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Playing Ourselves Into Wide Open Spaces 


Stuck for ideas? In a creative rut? Feeling stale? Just read this fabulous creativity blog piece overflowing with ideas to get you unstuck by Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich. She is the author of 8th Grade Super-Hero, called a "masterful debut" in a starred review from Publisher's Weekly, and that was an Amazon Best Books of the Month in January 2010. Check out this excellent interview on Cynsations if you'd like to learn more about her. And now... prepare to be inspired! -Anne 


Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich: Playing ourselves into wide open spaces 

I do many things quickly. I’ve always torn through books, can move my apartment from disaster to passable in moments (with the help of closets and hidden corners), and can whip up a meal in minutes. Writing stories is not one of the things that I do fast. I am a slow, slow writer.  Most of the time, I don’t accept or enjoy this; I get anxious, I feel guilty, I pace my tiny (messy) apartment, talking back to my cat, or worse...just checking out that one thing on the Web.  I see that Author X just got a 'very nice deal' for Book 17 in her paranormal series, while I am still plodding along on sub-normal, solitary Book 2.  I know the things that help me work -- walking, knitting, stitching, browsing, doodling, kneading and pounding...but I am reluctant to turn to them. Why? They feel a bit like...playing, and that’s not allowed.  Why?

 Remember when you were told to "Go play?" When it was the right thing to do? Watching my daughter play out her stories, I get glimpses back into my own childhood. Stories were a whole body activity, whether it was curling up under my mother to listen to a read-aloud and accompanying songs, or splaying out on my grandmother’s sun-splashed veranda, with a handful of living room Canada mints surreptitiously munched, or the countless, endless “shows" that we did, productions small on actual talent but big on enthusiasm and costume changes and and-then-what-happeneds...my whole self was engaged. My daughter today, in creating her shows, hurls her whole self into them, even when it seems to involve an impossible feat of the imagination (I listened to recent story play that appeared to involve Hercule Poirot, Beyonce, and a family of hedgehogs).  There are grand gestures, bellowed songs, and of course endless costume changes.  I believe in the importance of play, of playing into our stories, and playing out, of playing with language and life.  It is a particular creative way, and I cling to its remnants, the memories in myself, because I know that in order to write, my whole self has to ‘play’ along. Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit, writes:  “Everything that happens in my daily life is a transaction between the external world and my internal world. Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it."

 There is a kind of 'being', that I think of as play, too. One of my best friends and I have a tradition of 'laying around'. It essentially involves food that someone else has prepared and being apart together, in separate rooms, if space allows, just not doing much of anything. Maybe one of us reads and the other watches TV. It is one of the most important rituals of our friendship, as is the habit of saying a line from the movie Clueless, or sending an inside-joke text that says only "Scone!"; these patterns of playfulness that were the foundation for our work together in making a book trailer for Superzero.  We worked on it with no real plan, or script, or idea of what we were doing in some sense. But we had a long history of laying around and playing around, and when it came time to work, we could play well together (if not always nice).



  Tharp also writes about muscle memory, the way that your body remembers the physicality of days gone by. There’s virtual memory, where you project yourself into feelings and emotions from your past, and let them manifest themselves physically; there’s sensual memory, when smells, tastes, sounds, and colour flood the imagination with images from the past.

 • Play one of your favourite childhood games. Think about the circumstances in which you used to play, what you enjoyed most about it, who enjoyed it with you. Play a current favourite of a child or children today. Play Charades, Simon Says, Twister, hopscotch in any of its global variations.

Remember. Look at childhood photographs, tell yourself stories of when you were young. Jot them down, or don’t. The important thing is to experience them through the remembering. Recall a particular age, and let your mind just travel back to moments in that time; the music, the movements, the small and large pleasures, the heartbreaks, the sounds, the smells...the deepest joys.

 • Do something you missed out on doing when you were a kid

 • Daydream

 • Run, wheel, or roll as fast as you can

 • Go down a slide, or swing in the breeze

 • Music: Who are the most playful artists on your playlist? Listen, and dance.

Dance to the music in your head, the way you do in your mind's eye.

 • Invent recipes

• Make yourself a high tea. Use fancy dishes. Dress up.

 • Pig out. Eat finger foods all day. Eat breakfast or ice cream for dinner.

 • Eat a piece of cake. (I just put that there, because, well...it’s cake!)


 • Take a walk, and talk to yourself. We're writers! We're allowed to be weird.

 • Go on a neighborhood adventure. I owe much thanks to artist Paul Ramirez Jonas and his Key To The City, a public art project. I call myself an explorer of the city, but participating in this all summer allowed me to play in all kinds of ways in all five boroughs of New York, and the story ideas came at every turn.

 • Dress up for no reason at all.

 Playing with art and craft supplies is an important part of my play. I'm very partial to craft books of the 70s, all of the needlework, stitchery, knitting, -- everything exudes an enormous and unfettered playfulness.  And most of the time, the processes and products involve everyday materials, trash-into-treasure, playing with what you have. One of my favourite artists, Jean Ray Laury writes, “The greatest potentials are often within the smallest things. The person who finds no pleasure in little events rarely finds pleasure in life’s big occasions. It is not necessary to see the Pyrenees or the Himalayas to appreciate the wonders of nature -- you can watch a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis in your kitchen window and witness one of nature’s most spectacular sights. I am not suggesting that it wouldn’t be wonderful to get to the Himalayas, but it’s silly to sigh over the possibility so distractedly that you don’t even see the garden spider or praying mantis you’re stepping on."

 • start a collection of tiny things.

 •find some rocks, and paint them.  Or just let them be.

 • Make or buy some good quality clay and just pound it, squish it, roll it -- make and old-fashioned pinch pot or one of those hand print paperweight thingys

Make a puppet. And then play with it. Talk to it.  (Come on, you know you talk to yourself ALL the time. Why not a puppet?)

 • Make a collage. Want to be inspired by genius at play? I recently visited the Louis Armstrong House Museum and learned that he was also a <a href=“ http://www.theparisreview.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5835">collage artist</a>.

 • Make a pipe cleaner (chenille stem) creature, a corn husk, stocking, or clothespin doll

 • Play with a dollhouse, or make your own

 WordPlay: Writing, in cognitive science terms, involves complex “problems" that require higher-order thinking skills to be solved. Play helps me think, to sort things out, to figure out what I do think. We acknowledge (sort of, except when we want them to take tests) its importance in child development. The ‘authorities’ tell us, so it must be true:  “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength," from a statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “...play is important to healthy brain development."  As creative people like Emeka Okafor know, play creates change. In Part Two, I'll focus on the importance of playing with words, language, and story, and then, to paraphrase Madeleine L'Engle, letting that chaos settle into cosmos. 

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Reader Comments (9)

AMAZING POST. eat cake and daydream- best advice EVER. <3

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJuwi

Hi Olugbemisola, I love your post and all of your suggestions to free the child in all of us! Your ability to let your creative spirit loose shows in your writing - you know I loved your book Eighth Grade Superzero! Thanks for sharing your secrets for inspiring creativity and imagination!

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRiley Carney

Well said, Olugbemisola! We have to live life in order to write. There's much fun and many stories in everyday life!

October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Erskine

Amazing, Gbemi - I love the ideas and resources plus I agree with everything you write! A toast to play and dance and delight in the small!!

October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Taylor

Yes. In school play is critical, not just at recess and PE, but in mathematics and writing and talking about the homework. We get kids "up to standard" faster if we are playful about it. We would get kids up to grade level sooner and better and accomplish so much more, if we could pretend we were giving up on "the outcome." (As if that were all we cared about--and I sure hope it isn't.) Go to www.geniusinchildren.org.
Thank you for a fine and very important piece especially for educators and parents.

October 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRick Ackerly

Wonderful post! I love playing and I LOVE cake, thanks for giving me a perfect excuse for both.

October 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Santillan

Hi Gbemi,
I loved this post! I'm also a s-l-o-w writer, and at times it produces anxiety for me. Sometimes I have to make a deliberate effort to step away from my work and take the nap I need, or go out with a friend, or do something completely different from my daily routine. It nearly always leaves me refreshed and more ready to write. Sometimes it's hard to let go of writing time to do that, but we all need time to step back, whether we are fast drafters or slowpokes. :)


October 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSheela Chari

Gbemi--WOW! I love how you've woven in so many strands of playfulness and art as we work to create stories. Such an inspiring essay--thank you for writing it!

January 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLuke Reynolds

Find Some Rocks And Paint Them???!!! L O L

March 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTreadmill Traci

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