At a campground in West Virginia, I chatted with a mountain biker who had just returned from a day of riding in the mountains. The fifty-something fellow said he and his friend flew down a muddy trail over gnarly roots and rocks, hooting and hollering: “We were just giddy, like a couple of kids.”
Mix together speed, mud and a little bit of terror and you end up with exhilaration. Not everyone’s recipe for achieving that I-don’t-have-a-worry-in-the-world feeling, but it works for me. I thought of other times when I achieve the giddy feeling he’d described. On long runs, yes. Writing, sometimes. Grocery shopping, not so much.
The nation’s play guru (my title) is Stuart Brown, a clinical researcher who has studied human and animal play for a number of years and founded the National Institute of Play. (Some of his early work took him into Texas prisons to study murderers, whose childhoods not surprisingly were short on play.) Brown writes of the “transformative” power of play and tells of waiting with others at a long line at the pharmacy, and the growing irritability of all involved. He decided to take a playful attitude and joked about what a great place this was to hang out. Before long, everyone was cracking jokes, and Brown left with a light feeling.
The idea of achieving a spirit of playfulness intrigues me. Clearly, the endorphins of exercise can get me to giddiness. But perhaps mundane everyday things can, too. And if the flipside of all this is being a play killer, well, who wants to be that person? Much better to be the one who makes standing in the bank line fun.
So this month, I try my hand at bringing playfulness to situations that seem dire. First up: Customs at the Canada-USA border. Stay tuned to next post.