

Time for more Recovery jargon: How important is it? 
What’s important is that I am doing my best and getting out of this class and these texts what is useful to me.”

Oh, Bella. 
Oh, Bella, Bella, Bella.
You acted in the spirit of play. 

Muscling throughlife, as you so aptly worded it, contradicts and undermines play. Play can challenge us, sure—it can yield to great growth—but it should not be tortuous.

Effort is one thing.
Strain is another.
Ease and effort coexist.
Strain and effort do not. 

Play is about balance. 
And balance is a b*!/&%. 

Bella, that was not very nice. Come on. Apologize.

Okay, I’m sorry. 
But there’s truth in that statement. 
Balance is a challenge. 

So how do we integrate play into our lives? 
It can be subtler than you think. 

Play might not look like skinny-dipping or swaying on the see-saw. 
It might not look like 20 Questions or I Spy. 
It might manifest as taking agency, or doing the opposite of what you’ve been told to do.

By choosing to abandon a reading that I was instructed to complete, I was taking agency. Honesty and risk-taking are vital to my version of play, and by admitting to my professor, who will read this, that I did not finish a reading, I am embodying both of those things. 

Play’s meaning is personal; it only affects the culture at large to the extent that the individual interacts with the world as a result of their play. It’s like eating: we eat to feed ourselves, not to feed an entire culture. Once we have eaten, we have the fuel required to participate in our culture, which then enhances or develops it in some way. And yes, play is natural, but we don’t need to know why we do it. Play is about trusting; it’s not needing to know why. Even September-18th-Bella understands this:

The author of the text I have chosen to abandon tries to define something that is perhaps undefinable. Animals are blessed; they get to experience play as it is, sans question; they lack the human urge to justify and hamper play’s existence with logic.

I understand that defining play is an objective of this course, but I’m just not sure that is possible. What I can try to do is identify play’s meaning for me; what I get out of it; what my experience is like when playing. I don’t want to overthink (as that defeats the purpose), so I will simply review my notes and abandon this for now.

When I play, I return to a state of childlike awe; I see through a lens of love and beauty. One day, my professor, for whom I am writing this manifesto, brought a bag of toys to class. 

I remember seeing the toys before me.
As a mass it captured me, but when my professor said to choose one that was meaningful to me, I realized I had not seenthem as separate objects.

So I started to look closely:

I noticed the gold lion, whose behind faced me.
I noticed the blue toy microphone covered in stickers, recognizing it as one that many of my friends and cousins had owned as children but had never crossed paths with my parents’ money.
I noticed the teal necklace and considered taking it.
I noticed the cloth Spiderman mask.

No one toy grabbed my attention more than the others. Rather, I saw them as equal members of an ensemble. That said, it didn’t matter which toy I took; I knew I could find meaning in any of them. I did not want to choose arbitrarily, however, so I used my big girl brain and imposed meaning onto the Spiderman mask. 

My little brother used to love Spiderman. We watched the animated series together. Spiderman is the only superhero I have a connection to, and I have that connection because of my baby brother, who is now grown up.

We were asked to introduce ourselves as our objects, and to tell the group what we needed to feel safe. That’s a serious conversation! I introduced myself as “Spiderman Half,” explaining that I needed a child’s face to feel whole. I then pondered the difference between myself and my current “character.”

Bella Florence does not need another person to feel whole. Unlike the mask, she is independent. But she has things in common with the mask, too. She has the capacity to protect, transform, guard, and shield. By playing in that moment, I got to know myself better. What a gift, to explore my several sides. Thanks, Play!

Play and imagination develop early on; we question before we comprehend. In that case, the difference between the child and the adult is their ability—or shall I say, need—to understand. I believe it is the desire for understanding—the desire for answers—that prevents adults from playing. 

Have you read Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass? I have. For a college class

Let’s meet Lyra, our posh protagonist: “Although she understood nothing,” Pullman says, “she was intrigued and delighted by the complexity of the detail.” 

Thank God I wrote this quote down; my copy of The Golden Compass is long gone by now. 

Don’t worry—I didn’t chuck it—it was a library book. 

That said, I can’t provide context for this quote, but I don’t feel I need to; it speaks for itself. 

Rather than focusing on what she lacks—understanding—she focuses on what she has—beauty—and that leads to a feeling of joy. Understanding is not something we can force; understanding comes in its own time. 

Play, on the other hand, is always available to us

…the way a god or higher power is.

What a fantastic segue into the personal significance this class has had for me. 

Over the past few months, I have committed to 12-Step Recovery to work on my addiction to control, the highest manifestation of which is/was my eating disorder. In doing so, I have developed an understanding of my Higher Power in tandem with my understanding of play.

I won’t reprint the 12 steps, because I don’t speak for any 12-step program, but I will say that in these programs, we’re encouraged to find a relationship with a god of our own understanding. 

Name, gender, pronoun, labels: none of these matters. God, Goddess, Spirit Guide, Guardian Angel, Universe, Higher Power: these are all words that have been used to describe this abstract entity. 

So too exist a plethora of terms to describe the abstract entity that is play. Thus, for the purpose of this manifesto, I am adapting the phrase “as we understood God” to “as we understood play.”

I am on a journey to improve [my] conscious contact with Play as I understand play, praying only for knowledge of play’s will for me and the power to carry that out embrace that. 

[As you can probably guess, the words in italics are an adaptation of one of the steps. If you’re a 12-stepper, you’ll know which one.]

Remember earlier, when I used the slogan, take what you like and leave the rest? In Recovery, all of the literature and wisdom we receive serve as tools to bring us closer to ourselves. We can choose whether or not we use them.

I have approached my understanding of play this way. I have taken the class readings, discussions, and activities not as rules, but as options: potential routes through which I can reach my own understanding.

I have not included them all in this manifesto, as that would defeat my purpose. I am not out to prove that I have done my academic work.

I am not seeking an A or a pat on the head (although I do like physical touch). I took this course for me, and I am writing this essay for me—and for all the players in the world.  

Now, as the clinical director of my old treatment program would ask, where is the eating disorder in this? How do I apply my concept of play to my E.D. recovery?

I’ll tell you how:

Say I want a cookie, and I’m afraid to eat it, because I’m afraid it might make me too full. But I don’t really know how my body will react to it. I can decide to play with this cookie, take my body on an adventure.

Think of eating the cookie as it experiment, and let it have the effect it has. Maybe it results in a change of appetite. Maybe I don’t eat as much later. Or maybe, it gives me energy, and I burn it off, and eat more later. Or maybe, I’m a little fuller than usual, and I sit with that experience and say thank you. Who knows?

Much of my recovery depends on attitude and the lens through which I frame a situation. The attitude of play lets me treat my recovery like a game, in which I have infinite lives. I can be playful in my recovery one day at a time, one bite at a time, and let every moment serve me. There are no mistakes in play; play is forgiving. When I keep a playful attitude, I always get another chance.

I can treat each day of my recovery, each bite of my recovery, like a game. A game in which I have infinite lives.

In conclusion, here are my current thoughts on play, as I understand play:

  1. Play is not planned. Play is just showing up. 
  2. Play is an attitude, a way of viewing and approaching life.
  3. Play is my ability to accept myself without judgement and to accept life without knowing what is going to happen.
  4. Play is making plans and setting intentions without anticipating their outcome.
  5. Play is going with the flow. 
  6. Play is seeing what happens. 

Before I sign off, I must note that this is a work in progress.

This is just a rehearsal. 
A first draft. 
A first run. 

If I thought of this piece in concrete, permanent terms, I would not be able to turn it in, because the truth is I have not had the time to re-engage with every work from this semester, and I know that further insight and connection await. So I hereby deem this piece a beginning, trusting that it shall continue. 

Well, readers, you know the drill—

HAH! How funny, to have my own drill

The opinions expressed here are entirely my own; adopt them, share them, or leave them behind. 

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