Playtime in Plan B Nation

Girls skipping at an athletics carnival

I launched this blog late last year with the goal of explor­ing strate­gies for deal­ing with the psy­cho­log­i­cal after­math of the Great Recession.

Since then, I’ve cast a pretty wide net, with posts focused on eco­nomic and labor pol­icy as well as per­sonal tac­tics for nav­i­gat­ing Plan B Nation, but in a world where so much is beyond our con­trol, I remain espe­cially intrigued by how we make the most of the lim­ited swath within it.

To that end, I’ve spent count­less hours reflect­ing on what behav­iors and approaches best equip us thrive in these tur­bu­lent times. A recent (and sur­pris­ing) addi­tion to my list: The qual­ity of playfulness.

A big push in this direc­tion came some weeks back when I started read­ing Havi Brooks’ seri­ously play­ful Flu­ent Self blog. And when I say “seri­ously play­ful” that’s exactly what I mean. As I dove into the magic-kingdom secret-language world of The Flu­ent Self, I watched myself soak up play­ful­ness like a parched plant soaks up water.

In par­tic­u­lar, I was drawn to Havi’s explicit atten­tion to the deploy­ment of language—the invent­ing of new words and metaphors to trans­form expe­ri­ence. It’s some­thing I’ve been play­ing (play­ing!) with for the last cou­ple of weeks, and while the whole thing is still a work in progress (game!), it’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing exploration.

Play­ing with lan­guage often seems to help me step back. To detach from what­ever expe­ri­ence I’m hav­ing, and assess it from a dif­fer­ent angle. It stops being The Truth. It becomes Some­thing to Look At. Play­ing with lan­guage can be an act of kind­ness toward myself.

An exam­ple of what I’m talk­ing about:

The other day, I was feel­ing espe­cially oppressed by the run­ning “Project List” I keep on my com­puter. Tak­ing a leaf from Havi’s book, I decided that—just for fun, as an experiment—I’d try call­ing it some­thing else. I jot­ted down my five pri­or­ity items and labeled them “Scruf­fles.” Strange and even kooky as this may sound, I instantly light­ened up. “I need to do my Scruf­fles,” I told myself, and quickly knocked them off.

Sim­i­larly, when I recently found myself brood­ing over some­thing that I’d thought through zil­lions of times before, I coined a new word for the expe­ri­ence: Quan­dri­fi­ca­tion (the prac­tice of pro­lif­er­at­ing quandaries).

As with “Scruf­fles,” this new word also made me smile.  And once I was smil­ing, I began to see dif­fer­ent pos­si­ble ways of being with the under­ly­ing feel­ings.  I didn’t have to keep re-playing my thoughts like a bro­ken vinyl record. I could ask myself “What do I need right now? What would make this better?”

A lot of what I’ve writ­ten about on this blog is famil­iar territory—things that I’ve known in some shape or form seem­ingly for­ever. Prac­tice grat­i­tude and patience. Invest in rela­tion­ships and com­mu­nity life. Con­nect with a sense of pur­pose. Break big goals into the small­est pos­si­ble steps.   It’s not the con­cepts that are new but rather the chal­lenge of weav­ing them into life in Plan B Nation.

But play­ful­ness? I hadn’t really given it much thought. And if I had, I likely would have dis­missed it out of hand. This nose-to-the-grindstone feel­ing of mov­ing stolidly for­ward, isn’t it to be expected? Isn’t that sim­ply part and par­cel of life in Plan B Nation?

I’m begin­ning to think not. At least not most of the time. Yes, play­ful­ness can seem friv­o­lous, an unnec­es­sary add-on. But that’s only until we start to see that it’s absolutely essential.

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

22 thoughts on “Playtime in Plan B Nation

  1. It’s an inter­est­ing post, though there’s a bit of a reac­tion in the UK against the whole con­cept of ‘Inno­cen­tese’. There’s a school of thought that argues that the know­ing dis­course of inno­cence, of child­like open-mindedness, has been co-opted by brand­ing to such an extent that it’s use­ful­ness has been hope­lessly cor­roded and deval­ued (e.g.
    Dad Who Writes (Gabriel) recently posted…Read­ing: Ranger Appren­tice, The City & The City; Hideous GnosisMy Profile

    • That’s interesting–and I can totally get a reac­tion to the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of play, as with so many other things (phil­an­thropy, the envi­ron­ment, locavore-ism, “authen­tic­ity” etc.) I guess the chal­lenge is to be con­scious of the pos­si­bil­ity of co-optation even as we hold to the val­ues & qual­i­ties that make live worth­while. Thanks for shar­ing this per­spec­tive!
      amy gut­man recently posted…Dazed & Con­fused in Plan B NationMy Profile

  2. Hav­ing been your friend when we were chil­dren gives me the advan­tage of know­ing just how play­ful you can be. You were always com­ing up with great, cre­ative, fan­ci­ful ideas about “what to do next!” I remem­ber once your mom took us to see God­spell. and when we got home to your house, you instantly dressed us up in the cra­zi­est clothes you could find, and we went out­side and danced up and down the streets. Girl, you can PLAY!

  3. For years I’ve tripped over the word “fun,” think­ing I just wasn’t hav­ing enough of it in this oh-so-grown-up body. But I think the sub­tle shift from “fun” (some­thing you’re SUPPOSED to have) to “play­ful” (some­thing you can choose to BE) may have just opened a brand new rab­bit hole. Thanks, Amy! I’ll report back!
    Sharon O’Day recently posted…Why Is It So Hard To Ask?My Profile

  4. A splen­dif­er­ous post. “Twas bril­lig”! Thanks, Amy. I love the way your posts always seem to get me think­ing in a dif­fer­ent direction.

  5. I love this! Some­times we just take every­thing in life too darned seri­ously, and it does affect our think­ing. It cer­tainly affects our cre­ativ­ity, which is our basic life force, no? Being light about things, even laugh­ing at our­selves (one of my favorite activ­i­ties), allows us access to solu­tions to our “prob­lems” that we just couldn’t see when we had our nose to the grind­stone. Thanks for this reminder.
    Molly@Postcards from a Peace­ful Divorce recently posted…The Right ChoiceMy Profile

  6. How I needed this! What do you call the list for actions that engage with toxic things or peo­ple? I’m think­ing scal­ly­wags list. Do you have a rec­om­men­da­tion? I love scruf­fles and am now off to do mine!

    • So glad you found it help­ful, Alle­gra! As for your toxic things or peo­ple list–hmmmm. Maybe try dif­fer­ent things and see what clicks? Just off the top of my head, I might try doing a dou­ble whammy on such a list and call­ing it … Love Bugs! I have to do my Love Bugs. Like holding/containing the toxic in a cozy sweet frame? I dunno–curious to hear what you end up work­ing with. (In the mean­time, maybe *I’ll* try Love Bugs :-) )
      amy gut­man recently posted…Why the Inter­net is like snowMy Profile

  7. The phrase “pro­lif­er­at­ing quan­daries” stopped me dead in my tracks. “What?” I thought. “Pondering.…she meant pon­der­ing.” No, I real­ized, I PONDER quan­daries (over ana­lyze, rethink, etc, etc. etc). And maybe I should play with them instead! Just the idea of tak­ing a dilemma to the play­ground, run­ning with it, spin­ning around the dif­fer­ent solu­tions and then tak­ing one down the big slide or jump­ing off the swing with a glee­ful smile. So much more fun that per­se­ver­at­ing the “what ifs” or “if onlys”.

    Another great post, Amy!
    Anne Camille recently posted…Sun­day QuoteMy Profile

    • Thanks, Anne! And yes, I can see how the word “pro­lif­er­at­ing” might be con­fus­ing there–I was using it as a verb, as in THIS IS WHAT I DO: I pro­lif­er­ate quan­daries (make more & more & more of them, sort of rem­i­nis­cent of the Doris Day movie where she’s adver­tis­ing soap­suds and one thing leads to another and the house ends up filled with soap­suds. That’s how I can be with quan­daries). :-)
      amy gut­man recently posted…Play­time in Plan B NationMy Profile

  8. Thank you — says the woman plug­ging away at the impos­si­ble project on this rainy first week­end of a spring vaca­tion. I’m look­ing for some new vocab­u­lary now. :)

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