In Attempting to Play, She Thinks

In attempting to play, she thinks.

I begin every academic year by inviting my students to write six-word memoirs.  Some are painfully adolescent (I mean, they are twelve), but others are strikingly insightful and adult.  I treasure them.

And I always write my own as well.  This year my six-word memoir was, “In attempting to play, she thinks.” 

I come from a sports family.  Play has always been a huge part of the way that we connect with each other and with the world around us.  And I do love sports—even more now than when I was growing up.  As an adult, I really appreciate the way that athletics have given me a foundation for a healthy lifestyle; the way that I’ve built friendships (and even romances) around sports; the way that playing can be an escape from the exhausting places in my mind.

I say exhausting because even as I grew up around athletes, I found myself drawn to the quiet solitude of my room and my journal.  I was writing poems and novels as early as fourth grade.  By fifth grade, I’d decided that I wanted to be a writer.  (Or a dancer, actually.  But that dream was disregarded before graduating from elementary school.)  So while I spent a great deal of my spare time in gymnastics, softball, volleyball, field hockey, swimming, diving…I also buried myself in books and letters.  My mom says that she would watch me disappear even when I was young.  My family would take one look at me and know that I was blocking out the world; retreating into the distant musings in my mind. 

And that hasn’t changed.  But I have become aware of how scary a place my mind can be.  It’s sometimes a lonely place.  Other times it’s just overwhelming. 

So I’m thankful that I was also given the tool of play.  And I’m grateful that I’ve continued to play—and to love it even more—as a grown-up.  It’s a coping mechanism, really.  A place where I can turn off my brain and put the worries, the anxieties, and the neuroses aside.

Today, for example, I found myself spinning.  My mind was a twisting, turning, up-and-down rollercoaster.  By mid-afternoon I realized that I couldn’t sit by my laptop anymore.  I pushed through yesterday, and I’m glad that I did because eventually it became productive.  But today I hit a wall.  Today, I was on a downward spiral, digging myself deeper into the troubled recesses of my mind. 

I’d planned to go to yoga, as I regularly do on Tuesdays.  But I also knew that there was goaltimate (basically a form of half-court basketball played with a frisbee) a little later in the evening.  And while I adore yoga, my favorite instructor is out of town.  And somehow I knew that I didn’t need meditation or quiet.  I needed noise; I needed cleats on grass; I needed heavy sweat and grunting and maybe even a little cursing at a dropped throw or a defensive misstep.  I needed something all-consuming.  I needed the kind of tough competition that would shut out the very loud chatter in my head. 

In attempting to play, she thinks.

Even as I love play, it’s still hard for me to just let go sometimes.  To throw caution to the wind, let down my guard, and enjoy myself.  It’s a challenge to release my inhibitions and my insecurities.  Moreover, it’s difficult for me to just enjoy play when I’m so much in my own head, and I have to make an active choice not to criticize how well I play and my skill or decisions.  But I’m getting better at it.  And no matter what, I never regret playing.  I always feel better afterward.  Where would I be if I’d never been introduced to sports?  If I didn’t enjoy them so?  If I weren’t at least decent at them?  Or if I lived in a place that didn’t offer so many opportunities for physical activity?

I guess I’ll never know.  And I’m so, so glad for that.

Leave a Reply