“To play is to live in grace.”
Marilyn McEntyre writes these words in the tenth chapter of her book Caring For Words in a Culture of Lies.
A tenth chapter aptly titled ‘Play’.
Before I read this line, I’ve uncapped my orange highlighter and with broad strokes colored every letter and punctuation mark in this prior sentence.
“Play comes from loving life, and play with words comes from loving language.”
I linger over this insight and then the next paragraph captures me yet again.
“Montaigne, one of the more playful writers,” she says, “whom I encountered in my arduous years as a French major, coined the term essai (which simply means an attempt or trial) for the little thought pieces that have since become a genre unto themselves.”
Hmmmm. I ponder. Would we, as writers, attempt to play with words more often, forsake the need for perfection, exile the imminent imposter syndrome, if we simply viewed the blank page as a playground.
A place to execute an attempt, experiment, invite the fun, discover what we might have to say.
I watch my nephew, face red, breath puffing from his pursed lips in concentrated huffs. He strains his small body, propels it forward. Success!
His fingers find contact. Hand grips the metal of the monkey bars. He swings to the next bar, then the next, and the next! Navy blue stripes on his pocket tee juxtapose against the sunny yellow jungle gym. His grin stretches ear to ear as his feet make contact with the ladder.
Looking our way, he pumps his fists in the air with delighted celebration! We clap. Cheer loudly! “You did it! What hard work and you made it all the way!”
He hops to the sand and beelines toward the starting point.
Success is sweet and he wants to taste again.
The wonder of living in the freedom of new endeavors.
Could we, as writers, find the goodness, the tenderness, the indulgence, of adorning a fresh page with a bevy of syllables and letters and truth-filled fantasy if we granted ourselves permission to splash in the grace of playful fun?
Dip our pens in the inkwells of frolic, teach our keyboards to cut loose, let pencil lead gambol and frisk.
Her tongue protrudes from one corner of her lips, switches to the other side. Concentration plays on her features and she swings the red croquet mallet. It connects and a shine of red rolls toward the wicket. It slows and stops midway. Braids flipped across her shoulders, she runs to stand beside her ball. Dimples emerge at the corners of her big smile. Her sisters clap and big brother steps up to take his turn. They’re a merry band. Lemonade sweats in glasses amongst crumbs and paper plates. Penny curls beneath the white picnic table, tail curled around her paws. She’s contented from the success of sniffing out the scraps and dropped cracker pieces. Leaves rustle above on the warm midsummer evening.
A mix of concentration and contentment. Skills honed in happy entertainment. Presence to life. A sense of being, of dwelling in the moment. No rigorous schedule to keep. No deadline. Only a sense of savoring.
Her camera shutter snaps in quick succession. Looking at life through the lens, capturing moments in motion and holding them forever as treasured frames. Sprinkler spray arches high. Sunlight catches, dances, sparkles. Black tresses of her subject bounce against cocoa-brown skin. Bow straps flap against shoulders and the snowy-white skirt of her sundress billows as she runs toward the water drops face wreathed in delight. Eyelet hem brushes bare legs and brushes against the head of Waverly, their Westie puppy.
Click! Click! Click!
Freezing the everyday joy of today, of water play, of childhood too quickly gone. She knows these photos will be splendid. The light, the spray, the kinky-curly hair framing her daughter’s face, the ruffled baby puppy fur.
They both play. Mama and daughter. One with camera lens. One with puppy friend and water.
Play is the glitter of life. It dusts the harder days with hope, adds pizzazz to the precious. It bears the privilege of acknowledging the beauty in the everyday.
Hands us a hundred hints toward truth.
Perhaps in allowing ourselves to play, we connect with our creativity, our passion, our compassion. Meet our dreams when we’re dancing in the orchard. Find fun when we follow the flashing trout along the creekbank. Bear witness as we bask in the bright spring sky.
And perhaps, we as writers, breathe freer, smile wider, type faster as the power of play in story becomes clearer, the wonder of wordplay grips us, the love of language charms us with every grace imaginable.