Dwelling on and Dwelling in the Spirit of Play

by Matthew Koslowski on September 30, 2009
in Essays

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
– Aristotle

A few days ago, one of my friends set her Facebook status to, “But bear in mind that a person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values.”

This simple act amused me. And moved me to think. I had had cause — not just cause but causes — to think about my values before she had put up that status. I realized that my life has been out of alignment. Specifically, I have not been giving enough attention to one trait I deeply value: playfulness.

Moving to Travel and Moving to Dance

Although reading is one of the ways in which I play, this past week I have not focused on it. In starting this blog, I have added work to my already busy weeks. The blog started as a work of joy, which I think is apparent in the conversational tone of my first few essays, then became work, which I think was apparent in my last post in which I tried to cram too much into 1,300 words.

I put unrealistic deadlines on myself to read, to take notes, and to produce thoughtful essays. All while trying to be more social. Even when I tried to spend time with friends, my mind was on my blog. And although I was attending many dances, I forgot the spirit of play and the spirit of dance are the same:

“There is a difference between motion with the objective of changing plane and motion with the objective of dancing. All those forms of energy that are moving to dance, or traveling to wander, are joyous manifestations of energy. On the other hand, all those forms of energy that have us moving to get somewhere tend to become frantic, and have a quality of urgency that moves us faster and faster until we simply can’t go fast enough to accomplish the object.
–Alan Watts from Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation, pages 53-54.

Rather than dancing for any of the other muddled reasons I may have had, I have spent the past week dancing to dance.

Better Living Through Play

Ask my best friend: I am inclined to taking things to grave, high seriousness. Ask any of my friends. Ask anyone who knows me even in passing, in fact.

Rarely, I take nothing seriously. That can take several forms from a gentle irreverence to a harsh sarcasm. These periods when I take nothing seriously usually follow a bout of taking things too gravely. Bouts of forgetting that although everything is serious nothing need be grave.

I have been thinking about play and spirit for weeks. I was reminded of the importance of play many weeks ago when I listened to “Play, Spirit, and Character” on Speaking of Faith on WBUR. The program moved me.

Since first listening to the program — and then downloading the podcast and listening to it again, as well as forcing my best friend to listen to it — I have tried to strike a balance between seriousness and irreverence. The harsh sarcasm, I imagine, I can do without. A playful sarcasm? That is my sincere goal.

The Lesson of Red and Orange Leaves

Autumn is my favorite season. I was born in October and may have a congenital affinity. Or maybe it’s my love of apples. Each Autumn I learn the lesson of the red and orange leaves over again. Each Autumn I relearn that any traveling can be a dance.

I had certain, specific destinations in mind. I would get into my car and I would drive. Surrounding me would be all of this green. But the green is green. Although I know in my heart the green of a pine tree is different than that of an oak or a maple — and that any two oaks or two maples will be different — green is green and the space I am traveling through an impediment to being where I want to be.

Then Autumn arrives.

This branch here is a crimson red. That branch a series of different oranges that ends in a flash of yellow. This branch is vermilion. That branch is auburn. And that one beyond it is golden.

When the trees lining the highways and the streets of Massachusetts change color, I cannot ignore the world around me anymore. There is more there there. All of a sudden, the drive to work becomes an opportunity to feast my eyes on glorious colors. All of a sudden, the drive to work takes on elements of a dance. A dance in a very crowded dance hall. A very slow dance in a very crowded dance hall with police and traffic accidents.

Taking Time, Taking Joy

The essays I wrote in which I discussed specific works of literature — The Prestige in Poetry”, “The Songs of Solitude of Rainer Maria Rilke”, and “Of Steppenwolves and Hedgehogs” — were joys to write. I enjoy engaging with a text directly. And I have found that rather than dealing with a whole text, this space allows me to take on one part of a novel, one full poem, or a part of several poems.

I am going to continue writing weekly. I will still comment on education policy and write about literature. My focus will be writing on literature. But rather than trying to be gravely serious and authoritative, I’ll remember that I still have much to learn and still have much to experience.

In fact, I am thinking of trying to write twice weekly by adding a weekly round up of interesting links on education and literature on Fridays.

I need to set more realistic expectations for myself. And, though I wanted to take a break from educational policy this week, my friend did send me a link to a Boston Globe op-ed piece, “With kids, all work won’t work” by Peter Funt. I will say that all work doesn’t work for adults either. As I have so recently found out.

And because of that, I will make time for and take joy in friends, dancing, cooking, drinking wine, listening to opera, drinking hot apple cider, and picking apples. And watching the leaves change.


3 Responses to “Dwelling on and Dwelling in the Spirit of Play”
  1. I enjoyed this post immensely. It echoes some thoughts of my own: Unrealistic, self-made deadlines do tend to kill the spirit of play when you’re blogging–or doing anything that you do with the original intention of enjoying it.

    I’d like to follow your posts, but I am essentially lazy with an unreliable memory and rely on “track these comments” tools. Would you be able to set up this blog to allow others to follow comments?

    Many thanks for writing!

  2. Matthew Koslowski says:

    Thank you, Cris, for you kind words.

    I am still learning Wordpress right now. If I knew how, I would be happy to let others track comments posted after theirs through email. Let me research it and I will, I hope, add that feature. There must be a Wordpress setting or plugin for it.

    Another feature I’m hoping to add is a form for email subscriptions. I need to brush up on my CGI and PHP skills. Once I have researched that, I’ll have a short form on every post before the comments.

    And I need to add a contact information page as well, now that I think of it.

    As I was first typing this comment, I wanted to say, “I’ll add these features and pages soon.” But that goes a bit against the theme of my essay this week, doesn’t it? More accurately, I will add these features and pages when I make the time.

  3. Lee Marcotte says:

    This was a really wonderful essay, I have enjoyed all your posts, in fact, just re-read Of Stepphenwolves… and I think a piece of who you are peeked through in that post. This, however; felt more authentic and grounded. It is a wonderful reminder to all that “smelling the flowers” is what truly makes a life worth while. Well done.