Play deprivation in the adult human

Last week, I had a bunch of errands to do.  Everything took longer than I’d thought (of course) and as soon as I got home I leapt onto email.  Checked both inboxes and then stared at the screen.  Suddenly the line came into my head, “I have worried all day today”.  It was simple, clear, and terribly depressing.

The thing is, I knew what was happening.  I’d felt grumpy and tired, as though I’d been continually rallying for a very long time.  The warning signs were there – I hadn’t journaled or gone swimming in days.  Everything was framed as a problem, because my brain was stuck in survival mode.  I’d done plenty of things that were important, and several that were fun, but I hadn’t played in ages.  Blaming fatigue, I’d spaced out in front of the TV instead.  This can be useful as self-care during crisis, but it’s not play.  Passive entertainment is a bit like only eating candy – you don’t die that way, but you do keep on feeling terrible.

Even after a decade of arguing for play’s importance, I still forget sometimes that applies to me.  Going through this cycle a thousand times doesn’t mean I’ve failed – it means I’ve beaten a path back through the woods, and it’s one that I can follow more easily now than before.  My ways back include writing for fun, warm showers with nice soap, baking and stretching to the radio.  Afterwards I feel calmer, clearer, braver.  I have more room for things like generosity and empathy, and indulge in much less of that self-pitying martyrdom.

If you are unsure about prioritizing your own need for play, imagine how grateful your friends and family are to interact with your best self rather than the play-deprived version they might be accustomed to.

I want to help more people learn their own ways back to play, to make those paths clear and familiar.  So, now there’s a dedicated Facebook page, and an online course.  Registration opens today for one week only.  If you have questions or experiences to share, please get in touch!  Likewise, if you are interested but cost is a barrier, we’ll figure that out together.


I’ve been cab-usy

When people ask about my half-finished tiny house, I’ve sometimes joked that it was right next to the checkout.  While that’s a slight exaggeration (it was on Craigslist), this was an impulse purchase.  Early signs of shoddy construction were clear but I was going to buy it anyway, so why ruin the moment with an investigation of uncomfortable facts?

It was worth it, too, because this caboose gives me that powerful feeling of being reconnected to a younger self. I was an indoor kid with big ideas, who firmly believed that reading The Boxcar Children and My Side of the Mountain were preparatory research. I’ve always loved weird building projects, and studied children’s den cultures. But this? This one is mine. Even better, it’s parked in my friend Erin Davis‘s back yard.


She has a complicated history, as a French Canadian school bus dressed up as a caboose, then put on a trailer and made into something approaching a home. But there’s no stove hookup, toilet or electricity or water… Not yet, anyway! People tend to blink at all this, and then laugh. There is something absurd, and even freeing about the poor workmanship I’ve inherited. It really takes the edge off worrying about my own DIY skills, which in turn makes the whole thing a lot more fun.

There was another moment of unexpected familiarity, when my parents came up to take a look. It was deep winter, and everything had moved in transit so that one door wouldn’t open and the other wouldn’t close. Snow had blown in and was standing in deep drifts, but the red paint remained bright and optimistic. Erin fetched a broom, then she and my Mum swept out the snow and chatted. Dad walked around saying ‘hmm’ behind his mustache, making calculations in his head. Little Asa sat cross-legged on the floor moving his palm across the patches of sunlight. It all happened so quickly, so smoothly, that I started to laugh. There was that feeling of warmth and busyness, of everyone quickly finding a role they wanted, that reminded me of nothing so much as a good adventure playground. And me? I was on the edge, of course, taking notes and feeling a deep fondness towards them all.

This is a play project, if ever there was one.  I go up there for a couple of days at a time, puttering around with a tool bucket usually stocked with hammers, crowbar, drill, trashy vampire novel and a half-bottle of bourbon.  These are all lessons I’ve met before, in supporting children’s play, but we learn things more deeply when they happen to us.

  • Play can be super frustrating sometimes. I’m learning an enormous amount, but that is definitely not the point.
  • I feel a little giddy when people come to visit, especially now that I’ve got a bit more done and it feels ‘mine’. It’s so easy to begin that monologue of ‘here’s the seat and this is how the bed folds out, and here’s my shelf with all my things…”
  • My fort is an awesome place to read novels and eat snacks

If you want to see more, there’s an album on Facebook. If you want to visit, let me know! If you’d rather read a super interesting article on the US history of mobile living, which also explodes those ‘trailer trash’ derogations, check this out!


Checkers and gardens

On Monday, we had a big storm in Vermont.  My Uncle called from Massachusetts because apparently we’d been mentioned in the severe weather warning.  This little town doesn’t get on the news very often.

It was also one day after the first seeds germinated in my experimental little garden, and they were all washed away.  Some baked flat onto the tarmac.  This afternoon I was staring bleakly at the wreckage when the neighbor kid came by.  We chatted for awhile, and I applauded the new tricks he’d learned on his bike.  He brought over a box of paper twist firecrackers and we threw them at each others’ feet and laughed.


The last thing he brought over was a checkers set, and he and I sat out on the grass to play.  We both talked a lot of trash while laying the pieces out, and then I started kicking his ass.  Nothing too terrible, but definitely not letting him win.  He responded by changing all the rules, so he could start kicking mine.  Checkers was far more fun his way, where points were scored according to sassiness of tone or making the other person laugh.  At one point there were residents of three houses standing outside, chatting until it was time for dinner.

This interaction could have been framed as a spin on negative capability, playful communities, or used to illustrate that subversive way play has of coming in the side door and throwing glitter around.  After having felt depressed about my little plant-pocalypse though, I most appreciated it as a burst of fun in my day, and delighted in its surprise.  Our game reminded me that this is the point of summer, to be outside and laughing in the warm shade.