Getting the Play Done


This week a writer friend named Molly Blaisdell wrote a blog post on the importance of play to her writing work.

Before I read her words, I had been stuck on what to post and, honestly, stuck on whether to write all together. I was even having Negative Nellie give it up thoughts.  And those thoughts felt like an even deeper black hole.

Molly’s idea of play rung a bell somewhere just below my suprasternal notch (Can you tell I’m studying with the nurses in my day job? The notch is the dip in the middle of the collar bones.)

As I said, I’ve been feeling off. My teaching job lasted clear into mid August this year. By the time my students and I wrapped up the essays and grammar finals, the back to school sales were about over. My son started tennis tryouts a week later. I got exactly one weekend to go camping with the kids and that was the one weekend in August that it rained. Like Noah needed to come and rescue us.

And my writing routine always takes a whack when I’m out of the teaching groove. For four weeks I could write much more but, as almost always happens, I ended up writing less. The wide open space flattens my pen, I guess.

And then my work schedule changed these past two weeks as school life got going again. I used to work Monday through Thursday with Friday clearly marked as a play day.

Now it’s Tuesday through Friday with Monday for play. Something about Friday is so much more intrinsically free. Friday feels like barbecues and rowdy people wearing Seahawks jerseys. Monday feels more like cubicles and fluorescent lights.

I’d been thinking I needed that play back. Here’s a video of a writer who knows how to play better than some of the kids:

Maybe I need to be more like him and open a non profit with a pirate store at the front. Or convince kids that wasting fruit leads to invasive melons. I bet if I let myself think on it, I could come up with even wilder ideas.

In the meantime, I’ve let myself do some more down-to-earth playing. Sometimes these larks have nothing to do with my stories. Like Molly, I knit. I go for walks with my family, I paint pumpkins, I scour Pinterest for projects and then do a few of them. I paint. I cook. I play my clarinet.

And sometimes, after realizing with a head smacking ‘duh’ that writing needs play, too, I wrap fun into that work. I craft temari balls because they are in my story, I surf for pictures of my characters and paste them into the art book I’ve created for my novel in progress. I go to places my characters would be. And it’s fun. And the work gets better. Not just easier to do but better. Even the play that has nothing to do with my projects somehow zaps new life into the words I scratch on paper or punch out on the screen.

We all know by now that children need to play to learn and grow. I need reminders sometimes that I’m not all that different from the children I write for and about.

And so, I say, hurray. Hurray, hurray, hurray for play. (This is borrowed liberally from Dr. Seuss and The Eye Book — another good source of play.)

If you’ve got a moment, I’d love to know what you do just for the fun of it. I’m asking partly because I’d love to get more ideas and partly because I’ve noticed in writing this that I find joy in the mere thought of frivolous fun. I’m betting you will, too.


Articles that Aren’t in the News


This post may not appeal to many people who speak English as a first language. But as I explained for the bazillionth time (probably an underestimate) this week how English speakers use those three little words a, an and the, it struck me what a miracle of meaning those three little words convey. So here for those learning English and for those who speak it and would like a peak into the deeper grammar, is an explanation of a, an and the, otherwise known as articles.

When my sister was born, she had a difficult time. She weighed in at over 10 pounds and my mother had struggled with her birth. In those days, the hospital separated the babies, putting them in a nursery. My father took a look the babies and wondered which one was her. She looked so different from me with jaundiced skin compared to my white as paper skin. He needed to know which baby was the baby. The baby my mother had just given birth to. The baby he would take home. Of course, he found her. But it took some time and a nurse to find the baby.

Like an ID card or a pointer that shows you just which one you are talking about, the is a word  that points out something that is the only one or the only one in our little world of a conversation. Only one baby in that nursery was my sister. Dad needed to find that one. The one.

The is very useful. You can use the with count nouns that are plural and singular. You can use the with non count nouns. If you are not sure what article to use, the is a pretty safe bet.

A and an are more generic. If you go to a park today, you are likely to see a baby. The baby you see is one of many babies. To you he or she is not unique because the baby you see is not yours. Unless, you start to tell a story about her (like I just did). Then she becomes the baby because you have chosen her in your story.

A and an are only used with single count nouns. You cannot use them with plurals or count nouns because they mean one. One plus a plural or one plus something you can’t count doesn’t work.

The use of these three little words can and often does get more complicated. Here’s a link to a more detailed explanation:

And some practice:

A professor from the University of Washington once told me that the most important rule is to put an article (or another quantifier) in front of a single count noun. If you remember nothing else, remember that my sister was either a baby or the baby. She was not ‘baby.’ First language American English speakers would not say that.