Playing In The Dark
I’ve been thinking a lot about play and playfulness here in my residency.
Last night a group of us went for a hike at twilight, through the woods and onto a cleared hilltop where we could catch the moonrise. I was tired after dinner; had planned to stay in. But I didn’t want to miss the full moon. We watched the pinks and purples darken into black and then waited, talking in the dark, admiring the stars, until a white smudge appeared over the treetops in the distance. As it became a glow, then grew into a sharp white crescent on the edge of the horizon, and then an entire milky orb, my fatigue dropped away. I would have loved to photograph the scene but didn’t have the right equipment. My artist friends made some beautiful pictures, though.
I expected the full moon to be beautiful. I did not expect the moonlight to be so bright that we cast long shadows on the grass. That we could play with our shadows at night.
Walking back in darkness felt deliciously playful—another surprise. I forgot to worry about rattlesnakes and the mountain lions we’d been warned roam these hills.
We mugged for the infrared wildlife camera as we passed it.
Back in my studio, my mind hummed.
Today I saw a dancer play inside an enormous bubble. She laughed as she experimented with space and movement; I laughed too. I felt her joy; her energy energized me. We were attuned—something I feel many times each day here.
And as a group of us practiced tai chi in the morning, a hummingbird suddenly darted into our circle. It hovered around each of us, as if wanting to join in.
My medium is not dance, or visual art, but writing. I’ve been working on a memoir, which can feel like serious work. Serious work, we are led to believe, takes determination and sustained focus.
Determination and focus may be necessary, but they are insufficient. Surprises, playfulness, wonder energize the work even if the subjects I write about are not playful or light.
When asked in an interview if surprise is a key element of play, psychologist and author Allan N. Schore responded, “Recall that attuned play amplifies joy, excitement, and yes indeed, surprise. A positive state in turn allows individuals to experience a situation as safe, to feel unrestrained, to take risks, to explore novel pathways, and to be creative.”
Surprise, play, joy all feed the subconscious.
In his essay “How to Keep and Feed a Muse,” writer Ray Bradbury said, “What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.”
A moonlit hike. A hummingbird crashing our morning tai chi. These experiences are not in my memoir, but every word I write sings more because I’ve had them.