I am not exaggerating when I say I am a girl renowned for play I am not kidding. I can find fun anywhere, anytime. From creating funny vacation stickers to graffiti up the world during road trip travel or making an afternoon in the back forty a treasured memory complete with beach chairs, custom cocktails, outfits, aliases and an overall theme of the absurd. The back forty is a cement pad in back of my apartment building overlooking the garbage cans and telephone lines. I have an imaginary PhD in Play, just saying.
So imagine my distress when I realized that my work, all 3 jobs—which I love—are my greatest source of play, joy and fun these days. My play time was unfulfilling, frustrating and flat. I didn’t notice at first, and then thought maybe I was just tired as I was working roughly 6 days a week in some capacity sometimes 7. I rested more, clumped my work up to give me more space to rest and think, read, color, and walk, but none of this was as fun as my work. Even my long time love of trying new restaurants left me with a feeling of ennui. Nothing matched the rush, the pleasure of my work. I understand this sounds like “happy people” problems and it is. That being said, if left unchecked it could lead to trouble like a strange irregular-bordered multi-colored mole.
I know that staying happy is tied to play; it is a key component in learning and being fulfilled. Play invites in mystery and can add a sense of purpose. Discovery is built on play; discovery is one of my 5 core values. If what normally gave me pleasure was not hitting the mark I needed to mix it up, try new things, old things and nothing. I also know this can be an uncomfortable process when we are looking for something that soothes and we don’t find it. It can be frustrating, especially when pulling out tools and tricks that once worked or gave a great deal of pleasure now are just blah. It’s like having this gigantic itch you cannot quite reach to scratch.
I talked to several friends and they suggested I start with a list of ideas that might be fun. After talking to my brilliant friend Kamille about my play button being busted she sent me a great TED Talk with Shonda Rhimes about saying “Yes.” My trusty team had given me this same directive to execute after the holidays. So the TED Talk title resonated and I waited a few days to watch it when I could give it my full attention.
I watched it on the morning of a planned mental-health-play-hookie-sick day a few days later. It was the perfect way to start that day of discovery. Though all of the TED Talk did not apply a good portion did and it repeated the message I had gotten earlier in the fall reminding me of what winter into spring might look like. Shonda was a work-a-holic and was not a big fan of play. That was and never has been true for me. Though I had been working too much and stopped booking clients on Saturdays to make more space there were lots of truth, direction and resonance with what she said. It is a most excellent Ted Talk.
That morning I did yoga, watched my video and was off to Balboa Park to look at art, meditate, wander about and take pictures and just be. No plan really just wandering. After mediation in a pretty section of garden I got up to leave. Looking up I saw someone dressed in a jumble of bright colors, mismatched, ill-fitting clothes with a fire engine red headband and sunglasses moving at in a herky-jerky manner at a good clip coming my way, humming very loudly. I thought he might be homeless or have some challenge’s from the sense of jangle I could feel in my chest and the reaction of those closer to him as he rushed past them. I just watched him move along ahead of me not thinking really and went on with my walk.
A little bit later I came out of an alley into the Old Globe Theater square where I heard beautiful classical music being played. As I stepped into the square proper I could see a brightly painted upright piano and the fashion challenged gentleman who had rushed passed me earlier playing it. There was a sign on the piano which said “Play Me” and he was. I froze for a moment as the music he played was transcendent. I stood there trying to process what I was seeing and hearing then moved to a bench and sat watching, then closed my eyes and just listened.
I listened for almost an hour as folks moved past him and me through the square chatting, pointing, listening for a moment and moving along. I listened to the sheer beauty of the music as it dipped and sailed and spun around me where I was moved to tears over and over. He never paused. Each piece unfolded seamlessly into the next, each concerto singular and complete yet threaded to the next one creating this whole experience richer and more powerful than their singularity of composition. Writing this I see how that is true for us as well. We are richer, more beautiful when threaded, connected and experience life with the world, with people, with nature as opposed to in our singular completeness.
When after a long time had passed and I was ready to move on, I felt immensely grateful for this wonderful concert, this artist, this day and this moment I had stumbled upon. I sent thanks, love and light his way and outward to the Universe ambling away to find sustenance. Sitting at Panama 66 a restaurant next to the sculpture garden in the park not far away I wrote a good part of this piece feverishly over a tasty lamb sandwich and a beer. At that point still not sure what just happened to shift me from worrying about my play time to being in it.
By trying to think my way through this—trying too hard, being the over-achiever I am—I crashed and broke my play. I go back to what my sister Chris said about me, “Your head is like a bad neighborhood. You shouldn’t spend too much time there alone.” So what I can say to you now about all this is: whatever you are struggling to achieve, let go. Let it unfold and be a surprise, choose a direction maybe, but not the route. There is a balance of choosing, doing and being. I had forgotten to be, I needed to go out and play, but I got hooked in the orchestration of that and hooked on what my expectation of what it should be and feel and sound like. I forgot that the new is more herky-jerky and bumbling then I made space for. I knew that the old wasn’t fitting but forgot that the untried needed space. Putting that open-ended desire to be lead after the choice was made was the key. So try it, lean in, let go and see where the music comes from. Let the games begin!