Play

Last weekend, Pat hauled Tisen and me up to Signal Point park for a short walk to the overlook. I figured it was a good time to do some shooting.

The trouble with overlooks is the limited options for landscape shots. I’ve shot from the Signal Point overlook so many times that I’ve run out of landscape options. When the sky doesn’t do anything spectacular, it doesn’t help.

This time, I decided to play a bit. I’ve decided that’s what I need more of: play. Not just for photography, but for life in general. When I say “play,” I don’t mean playing structured games with rules that one applies so that one “wins.” That’s not play. That’s competition.

What I mean by “play” harkens back to the feeling of getting a brand new box of crayons as a child. Or, even better, when my mother used to make up a batch of play dough (she didn’t cook much that was edible, but she sure could make play dough). These were moments when possibility presented itself and possibility seemed infinite.
With no preconceived notions about what I was supposed to draw or mold and not worried about anyone judging my creation, possibility really was infinite.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown references research by Dr. Stuart Brown on the importance of play. Brene summarizes Dr. Brown’s research as finding “play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.” She goes on to say that one of the properties of play identified by Dr. Brown is that it is purposeless.

When is the last time you did something purposeless? I look at the long list of activities I’ve engaged in over the past 20 years and I cannot help but notice that they all came with goals. Hang gliding was the first activity I pursued goalessly since before I went to college. Even at that, I still had a goal of flying off the training hills.

But last Sunday, I managed to set aside my desire to get “great” shots and flopped down on the ground next to the first daffodils I’ve seen this year. There is something fundamentally wonderful about rolling around on the ground and not worrying about getting dirty. When I have a camera in my hands, I feel like I have permission to get dirty. Sometimes I forget I haven’t actually dressed appropriately and come home with mud on the knees of expensive jeans. I think it’s worth it.

So, there I was, lying in the dirt with a sudden sense of exploration instead of pressure. Just like pulling a new color out of a box of Crayolas and seeing what it looks like on paper for the first time, I paid attention to what happened when I did different things instead of worrying about whether my images would stand up to anyone else’s critique. It was fun. Really fun.

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