The War on Fun—How Modern Culture is KILLING Creativity
Since homeschooling The Spawn, life has shifted dramatically as I struggle along this uncharted learning curve. For instance, it is a gorgeous summer this year. I’ve lived in Texas most of my life and never witnessed weather so balmy and beautiful. This morning, I step out to let the dog go bark at every thought scuttling through her brain (instead of going pee) and it’s oddly quiet. No kids. No squeals of riding bikes or rollerskating or plundering trash piles for construction materials for some ramp or fort or weapon.
When a Kid Could Be a Kid
When I was Spawn’s age, the second cartoons were over, we’d have been out the door for the entire day…willingly. Even though it was always triple-digit heat. Weather like THIS? We might have skipped the cartoons.
Okay, we’d have watched the good ones and not hung on for the crappy kiddie shows.
I’ve started to pay more attention now that I have my son home all day. The other mothers? Working moms have kids in daycare full-time. But even the Stay-At-Home Moms befuddle me. It’s as if they’re the Carnival Cruise Activity Director all summer. They take the kid(s) to the gym to play two hours, then gym camp, then swimming lessons, then karate, then multiple play dates across the city then church camp and voice lessons and Sylvan….
My head is spinning.
And so much of it is college-prep stuff. Like, preschool isn’t just playing and learning lessons like “hitting and eating glue is bad for one’s social life.” PRE-K is preparation for “real school”, which is part of why Spawn was fired. His imagination was far less valuable than reading retention. HE IS FOUR.
Every other game out there is “educational.” Summer is no longer even summer. We used to have THREE MONTHS off to simply be kids and play. Now? There are learning centers lurking on every corner chanting things like, “You wouldn’t want your kids to be behind, would you? You aren’t a BAD parent. Not YOU….”
In the early 80s, my mom could keep a clean home, cook all our meals, cultivate a beautiful garden and sew our clothes because my tail was outside and I had little brother in tow as soon as he was close-enough-for-government-work potty trained. My mom spent time with us, but not every waking moment. We played our guts out every day after school for hours and solidly for three months a year. Sure, after vacation, we had to catch up some in September, but I still graduated college with honors and so did Little Bro.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the literacy rates were higher back then.
What Happened to PLAY?
Play comes naturally to humans. Just watch the glee on a baby’s face when he discovers OMG I HAVE TOES! THEY FIT IN MY MOUTH!
I recall all the things I used to do as a child for FUN—write, read, draw, color, roller-skate, dance, play make-believe, do cartwheels. And I’d just bust out dancing or doing the splits anywhere and it was okay. I was a kid.
I’m no longer allowed back in Home Depot *hangs head*
I really was kicked out of a Toys ‘R Us one time for racing through the store aisles on a Hoppity Hop.
My art and writing were all encouraged until I hit about the age of ten. Then I needed to start being serious. I had adults asking me where I wanted to go to college, what I wanted to do with my life when I grew up. Teachers asking me this.
Of course, me being me, I said I wanted to be a rich man’s wife. And Mom was promptly called up to school. Sarcasm wasn’t appreciated then either.
But WTH? I was TEN and that was a dumb question. Most adults still don’t know what THEY want to be when they grow up an yet they put that off of a kid? And there is an “acceptable” answer. When I said I wanted to be a writer, that was cute.
Now what was I going to do to earn money?
As we grow older, play is demonized, called trivial and labeled foolish and unnecessary. Yet, studies in neuroscience have demonstrated that play, “leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity…Nothing fires up the brain like play.” ~Stuart Brown, Play is More than Fun, TED Talk.
I’m reading a cool new book called, Essentialism—The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (and am learning a lot about what I’ve been doing wrong or even right).
The word school is derived from the Greek word schole, meaning “leisure.” Yet, our modern school system, born in the Industrial Revolution, has removed much of the leisure—and much of the pleasure—out of learning. ~Author Greg McKeown, Essentialism, page 84.
We’ve talked about this on my blog before, how our public schools were designed for the main purpose of training future factory workers. The Industrial Revolution was all about efficiency and mass production. Educational institutions patterned much of their structure from the military. As McKeown points out, we even see military vocabulary in our workplace. In the trenches. On the front lines. Even the word company is a military term for a military unit (McKeown, page 85).
A Changing World
So here we have this school structure that is designed to produce a force for manufacturing when most manufacturing has largely been outsourced to developing countries. If we are to have any economic future, it will come from fields requiring imagination—computers, programming, art, writing, design, etc.
Yet, most of the school activities that foster imagination are the first on the cutting block—art, music, drama, band, recess. We even have new schools being built with no playgrounds.
Even when there is play, it seems it is never just for the sake of play. Kids are learning piano or playing football not because it is fun, but because “they could one day use that to pay for COLLEGE.”
Many of the greatest human innovations have been birthed from leisure and play. Shakespeare played constantly with iambic pentameter. DaVinci was known to be a flake who’d run off chasing butterflies or tinkering with machines instead of finishing his paid “job.” Newton uncovered the Law of Gravity while resting.
Our most successful companies—Google, Pixar, Apple—encourage play and rest. So why then do we have SO many companies who measure keystrokes and phone calls and enslave employees to metrics?
And while we are doing everything possible to kill imagination and play and vilify vacations and rest, we simultaneously wonder why we’re losing our edge?
The Power of Play
Play has all these great benefits to the brain. Why? One big reason is play is AMAZING at reducing stress. When we’re stressed, our body defaults to reptile brain. It’s impossible to use higher thinking centers because the brain is in survival mode.
Yet, instead of doing some cartwheels, we chug energy drinks and coffee and work later into the night to “catch up.” We sacrifice sleep and play first. Then, we’re foggy-headed and disorganized. So we drink some more caffeine because naps are anathema and play is a pariah.
And the cycle continues…
We’ve created this culture that prides itself on getting no sleep and taking no time off. Even our words reflect our values.
I LOVE cleaning house, because I make everything a game and always have. I set timers and see if I can clean ALL the dishes before the buzzer goes off. I dance with the mop. I “race” Spawn picking up toys.
But we call them “chores” and wonder why everyone groans. We go to the gym to “work out” then are befuddled why we resist. I do Brazilian Jui-Jitsu because it’s FUN. I used to wrestle and play-fight as a kid. I’m not at a dojo to eventually make money competing in the MMA. It’s simply…FUN. Maybe one day I’ll get a black belt, more likely I’ll get a black eye.
But will I have STORIES to TELL!
Writing, Social Media and Blogging, Oh, MY!
Often, when we decide to become writers there is a LOT of social push-back. We don’t have a “real” job. Why? Because we actually have FUN. Is this what makes others itch with envy? When I created the WANA methods for blogging and social media, the goal wasn’t to sell books or measure algorithms. WANA is simple. HAVE FUN and others will be drawn to you. You will ENJOY it, so you’re more likely to DO it. Others gravitate toward the light so be the light.
Blogging? Have fun! Invite others in. That’s it. No gadgets, plans, gizmos or algorithms.
Facebook is FUN (maybe it’s why people get all snooty about it). Social media is recess for adults. It’s Show-And-Tell. “Hey, check out this cake I baked!” We share jokes and funny memes and smile and laugh…a lot.
Oh, but how is this directly impacting your book sales initiative? Are you targeting the right demographic to gain click throughs and meaningfully drive the curve of boring-as-hell?
No idea. And don’t care.
Play is anything we do for no gain other than we enjoy it. Is this why we have such a hard time being writers? Why are we swayed from fun to factory so easily? Everyone assumes the second we’re writing a novel, our goal is to become a NYTBSA. WHY? Can’t we just write something for the sake of fun? Maybe put it up for sale because we want to share our art project? Why do we need to monetize everything?
Children are investments, adults are assets and the elderly are losses and there is something terribly, horribly wrong with that.
The Play Challenge
Do ONE Thing Silly Per Day
This morning, I stepped outside to the cool soft grass and…did cartwheels. I’d forgotten how fun those things were. They added nothing tangibly to my word count and my laundry was still here when I returned, but cartwheels were strangely…liberating. Since Spawn has been home, I’ve been doing a lot of silly things. Chasing zombies with NERF guns, clearing rooms. Swimming. Tickle-fighting. And I was fretting over all this “wasted time.”
Pthththththt to that.
Last night we watched Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark. Why? Because it is FUN. It’s so bad it is AWESOME.
Pay Attention to Words
I’m going to stop using the phrase “working out.” Makes me stressed. Maybe call it “recess”? We ran and ran as kids and didn’t need to slot time to do it. We jumped rope and walked everywhere and not one of us counted how many calories we’d burned before we could stop.
Seek PLAY and FUN
This is NOT goofing off. It’s good for you, so watch. I guarantee you the next minute and fifteen seconds will improve your day dramatically….
I am actively working to seek rest and fun. It’s good for the imagination. Go write a story you have no intention of marketing. See if you can combine things that don’t go together. Put a cup full of genres in one jar and nouns in another then draw—sci-fi, knitting, nuclear device. Whatever. Go color, do a cartwheel, play a video game. It IS work. Workaholics aren’t challenged by working more, they are truly challenged working less.
What are your thoughts?
Do you think our culture has gotten a collective stick up its hind end? Are you vexed that kids don’t get enough play? Are you annoyed that everything has to be “educational” or “college prep” and that we seem do frown on anything that doesn’t make “business sense”? Have you had a hard time playing, napping, having fun? Do you feel guilty that you should do more, but the list never stops? Do you find that your creativity improves after rest and fun?
Have you worked fun into your life? Are you guarding your fun and recreation and rest? Do you get pushback? Do you MISS having THREE MONTHS OFF with nothing to do but PLAY? What would you do if given that opportunity as an adult?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
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I have a new class series GOING PRO—Craft, Business and Brand. Take one or all three for a discount. Also use WANA15 for $15 off. Each class discusses the CORE ESSENTIALS. What is the essence of great writing? What is the heart of a brand/social media? What are the basics of publishing when so many options are available?