home on an average day, like most people I know, I am faced with a second set
of responsibilities: the to-do list.
My usual list involves house-hold chores, like paying the bills or
mailing the three-week belated anniversary card to my only sibling, exercising,
completing work for whatever class I was dumb enough to sign up for this term,
and perhaps grading a few papers.
Then if there’s time before nine (the witching hour of middle school and
high school teachers everywhere), I may eke out an hour of writing before
crashing. Some days these
after-work activities can be stressful, but for the most part, they’re a part
of life. As an adult I can
time-manage (read the summary of Hamlet
instead of rereading the entire four-hour play) and prioritize (pay the
mortgage now, mail the card later–do guys even read anniversary cards?).
what would happen if we gave the same type of list to a sixteen-year-old?
It’s not that different than what many kids juggle on a nightly
basis. As someone teaching, but
not raising children, it is easy for me to roll my eyes at such a
comparison. How stressful is
soccer practice? But,
unfortunately our society has made even kids’ sports racked with pressure. If eight-year-old Joey misses practice
he may not be allowed to play in Saturday’s game, which means he’ll be less
likely to be picked for the travel team, which means he’ll never be good enough
to get a college scholarship and go pro, so he can be ridiculed and under-paid
like all the other professional soccer players in America.
laugh, but really it’s sad. We’ve
created a culture where kids, and adults for that matter, can’t just play. With all the pressure to be able to
“compete”, we’re pushing our kids and ourselves to the breaking
point. The saying, “Just do
it!” has evolved into not just, “Do it right!” but “Do it
better!” But give a kid a
crayon or pen and a blank piece of paper and tell them to have fun, to be
creative, and watch the horrified expression develop. No rubric? No
example? No structure? Say hello to Generation No-imagination. Because of our need to succeed, we’ve
created a world of imitators and replicaters who can’t or won’t think for
weekend I finished drafting the sequel to my first novel. It’s still a very rough long hand
version as of now (yeah, I go old school and handwrite the first draft), but I
have the pleasure of knowing, after seven months of living with one foot in reality
and the other racing through my imagination, I have created something. More importantly, I took pleasure in
the act of creating, of imagining.
Writing for me is play.
It’s not a scheduled activity I complete for any greater purpose other
than to express and entertain.
That’s not to say it doesn’t involve a hell of a lot of time, effort,
and thought, but it’s time, effort, and thought I enjoy. It’s something I choose to do because
I’m passionate about it.
developing that passion took time.
I needed time to explore writing: to read widely, to write bad poetry,
and to dabble with the idea of being a journalist. I also needed freedom to try other things: to realize I
can’t sing well, run fast, or draw my way out of a paper bag. As a child I was given that time and
that freedom. My parents let me
play sports and do activities, and for the most part I was allowed to choose
them (football was a “hell no” and CCD a “hell yes”, but
I’ve forgiven them for the former).
They supported my interests, but never pushed. There was no pressure to perform better, and, considering
the teams I usually ended up on, no expectation to win, only to lose
graciously. But what I appreciate
the most now was that they also made sure there was time to just “go play.” It was the hours in the woods with the
Sunrise crew creating our own worlds and the hours alone mingling my Barbies
with Matt’s G.I. Joes to imagine scandalous scenarios worthy of any one of
Gramma’s soap operas that honed my ability to create and imagine.
we want to give ourselves and our kids the opportunity to be artists, writers,
musicians, inventors, or thinkers, we need to recapture the best parts of
childhood, of life: the moments without pressure, without structure, without
rules, without inhibition, when we can “Just do it.”