Play it Forward: A Workshop to Improve Your Writing through Play

Mama always said I was an old soul.

“You were always so serious,” she said. “Even when you were a baby.”

When I was six months old her mother—my maternal grandmother—was diagnosed with breast cancer. And she had to wean me from her breast for the struggle of it—the hard work of balancing the care of a newborn and that of her dying mother.

This is the world I was born to: one of hunger, poverty, addiction, complicated parent-love. Play was always a serious business for little girl me. I went inside the world of imagination to escape the reality of life. It was a solitary task, a quiet thing. Something in my makeup resisted the kind of play lived out loud.

It’s taken me almost fifty years to understand that this is okay. Yes, this is okay, but there is so much more to play. And I have only just begun.

Play looks different for different kinds of people. When we understand this and accept this, it opens us to new ways. New ways of playing, new ways of seeing, new avenues of creativity, new ways of being.

Play is a powerful thing.

Will you come along on a play journey with me? Sometimes these things are best undertaken with a guide. How about two guides? My friend (and fellow writer) Laura Brown and I are embarking upon an exploration of all things play. Over the course of eight or twelve weeks (you choose), we will lead an adventurous few through an odyssey of play—sampling different ways of play that might enliven our creative lives, enrich our writing and hopefully, add beauty to our everyday living.

Read more about it over at TSPoetry. It’s going to be a grand adventure. It may be just the thing to breathe new life into your writing practice. It may be just the thing to awaken the old soul in you to a fresh view of this tired world. After all, writing is a form of play—a way of seeing. To write well requires opening the eyes in new and different ways. We’re going to have so much fun finding playful ways to achieve this.

Photo by Samuel David Rinehart, Creative Commons, via Flickr.

West Virginia Morning: Red-shouldered Hawk

There is a pair of red-shouldered hawks mating in the meadow behind our house. This morning, as I poured the coffee, I heard the distinct key-yeear, key-yeear, echoing in the sky. I quickly put down my mug and moved to the bay, searched the sky for the wide-winged soar. I spotted him just in time to see him land in the top of one of the walnut trees, where his mate awaited. I watched for several breath-stopping moments as they stilled, side-by-side, communicating who knows what kind of intimacies?

Hawks are monogamous and red-shouldered hawks often nest in the same area from year-to-year, sometimes reusing the same bundle of sticks labored over strenuously in past years. As far as I know, this is the first year this couple have graced us with their presence, so I was careful to stay still, out of sight, in fear they might determine our little meadow a lackluster place to raise their brood.

I watched, barely daring to breath, until they departed—the male with his boastful cry, the female in smooth silence. Even after they left I continued to search the sky, willing their return, longing for a closer glimpse of feathered beauty. This is not the first time I’ve seen these lovelies. Last week, before we took Ted back to school, he came clamoring down the stairs one afternoon.

“Mom, did you see that guy?” he asked, pointing out the window into the back yard. There, perched in the maple tree, was the Mister, greedily eyeing all my little finches who were enjoying my feeder. He was so close I could see his red shoulders. I could see the individual feathers on his rusty breast. I must have swooned because I could see the precise moment he noticed me watching through the window. It was an almost imperceptible twitch of his eyebrow before the most magnanimous lift-off. Suddenly, I was the air under his wings, lifting, lifting, until full in flight.

This is what it means to be fully present in a moment. How can I keep my eyes from searching the sky?

Playdates with God: Quiet Season

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The first Sunday of Lent was Valentine’s Day, and Scout Sunday, and also a day we recognized the many years of service to our church of one of God’s everyday saints. There was a reception following worship and then Jeff and I went grocery shopping amidst all the other church people. At home, we opened cards and candy, exercised, took the dog for a walk, and then made ready for a concert we had tickets to celebrate this day of lovers. We were invited to a friend’s house for dinner before hand. We dined and laughed and touched each other’s hands under the table. Then, the music, oh sweet music, and in my heart I felt the beauty of being in love. When the show was over, the snow had started. We drove home through a blinding white, no snow plows in sight, creeping at 30 miles per hour until arriving safe at our destiny. I fell into bed, bone-tired but happy and this morning our little valley feels like a snowglobe, entombed in white.

As I sit here in the wee hours of dawn, I realize this is how most of the days go by lately—a blur of so many good things. I have been feeling God calling me to a quieter place for some time now. You may have noticed I haven’t been writing much here in this space. There are days when, in angst, I fear I’m losing my voice. I pray for words and eyes to see the bigger story, but the moments go by unrecorded. As most in-between places, this has not been a comfortable place. But it has been a place of growth.

I tell you these things, dear ones, by way of explaining that I will be letting this Monday morning practice of sharing a playdate go for a season. This community of seers has given me eyes for the holy for many years now, and it is a bit frightening to say “the end.” But I know we will always be connected and this is not an end to our friendships. I will still be chasing the blue flower, just in a lower profile. I’m not sure what that will look like, but I am trusting it will be lovely.

I want to share with you some other linkups that you may like to participate in during this quiet season here.

My friend Kelly Chripzuck has a sweet community called Small Wonders. She says, “That’s my proposal – that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.”

Lisha Epperson has a Sunday Community of sharers she calls Give Me Grace. She says, “Link up like you always have with images, scripture, art, a video, a song, one word or many. We’ll wrap it in grace and present it as an offering each Sunday.”

Lyli Dunbar’s Thought-Provoking Thursdays is one of my favorites. She writes, “Have you written something thought-provoking, challenging, encouraging, or inspiring lately? Link it up here!”

Sweet Jennifer Lee is Telling His Story.

There are always Five Minute Fridays.

And every month, Emily Freeman asks her readers to share what they’ve learned that month.

gift of friendshipThese are some of my faves, but would you share of any places you love to link up to in the comments? Also, I must announce the winner of Kristen Welch’s book Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. The winner is … Marci! Congratulations, my friend. I’ll get the book to you ASAP. Also, I have another book to give away this week. This one is by my beautiful friend Dawn Camp. It’s a collection of essays by various writers called The Gift of Friendship. The stories are accompanied by Dawn’s gorgeous photography. Leave a comment here for a chance to win. I’ll announce the winner on Friday, 2/19.

I’ll still be writing in this space, just less often. In the mean time, I’m praying this Lenten season brings some quiet blessings your way too, friends.

Playdates with God: Supermarket Poetry

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At the supermarket the other day, minding my own business. Little cutie and mom wander into my shopping space. She couldn’t have been more than three.

“Mommy,” she says, “I have a poem I want to tell you.”

Mom is distracted. Looking at cans, putting things in the cart. She doesn’t respond.

“Is that ok? Just a little poem?”

Mom says something nondescript. Still no eye contact. We moms have a lot on our minds.

I pause. Pretend to read the label a moment longer.

“I smell the flower, it smells sweetie sweet.
The birdie sounds tweety tweet.
Berries are my favorite tweet.” (She actually said tweet instead of treat. Cute, or what?)

There was more, but mom was walking away and taking the poem with her.

I stood in the aisle, lonely now, repeating the brilliant words of this poem in my head.They made me smile. How sad, thought I, that the mom missed this precious moment.And then:How many moments like this have I missed? Too many.

Life is crazy, and sometimes … sometimes I just don’t have enough to give.

But here is what God has been working in my heart for several years now: Every moment is sacred.

Life goes too fast. To slow down and actually be there in each moment; this is what true living is all about. Instead of impatience, always thinking of the next moment and not appreciating the present; instead, to see my world with eyes of love … this is what Jesus wants me to do.

To be present in each moment. It sounds so simple. Yet … I know I will fail. Over and over again. I do so many times.

But I must try. Because I want to smell the flowers, sweetie sweet. And hear the birds, tweety tweet. But most of all, when this life is over, I want to know that I let love lead me through it. Not time. Or fear. Or shame. Not money, or things. Just love.

Every moment is sacred. I want to live like I believe this.

Because I do.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

Playdates with God: The Sweetness of Things

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Today we go back to the normal. Normal has been interrupted by Winter Storm Jonas these past couple days. We’ve been digging out from under 16-17 inches of snow, bit by little bit. But today I return to work, Jeff resumes his teaching schedule, and though school is closed for Jeffrey, he won’t be snowed in the way he was this weekend. Temperatures still sleep below the freezing mark, but yesterday the sparrows sung the sun high and we warmed under her gaze. Still, all this white is going nowhere—save for one shovel full at a time.

There is something so sweet when normal is interrupted. We huddle together and light the fire in the fireplace and hearts are soft to one another. We walk together through snow drifts, slipping on ice patches here and there, giggling and holding on to each other like we haven’t for years. We catch snowflakes on our tongues. And our eyelashes. And shoulders and the tops of our heads. Both of my boys had birthdays this past week and though we celebrated with Teddy before taking him back to school, I kept finding myself near tears as his day came to a close and I did not get to see his face.

“I miss you today,” I texted him. “First time you’ve not been home on your birthday.”

“It’s the way it has to be, mom,” he replied, always the practical one. The new semester has only just begun and he is busy learning his new schedule, getting the lay of the land on the new classes.

“I know,” I replied. “It’s how it’s supposed to be and it is good. I’m glad you are having some fun.”

I watched the birds hop atop the frozen crust of snow under the feeder. A Cardinal pair, a handful of snowbirds, some house finches. The day before, an Eastern Towhee stopped by, his cinnamon breast and side a sharp contrast to the pearly world he haunted. But after all that snow, today the sky gleams brilliant blue and the glistening trees carve their shapes into its void. In all this alabaster I struggle to feel what is greening inside me.

Belden Lane quotes Jonathan Edwards as saying, “The works of God are … a kind of voice or language of God to instruct intelligent beings in things pertaining to Himself.” When I watch the birds I am listening to the voice of God. It’s a kind of synesthesia—every sense engaged in this knowing.

I watch the male Cardinal tap a sunflower seed against the mottled trunk of the Maple tree. His insistent tapping sends an avalanche of snow from the slender branches and the air is filled with flashing shafts of powdered light. My throat catches at the sheer abundance of nature. I remember the question Augustine asked of God,

What do I love when I love you? Not light nor the fragrance of flowers, not the taste of honey, nor the gentle touch of the human body. None of these and yet all of them! I do love a kind of light, a certain fragrance, a food and an embrace when I love my God … I said to all those things which stand about the gate to my senses: ‘Tell me about my God … ..’ And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘He made us.’ My question was in my contemplation of them, and their answer was in their beauty.”

This interruption of the normal has been a gift of space for contemplation. For a short while, life slowed to a stop, warmed under a blanket of snow, baffled in white, breathed beauty in every language.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess