Some of us are naturals at play.
Maybe you are one of those people who have a knack for keeping things loose and a real flair for the merry and the bright. Or maybe you have a friend who remembers good jokes or funny movie lines and knows when to repeat them (and when not to); or a sibling with an especially quick wit or a mimic's ear; or a colleague with a goofy streak. These play artists understand how to conjure lightness from friendly teasing, practical jokes, silly hats, pulling faces, prat falls, puns, inside jokes, or the ability to speak the better part of the alphabet while simultaneously emitting a Fresca-induced belch (that last one is a real talent of one of my family members - aren't I lucky?).
And some of us are not.
But not all of us are play artists. Some of our spirits tend more toward the serious, the earnest, the practical, or the worried. Some of us don't find "loose" or "silly" or "in it for the fun" anywhere near the top ten go-to habits in our personal playlist of "ways to be." Not because we're hopelessly grim or dour or humorless, just because we have other ways of being that come more naturally.
If play is not your natural "go to" space, it can be challenging to find your way to the lightness and brightness of spirit that we hear so much about at this time of year. Also - and I know I'm not breaking any news when I say this - there is a lot of heavy shit going on in the world, and in this country, and maybe in your own life. And, while we're at it, let's also acknowledge the little secret that women have been keeping for centuries now: Holidays don't just "happen." Holidays have to be made. And making Holidays is work - whether it's work done with wholehearted love, or mostly love with a light sprinkling of resentment, or a grim, Martha-esque drive for some rigid vision of perfection. For many of us, holidays come with to-do lists as long as your arm, and expectations to meet, and obligations to fulfill, and 300% more social gatherings than we can cheerfully cope with.
Let us not succumb to the weight of the world and the work of the season
Under these kinds of conditions, it would be an understandable strategy to just put your head down and treat the coming weeks like a long, list-driven slog to New Year's Day.
But to this strategy I say NO! We can do better than that! We are creators, damn it! Let's make some art out of this crazy mixed-up season of darkness that we demand be filled with light. Nina Wise has a thing or two to say about how to make art out of life:
Three Ways to Kindle the Spirit of Playfulness
1. Learn from a master - part 1.
First, watch this video of Bill Murray's entrance into the recent Mark Twain Prize award ceremony for David Letterman.
Now, think of one party or holiday gathering you will be attending, and think of one thing you could do to make an entrance. Not just another subtly shimmering sweater or an earring with extra bling (though they are lovely) I'm talking about a tiara, a cape, a set of wings, or maybe even go "Full Elf." Your goal is to immediately bring laughter to everyone assembled without having to say a word.
I dare you!
2. Learn from a master - part 2.
Hang out with some kids. But I mean Hang Out. Get yourself in proximity to some toddlers or kindergartners or even (in a pinch) some teenagers... they are naturally so goofy and funny and silly and wise, maybe some if it will rub off on you - if you let it. Now, here's the assignment: Forget that you are supposed to be teaching them, or modeling good behavior, or scheduling them, or organizing them, or managing them, or showing them how to do it better, or otherwise being "in charge" of them.
Just hang out and have a laugh together. I know it is hard. You want to brush their hair or spit-clean their little chins or follow them around with a hoover. But just for a while, don't. See if you can tune into their energy, their rhythms, their vibe. Show up willing to play - they'll lead you from there.
If you don't have kids handy, get yourself to a local Children's Theater production, or winter band concert, or find a mom who might be willing to let you take hers off her hands for a minute so she can make a Holiday happen without losing her f-ing mind. I'm sure there's one of those in your orbit - just look for the grim smile and the white-knuckle grip on a long, grubby-looking list.
3. Decide to practice lightening up
I know it sounds weird if you aren't a natural play-artist, but lightness of spirit is part nature and part choice, and you get to control the choice part. You can make a decision to check in with yourself as you go about your December activities and notice what spirit you are bringing to the party. See if you can catch yourself descending into a "just get through" nose dive and consciously point that nose cone toward the light. Set an intention to try on a "what's the most fun this could be?" mentality...even if it feels like a betrayal of your raw nerves and fiercely held political principles.
Also - here's a thought - right now, do a quick mental review of all that is before you in the next three weeks. Scan for the seriously un-fun things that can be skipped entirely - and skip them. Yes, you have permission. Just let those puppies go. Whew!
Then, scan for the un-fun things that can't be skipped. These are your primary targets for your lightening up practice. What could you do to turn each item on your un-fun musts list into art? Challenge yourself to write a complete haiku about standing in a Post Office line before you get to the counter. Challenge yourself to notice the 5 most absurd things at Toys R Us so you can recount them later to a friend or spouse. Challenge yourself to serve the cookies that your 5 year old decorated and not only the "real" ones that you made all pretty. Give your guests a chance to say "wow, now THAT'S a cookie!" and brighten everyone's day.
And here's a final challenge that comes with mega-extra bonus points:
Challenge yourself to take naps and baths and whatever else keeps the fuzzy, darkening cloud of exhaustion from standing between you and the possibility of play. Finding a spirit of lightness is sooooo hard when your body is desperate to just curl up and sleep. Good rest is a baseline requirement for making art from life. (And don't give me all those excuses...20-minute naps can happen if you decide to make them happen.)
Ok then, go forth and bring on the merry and bright! And if you take me up on the Bill Murray-style entrance challenge - I WANT PICTURES!!!
Peace and light,