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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ode to playfulness

The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which; he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.

One of the virtues I am celebrating this new year is playfulness. I have mentioned, in previous blog entries, that I am taking part in an online women's group, called Loving Inquiry: Finding our way to work, which is being facilitated by Dr. Ahava Shira. Every few weeks, Ahava invites us to walk through another "gate" with her by paying attention to, and nurturing a specific virtue or practice in our every day lives. To live more poetically. Right now we are walking through the gate of play, so I have been reflecting over the past few days on how I play in my daily life.

I am a playful person, once you get to know me, however I am also someone who is very attentive, and sometimes come across as being rather serious. So consciously seeking out those parts of myself that are naturally playful and nurturing those babies is reminding me to stay lighthearted, and to make sure to incorporate moments of pure, untethered, silly and joyful play into every day.

This is a picture of one of my best girlfriends back in Cyprus and I. I love how well it captures the playful nature of our friendship!
Everyone has their own unique ways of expressing playfulness. My mother, for example, whistles. She is a spectacular whistler. She also sings, but her whistling seems to hold a certain joy that she has managed to carry with her since childhood that is sheer bliss. I have a good friend and former colleague for whom work and play were one and the same thing. He took his work seriously, but while he was out harvesting berries for the farmer's market, he would listen for birds nesting close by to determine what kind they were, and in the fall he would stop to count geese as they flew overhead. After work on clear nights he would sometimes grab his telescope and a bunch of us would go out in a field to watch the stars before heading home. And while we were harvesting wood in the forest, he would look for coyote dens. One of his all-time favourite forms of play was to give unsuspecting visitors to the farm a generous handful of freshly picked blackcurrants, telling them that they had to try them, because they were delicious. He would not tell them what it was that he was giving them to try, however, and blackcurrants look very similar to blueberries to the unsuspecting eye. The expression of pure, joyful amusement, that would spread across his face when the poor visitors tasted their first mouthful of exceptionally bitter blackcurrants was something that I never got tired of watching, no matter how many times he repeated the stunt.

When I was out on the farm, playfulness was an integral part of every day -- running down the clearing between rows of vegetables to grab tools before I left the fields; running over and down the hill of a hay field, building up speed so that it felt like I was flying, and trying to jump on top of the hay stacks at the end of the day; throwing rotten fruit or potatoes high up in the air every now and then in the direction of colleagues just to keep them on their toes, or just singing while I worked, were some of my forms of play! Now that my work is mainly writing, I find moments of play in dancing in the kitchen while I wait for the kettle to boil; making funny faces at myself in a mirror when nobody is watching; cooking colourful, flavourful meals with fresh, organic ingredients; doing a handstand in my yoga practice, or engaging in fun, creative dialogues or projects with friends.

Because we just started a new year, I have been reflecting over the last few days on some kind of playful, fun, and creative project that I could start working on that would be a collaborative effort with some of the amazing women that are constantly encouraging me in my own work and inspiring me with their creative endeavours. What I came up with is a year-long journal, divided into twelve months, and shared with eleven other women scattered across the world, each of whom fills a month's worth of pages with inspiring, colourful, fragrant poems, stories, free-writes, drawings, sketches, photographs, and anything else that we feel like including. The topic of the entries is: "what inspires you, gives you passion, energy, courage, grace, and any and all other positive vibes that fuel your creative process?" I sent out an invitation to some of my closest friends around the world to see if they would join me on this collective creation of beauty and inspiration. The resounding "YES" of their response has made me laugh out loud. Their creative juices are already churning, and I cannot wait to see what we create!

My initial idea was that once the book has traveled around the world gathering all of the amazing inspiration that these incredible women are certain to fill it with, we may digitize its contents and share it with other women around the world to inspire them on their journeys. Once we have done this, we will probably auction off our original book, to raise money for a organization that empowers young women. Sound like fun? I am telling you, I am excited. And so are my friends, it would seem. The playing began this afternoon, when, while listening to my friend Ahava's radio show (Mondays, 1-2pm, Pacific time), Love in the Afternoon, I had the pleasant surprise to hear her share the story of our year-long creative journal project with her listeners. Sometimes just sharing creative ideas generates dialogue that is playful! I promise to share more on the journey of our book in future entries!

My idea for the journal came as a result of a number of different inspiring ideas and projects that I have come across lately. One was The Diary of Frida Kahlo, which I actually read a couple of years ago. Another was a recent blog entry by Karen Walrond on journal writing, which reminded me how inspired I had been by The Diary of Frida Kahlo (thank you, Karen!!), and was just so colourful and upbeat, that it made me think about how important journal writing has been to my own process. Karen has also written a book, which I unfortunately do not yet have a copy of, but am hoping to get my hands on soon, that sounds exceptionally playful as well. It is called The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit Another project that inspired me is one that an incredible artist, and dear friend of mine, Louise Mould, shared with me (because she is one of the artists taking part in it), and which I wrote about in my blog entry Sparks of inspiration at 2a.m., called the Sketchbook Project. I have also been greatly inspired over the years by an amazing woman living in northern Italy who has this truly unique passion: she lends books out to people all over the world for free (for 6 weeks at a time), with the only condition being that the reader returns the book they are reading to her with something added to it that tells her a little bit about the experience that the reader had while they were reading the book (a dried flower pressed between the pages, notes in the margin, a poem in the margin, etc). So in other words, the book becomes two stories -- the one on the pages, and the story of the many people who have read the story in the book. If you are thinking this sounds incredible (and I assure you, it is), and feel like contributing, she offers this amazing service for free, and is always looking for sponsors. Her website (in Italian), is Libri in Prestito. One of the interesting things about being playful is that you never know how your playfulness will inspire others!

I went to a poetry reading tonight with my mother. One of the poets read a poem about a woman who "everyone said" was not quite right in the head because she went outside to check the furnace, noticed the moon playing on the frozen surface of the lake, and was so transfixed that she stayed out too long, caught pneumonia, and ended up dying. In the poem, which of course was far better than my description of it, the woman's family tell her that she allowed the moon's playfulness to take away her life. The woman's response, on the contrary, was that she could think of no better way to die than feeling as completely alive as she felt witnessing the reflection of playfulness in the moon's face against the pearly ice.

There are so many creative ways to play in our daily lives. What are some of the ways that you plan to play in your life in 2011? 

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