The other day I did this exercise where, for an hour, I pretended to fly. It was a room full of people actually–people lifting up onto their toes and holding their breaths and widening their eyes. None of us left the floor or anything. But I felt it all the same: A room of people flying.
One thing my acting professor stresses to us a lot is that by the time we become adults we have forgotten how to play. You don’t see too many grownups riding down grocery store aisles with their feet up on the carts. People don’t run around the city like superheroes in borrowed capes on their lunch breaks. Forts built out of blankets and pillows don’t seem quite as realistic when you’re over the age of ten and the ground is a whole lot further away than it once was. And I guess all this is chalked up to simply forgetting how to play.
I was a pretty imaginative kid. I wasn’t super popular and I didn’t have a ton of friends. But the friends I did have stuck around because I was actually somewhat fun. And it had nothing to do with my softball skills or my dance moves or my Barbie collection. I was imaginative. When I was six or seven, I made a Civil War hideout in the yellow forsythia bushes in our back yard. I would gather leaves and rocks and dirt and make them into soup for my stowaways (namely, my sister and next door neighbors). When I was eight Hannah and I would hold horseback races inside the house, running the loop of the layout on brooms and having my dad decide the winner. At around nine or ten I convinced our neighbors there was an ogre living in our creepy outdoor garage, and made up stories about him to freak the poor boys out. There was always something to pretend at–some story necessary for the moment to tell. And I never shied away from playing it, no matter what age I was.
So why is it that, ten years later, pretending to fly for one short hour catches my breath and makes me dizzy? When I was nine, I could have flown for days in my faded t shirts and black Converses. The magic in it wouldn’t have been magic. It would have been part of the ordinary life of daydreams.
A few months ago my acting professor gave me an a few partners a task to do. We had ten minutes to build a castle out of ourselves. Ready, set, go. I can’t describe what we did but I can describe how I felt. Giddy. Creative. Allowed.
When was the last time someone allowed you to fly, or ride a broomstick horse, or build a castle? And why do we feel like we have to be allowed to do that anyway?
One thing I’m learning this year is that I have permission. I have permission to follow small ideas. To listen to my voice. To make eye contact. To feel heavy and light at the same time. And I have permission to play.
I think that if we all gave ourselves permission to play sometimes, we’d probably live longer. We’d at least live happier. We carry around this weight of adulthood, and that’s okay. Yes, there are bills to pay and kids to take to the dentist and lunch appointments to make. But there’s so much time for play that we put aside because we don’t believe we have permission to do it. We go to Netflix for entertainment and fantasy football for a healthy dose of pretend. But that doesn’t cut it. We still need to play sometimes. We need to move our bodies and see things that aren’t real and believe with all our hearts in what we know to be imaginary.
Please try flying this week. Or try cruising in a Batmobile or taking off in a rocketship or having a mad tea party. Do it with kids, if you feel self conscious. But do it for yourself. Play hard. You have permission.