• Gina Greenlee, Author

Back in the Day Vol 1: Play’s Still the Thing


Woman covered in balls
Photo credit: Cleyton Ewerton,, Unsplash

Some call the journey I’m on “decluttering” or “downsizing.” I call it “reducing the content footprint of my home studio.” Everything in my living space I brought in or created with intention. And that’s the same way it’s going to go out, be recreated or gifted.


I’m surfacing a wide range of memories during this process. One includes an opinion column I wrote for The Hartford Courant on May 21, 2002:


I recently purchased a season membership for the Bushnell Park Carousel. For my money, the crowning glory of the membership is that I ride for free as often as I wish. The gentleman behind the counter took my $20 and perused my application. “Individual membership?” he asked.


“Yes,” I confirmed.


He was about to step away from the counter when he paused, then said, “Individual membership, right?”


“That’s right.”


“No family members on this?”


“No.” The only family members I have live in Manhattan, and I doubt they’d be hauling 110 miles to Hartford, Connecticut, to hop a carousel when they could ride one in Central Park.


He pressed on. “Just checking. I just want to be sure.”


“Hey,” I said, “I’m an INDIVIDUAL and I like to ride the carousel, OK?” The two teenagers behind the counter cracked up. They still get it.


Merry Go Round
Image credit: BushnellParkCarousel.org

Play is the first thing on kids’ minds. As soon as school lets out, they automatically switch to play mode. They live for fun and find it in the moment – joyously, frivolously, unabashedly – at play.


American culture endorses play from birth to legal age and then after retirement. But for those of us between the work-like-a-dog ages of 18 and 65, play is often the last thing on our minds. We’ve learned to replace play with work, and when we play, it is usually because we’ve scheduled it.


Pity.


If we took a few lessons from our kids, life could be a lot more fun. Besides, I may not live beyond retirement age. Rather than bank my play chips for the next 25 years, I’m spending them right now. The only thing it costs me is an occasional incredulous look.


In the adult world, play carries a stigma. It is considered immature and unproductive in our highly achievement-oriented society unless there is some goal at the end of it. So, we approve only of our children playing for the pure fun of it. But at its most pleasurable, play is process, not product, a present moment transformation of our armor and burdens into lightness and joy.


Yes, most of us must work. We must pay for our homes, food and education. And for many adults, work is a major, rewarding part of life. When work is fulfilling, we are renewed and feel we are where we ought to be, doing what we were meant to do.


Still, even if our work inspires us, we must align ourselves with the business world’s rules of conduct. Accordingly, play in the workplace is an increasingly popular trend of structured workshops and off-site retreats offering employees exercises to loosen up and let their creativity flow. But play – the kind that flows spontaneously from our core – is not so much an activity to engage as it is an expression to allow.


While I stood at the payment counter declaring my intention to play all summer long on the carousel, the line piled up. By the time I walked through the gate, all the moving horses had been taken.


“There are horses in the back,” said the ticket attendant.


“Not the ones that move up and down,” I said. “I’ll wait.”