The importance of being playful

“The opposite of play is not work - it’s depression.”

A quick note: I’m so thankful to all of you for the amazing response to the launch of this newsletter last week, and so humbled by the number of you that have signed up. It’s completely unexpected and it’s just been incredibly mood-lifting and encouraging. A shout out to those of you who commented or shared your experiences with me; it feels good to know we’re not alone, and I’m glad that this newsletter is starting to do exactly what I hoped it would.

The opposite of play is not work - it’s depression

Stuart Brown ‘Play is more than just fun’

Last week’s newsletter - ‘Reasons to be unproductive’ - got me thinking a lot about play, and play as an adult, the way we seem to grow out of it without really realising as we become focused on adulting.

The childhood memories I remember best are mostly all about play. One of the earliest I can recall is during my first year in school having a great time making traffic light biscuits (which could, to be honest, just be a food thing). Although, on the contrary, I can’t recall a single second of the “food technology” classes in secondary school.

Though to be honest, most memories from secondary school have me like…

The point is I loved to play and have fun when I was younger, and I was all no work and all play.

Now that I’m A Sophisticated Adult, I’m mostly all work and very little play without meaning to -  especially right now. Being in lockdown has made me realise that pretty much the only “play” I engaged in is meeting up with friends and having a lovely time; on a smaller and more personal scale, I don’t really do anything for play or fun.

But I grew up often playing alone and I loved it. I loved having fun with friends, don’t get me wrong, but I was such a shy child and huge introvert that outside of playing with friends, I much preferred being left to my own devices. I had very little trouble finding ways to play even without toys or games, in imaginative play -  and it’s clear to me now that this links up with how much I loved to read fantasy books and anything about magic (big up the Harry Potter generation).

And this is probably how I ended up here, as a storyteller and a creative.

Now as an adult, before I went freelance, I would come home from work and often go straight to working on photography-related projects in the evenings and on weekends. I saw it as a form of play - but it really wasn’t. When I was and am thinking about photography, it’s always linked with thoughts of career, future plans, freelancing, business, making money, earning money, earning enough to survive… all very much not play.

When I finally went freelance, I knew I needed to find something else to do in my downtime, even though I do enjoy it, to actually have time to relax and have fun. But it’s been pretty difficult to break the habit when for so many years, doing photography stuff was my hobby.

In the first month of lockdown though, it was bad - I was constantly trying to work, scheduling new things for myself to do or learn, trying to keep on top of old projects while starting new ones… trying to figure out new ways to make money. Not being allowed to meet up friends meant that I didn’t have the usual fun to look forward to as I did in the Before Time - and I think this was partly what was causing me to lose motivation. So I became a bit slow and hazy, really unmotivated and unproductive.

After some time spent in this weird hazy state of constantly working and the appearance of the twitchy eye and mouth ulcers and stomach problems, I stopped trying to force myself to work as much and started to spend more time just playing and having fun.

I dusted off my playstation and started meeting up with friends online, doing something fun and a bit silly together just for the sake of having fun and mostly just chatting shit is exactly what I needed.

As most others, I’ve also been doing video calls with friends involving pub quizzes and activities or just talking about completely random things. It’s been so important for me to have these connections and moments of fun, a chance to enjoy myself away from work and stress and worry of the pandemic.

But it’s also been majorly important to get away from screens and the sensory overload of our devices. I have been trying something new that I’ve been wanting to try for a while that didn’t involve any screens whatsoever; lino printing - a type of relief printmaking.

I ordered a starter kit a couple of weeks ago and it’s been one of my better decisions this lockdown. It’s been brilliant fun and I remembered what it was like when I was younger, trying so many new creative processes just for the fun of it. Plus, it’s so satisfying to see what I’ve made just with some tools and my hands, something I’ve really missed.

We know how important it is to feed our bodies, and feed it the right things that will allow it to flourish and become stronger. It’s so important to feed our brains too - the imagination, the creativity. It’s not just important when we’re children. Play is something that we as humans carry with us through adulthood and our entire lives, and without it, we can lose our sense of self and wellbeing. We need that thing, or several things, completely separate from our work that can be just play. No purpose, no deadlines, no pressure, no worries.

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End Notes
The Importance of Play in Adulthood
Play is more than just fun

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Hey! I’m a freelance portraiture, documentary and adventure photographer working in London. Community and culture are the cornerstones of my work, and I also run of the land & us, an online journal for photographers exploring our relationship with the natural world.

‘Notes on Freelancing’ is my attempt to make becoming a freelance creative a bit less scary.

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