Not only do I think there is a huge amount of truth in the old adage that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy", I'd go one stage further and say, I think play is vital, not just to keep our tendencies to dullness at bay but to enable us to feel properly and vividly alive.
I saw an article the other day about a book written by a nurse out of her experiences of providing palliative care in which she highlights the regrets that are most commonly experienced by those nearing the ends of their lives. My own experiences of being alongside the terminally ill, echo her findings and what she writes makes interesting reading. You can read the article in full here if you're interested. Not surprisingly one of the most commonly expressed regrets is to wish that less time had been spent on the treadmill of work. But up there also, is a wish to have laughed more, to have let oneself go more and allowed some silliness to light up the routine of life. Work, of course, is not an optional extra for most, even if it isn't full time, but it's salutary sometimes to remember that no one ever gets to the end of their lives and wishes they had spent more time in the office (or the equivalent). And it seems we might get to the end of our lives and wish we'd been a bit more frivolous.
To which end I am taking the opportunities for play in Advent seriously and shall aim to uphold them in the coming New Year as well. In playtime news here:
1 I have been playing with paper and scissors (and the sewing machine!). I have given up sending vast numbers of Christmas cards because I just couldn't keep up with it and the cost was becoming exorbitant but I have always made a handful for immediate family and friends. Keeping numbers small means that the process remains fun and enjoyable and never gets into a sweatshop-production-line situation - been there, done that and it's not play, it's hard graft!
I got the idea from Sue on her beautifully thoughtful blog, Mouse Notebook, in her post here. So simple but so effective. (And so thrifty!)
For the Christmas trees I have used pages from a pile of obsolete, old hymn books, that the church down the road was throwing out and I thought I could turn to better use. Each one is cut from a different Christmas carol melody and a verse from the same carol, (artlessly, but carefully!) torn out, is stuck on the reverse of the card. If you don't have a pile of obsolete, old hymnbooks to hand, you could use the same idea and just photocopy some music and carols. I used the sewing machine to embroider lines of tinsel in iridescent sewing thread and the paper pom poms are made, (as per Sue's instructions on Mouse Notebook), from discs, punched out from junk mail catalogues and scraps of old wrapping paper, and stitched down the centre.
2 I have been playing with paint and sponges, as the kitchen, slightly alarmingly, bears witness to in odd places! I refuse to buy expensive Christmas wrapping paper and find that the cheaper sort tends to be so thin that I always tear it in the wrong places, when wrapping things, and it looks a mess. The solution? Buy a roll of thickish brown parcel paper (£1.65 for six metres at the village shop and probably less at WHSmiths or somewhere) and play with sponges and paint! So quick, so easy, such fun!
I used acrylic paint, because that's what I had, thinned out with water, but any poster type paint will work. Raid the kitchen cupboard for a pan scourer sponge (and an apron), spread out a sheet of brown paper as big as your work surface allows, and you're away! Weigh down the corners of the paper with a pebble or two to keep it flat. Choose several colours that will blend well together and daub and dab to your heart's content. Wet your sponge first so that the paint releases nice and easily. I started with red, moved onto the deep yellow colour then went to pink and finally purple to get the sort of sunset effect here. I then sponged on some coppery gold stars with an old star-shaped sponge that H had in a set of painting sponges when he was tiny. No star-shaped sponge? Make a star shaped potato print or cut up another pan scourer. On the second sheet I used a patterned roller also originally belonging to H, to make swirly coppery gold stripes. A bit homespun may be but what fun to do! The results have a lovely thick, expensive feel to them and the slight initial roughness of the brown paper is replaced by the satisfying, satiny glaze of the paint.
3 H and I always begin the Christmas holidays with some Christmassy project or other - last year it was paper birds (a homemade paper aeroplane design tweaked to produce birds rather than B52s!) and 3-dimensional paper stars to hang on the Christmas tree. This year is still open to suggestion! I've got until Friday, when he breaks up from school, to think of something! After seeing Lucy's festive wreath beginnings here and Kristen's here, a pom pom garland perhaps? We'll see!
4 Other playing will include messing about with molten chocolate and gingerbread dough and also setting up my Provençal santons in their stable, aka an old skittle box sawn up and given a new function in life as shelter for those for whom "there was no room in the inn". More on this when they reach Bethlehem, as it were! I do love Advent!
Most of my play, I realise, involves some form of creative whatnot, but play embraces a lot more than just creative stuff - hum a tune, dance a jig, run in the rain, taste snowflakes on your tongue, make believe according to your imagination. Really anything goes that isn't measured by the standard of its output, but is driven by imagination and enjoyment for its own sake. Play can result in something constructive or useful or beautiful, but it doesn't in the least have to. So much in the world we live in, comes under the inexorable and unforgiving scrutiny of evaluation metrics which only sees things in terms of measurable output and dismisses what falls outside that. I think this is quite pernicious and can stifle initiative, dessiccate inspiration and kill creative risk-taking stone-dead. It's countercultural, healthy and liberating for the human spirit, deliberately to choose to bypass that occasionally.
So if anyone challenges your choosing to play, you can rebut them with the response that you are investing in the health of your spirit. I believe that the human spirit when luminously and vividly alive is one of the most powerful and creative forces for good in the universe. Conversely, the human spirit when impoverished and denied, not only does not have much fun, but can also be very destructive.
So I shall continue to make space for play, and hopefully re-energised and quickened by it, (in the old-fashioned sense of being brought to life), I hope, I won't reach Christmas frazzled, weary, or, perish the thought, dull!
Happy Advent Playing!
PS This is the second of my posts linking in to Floss hosting A Pause In Advent. Click on the link or the button in my sidebar to explore other takes on the theme via Floss's blog.