Tag Archives: play

Rosa

There are two rows of kids’ chairs, six long each, in the school library. But they’re not just chairs. These are bus seats from the 1950’s, and this is Rosa Parks’ bus. That there is Rosa Parks’ seat. That seat, ladies and gents, is mine.

I’m too young to see much of a difference between the real and imagined. To me, real is imaginary, and imaginary is real. I’m seven years old, and I take to the stage like duct tape to my hair. There’s no difference at all between playing the part and playing little old me. The world’s my stage, and the stage is my world.

Will you get out of your seat?” the policeman asks me, Rosa Parks.

No!” I tell him with dignity. And that is that.

Nine years later I’m back in a classroom. Three judges are staring me down from behind a table, so close I can almost feel them breathing. The timer, all six years of her, is staring at me as well. My stomach knots as I ask if they’re ready. And I begin to speak to them.

I’m not Rosa Parks anymore. I stutter, I stall, I shiver. I don’t throw up, like some newbies do. A hundred speeches later I learn that the judges stay behind the table. I’m safe. Only then do I throw all caution to the wind and share the depths of my heart with strangers, because this is what makes a good speech. Being comfortable with vulnerability. For me, that’s building an invisible wall.

Join a conversation with a real human being. There is no stage. There is no fourth wall. No screen between writer and reader, no table for judges to sit behind. This is face to face. Having outgrown the ability to work unshielded, I internalize the wall. It grows too close for anyone to pass through, except those who have the key.

On the inside of this wall is Rosa. Ready to take on the world.

Play with Your Tools

5 years ago I bought my little Fujifilm camera for under $100. Its lens is small and its capabilities limited, but it is waterproof and portable. When I got that camera I was so excited that I ran out to play with it immediately. I took pictures of early March ladybugs, of driveway gravel, of old rose hips from past seasons—anything that caught my eye.

Through experimentation, I learned how to trick the autofocus and autoexposure into doing exactly what I wanted by first focusing on my hand before taking a photo. I learned what range the little camera performed best at—when the subject is 3”-5” away. Through 5 years of exuberant play with my cheap equipment, and tens of thousands of photos, I became one with my tool.

A camera is an instrument that captures visual music. Learning to use a camera is the same as learning to play guitar or piano—you haven’t really got it until your body can do it without you.

After five fun years, I bought a new camera. It’s a canon, with a great black eye to suck in the light of the world. It’s capable of so much more, but not yet—not in my inexperienced hands. So I’m starting the process all over again, to play with the tool until I know it so well that my fingers find the buttons on their own, and I’ll intuitively know what images the camera can capture beautifully and what isn’t worth trying for. The learning will begin when I put down the manual and venture out into the world with my trusty camera sidekick.

If there’s something you love to do and you allow yourself to play with it, you will become a master. The time will pass unnoticed. And the process of discovery will go on forever. For me and my camera, there are as many experiments as there are images in the world, and then some.

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Fiber Optics

Wordplay

I have a knack for turning play into work. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could switch that around? Earlier in my life, writing was play, but now that I think of myself as an author, writing and editing have become a burden. This is not as it should be.

In my high school speech & debate years, one of the important lessons I learned was that if you want to give your best performance, don’t try to. Consciously trying to perform well takes away the joy and experience of the performance itself, for both performer and audience. If you want to perform well, the key is to forget you’re performing. You’re playing. If you’re having the time of your life, or simply enjoying yourself and reveling in your activity, your audience will be able to share.

The same is true of writing. Consciously try to do your best, and you cripple yourself. The key to excellence is a willingness to experiment and play and enjoy your work. Remember how your writing was once play, not a chore, and make it into play again.

I’m doing this by setting aside 15 minutes a day, no more nor less, to play with words. No expectations, no word count, nothing but freedom to enjoy myself and remember how wonderful writing once was to me, and still is.

“Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

-Stephen King