I talked with a friend yesterday who suffered serious burn-out in her job last year and is now on sabbatical. She finds herself struggling to justify such things as reading novels. Academia has a way of pinching a person down to a state of seriousness that can ruin life in general. I reminded her that she must play.
While writing The Soul Tells a Story several years ago, I read a lot of what others had written about creativity. I discovered that, regardless of the discipline--literature, physics, theater, mathematics, medicine--a person's mind is freed to do its best work when he or she manages to glance away for a while. In fact, a number of scientists and artists have come up with the "answer" only after leaving work to go play. In the act of turning away from certain processes, a person provides the opportunity for her mental electrical system/chemistry to leap over resistance and confusion to the clear moment, the "aha!"
It's halfway through summer, and the only books I've read so far are novels. I tried to start a book on mysticism this morning on the train. It's well written, and my interest is high. But intuition tells me it's not yet time for reading this kind of book. So I've picked up, not a novel, but Julia Child's My Life in France. The danger is that, more than ever, I will long to be in a far country tasting delectable foods and lounging on sun-dappled verandas. But I'm told that the writing is quite good, and so I will be carried away to France for a few days. For me, this is play.
I also play by watching movies and wandering the city. Jim and I are taking advantage of our movie rental membership; we're feasting on documentaries, classics, and a weird film or two. I'm looking for the day I can take off from work so I can wander, but right now it's too darn hot outside. The point is, I consider these acts of play necessities. Yesterday, in the cool of the morning, I retyped some poetry I wrote months ago. It's a way to engage the writing without becoming too immersed for now. Play time can also be good for light reviewing of the past or of past works and works-in-progress.
If we don't play, our souls will rebel and wreck our contentment and concentration. We were designed for a life punctuated by sabbath time; the rest and the joy are just as important as sleep. For the sake of our health, we must resist Western culture's obsession with productivity.
So please dare to play, and if play is not a habit, then do what you must to rediscover the activities and states of mind that your soul recognizes as down time, as fun time and sigh-of-relief-and-pleasure time. You need it more than than you think.