23 July 2013

Two Ways to Begin Playing

I suppose there are two basic kinds of beginning. The first kind I call the “flash beginning”. Imagine a continuum: this type of beginning falls on the far left of the spectrum. It is the kind of beginning that, as the name says, comes to us in a flash, with no preparation. You are sitting, walking, driving, washing dishes, gardening, running—seemingly “doing nothing”—and then, WHAM-O!

It hits you, a sudden burst of inspiration. You are left wondering, “Where on earth did that come from?” To be sure, the thought must have come from somewhere…it must be there for a reason—but goodness knows what that reason is and you will never divine it. Best to leave it as a “flash” and let it carry you away—provided it is a flash that adds treasure to the world (like a photographic flash) as opposed to a bomb-flash that tears apart.

The first type of beginning is marked by the instantaneous confluence of thought and action—or feeling and action, take your pick. In either case, when the idea strikes you it instantaneously moves you to action. You find yourself “caught up” in the experience of something new. You need to follow the idea through to completion right away. If not, you cannot be at peace.

That is one kind of beginning—but there is another type. Some personality styles find this second type of beginning easier than others. This second type falls on the far right of our imaginary continuum. It is the kind of beginning that could follow from the first flash but it takes longer to take shape. It is the “prepared beginning”.

Sometimes an idea hits you that is so big, you cannot possibly begin acting and follow it through to completion in a short span of time. So, you need to plan before you begin acting on the idea.  All great works of art are like this, I believe. Even Jackson Pollock’s seemingly random paintings required preparation. Certainly there is a long list of creative endeavors that require this second kind of play: symphonic masterpieces, epic novels, and award-winning films. In fact, I think the classic children’s story Green Eggs and Ham falls under this category, too! Bill Waterson has testified how much thought went into the use of space and the employment of simple lines for his famous Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. To be sure, the idea for an individual strip may have struck him in a flash, but between the inspiration and the execution it is reasonable to suppose there was a period of (perhaps methodical) preparation.

The different types of play fall somewhere on this continuum. More complex and extensive expressions require a great deal of patience and perseverance. The irony is: Play can be hard work, can’t it?!  

When have you experienced play as simpler (the first type) and when have you experienced it as more complex (the second type)? Do feel free to share your thoughts with us. We’d love to hear what you think.


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