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.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

22 thoughts on “Playtime in Plan B Nation

  1. Interesting post, now I have to go and cook my fraterjulies (moroccan style) and serve ’em up to the docent dilips!

    • 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!

  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. One of the great things about small children (& sometimes larger ones) in the house is being reminded that play really can occupy prime real estate in life.

  4. 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!

    • Thanks, Sharon! And I like the rabbit hole analogy–it’s actually been on my mind lately, thinking of Alice in Wonderland. In the spirit of ongoing playfulness, perhaps it’s time to re-read. :-)

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

    • Brillig! Another indication that YES, IT IS TIME TO RE-READ LEWIS CARROLL! (See Sharon’s comment above) Many thanks for reading & commenting, Laurie! So glad you liked this one.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 :-) )

  8. 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!

    • 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). :-)

  9. 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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