As part of a graduate course I’m teaching this semester on “Creativity, Literacies, and Collaboration,” I’ve asked my students to engage in creative play for at least 1 hour per week for 6 weeks, to document their experiences, and to reflect on them in a personal blog. I’ve decided to complete the assignment with them so that we can learn together about the phenomenon of creativity from a personal perspective. We’re working under a few constraints.
The activities we’re engaging in must lie outside our program areas (e.g., cooking, crafting, painting, playing an instrument, etc.) and outside our regular routines, or they must transcend those routines in some way. (For instance, I already know my way around the kitchen, so if I want to choose cooking as my creative activity, I should explore an unfamiliar technique or cuisine.) In our blogs, we’re documenting the literacies that enable our participation in the activity, the influences on our practice (e.g., mentors, published experts, popular media, participation in a discourse community associated with the activity, etc.), and the impact of creative play on other aspects of our lives. We brainstormed the following questions together to guide our blogging:
- What motivated me to jump into this project feet first?
- What apprehensions/fears will I experience in trying an activity outside of what feels familiar to me?
- What can I do differently the next time I participate in this process?
- Is it important to me get better or to be good, or is the activity of play rewarding in and of itself?
- Does the activity affect my emotional or psychological state at all?
- Do I feel differently about the activity (or about myself) after I participate in it?
- What does it feel like to play?
I devoted a lot of thought to my choice, ran it by my family and friends, and ultimately went with the one that energized me the most. (Learning to play the electric guitar was also a strong contender.) I wanted it to be an area where I had very little to no expertise and background knowledge and that had absolutely nothing to do with my day job. My choice was to do a small-scale renovation of the powder room in our new (old) house. This initially seemed like a safe and reasonable choice, but now I realize that this is the only bathroom on the main floor and probably the only one regular guests will see. Oh well, too late to turn back now.
So I began my play today, first by assembling my tools:
In the interest of full disclosure, I knew what I’d need to get started because we’re in a full-scale remodeling of the entire house and are putting a lot of sweat equity into the process. When we started demo of our master bath last week, I learned a bit about removing tile by watching a YouTube video then plunging right in. The first thing I discovered was that the process was much more difficult than the video made it appear. My tiles didn’t pop neatly off the wall with a satisfying little chink like they did in the video, and sometimes they didn’t pop off at all. Eventually it became clear that drywall repair was inevitable; at that point, a sledge hammer became my tool of choice. (I literally made sparks fly. It/I was awesome.) From that experience, I learned that I need the above tools. Leather gloves are a must because porcelain can break into tiny sharp slivers that can (and did) pierce the skin. For the same reason, safety glasses are needed to protect the eyes. If things get dusty, a mask can help, and an exacto knife scores grout so the tiles will be easier to remove. Finally, I’ve learned that all chisels are not created equal; in the end, I prefer a wood chisel because I can aim it with more precision than, say, a masonry chisel.
Last week’s work–especially the mistakes–made my hour of creative play this week more efficient, though not entirely successful. You saw the before picture at the start of the post. Here’s the after:
If you look closely, you can see that I managed to remove the tile backsplash, but inadvertently broke the mirror in the process. To stabilize it so it wouldn’t fall on my head (!), I used tape to make a grid pattern. When I have some help, I’ll remove the rest of it; it’s too dangerous a task to take on alone. When I look at this picture, I’m pretty satisfied by what one hour’s worth of creative play got me this week. Of course, this “oops” is cropped out of the picture:
Even though I think the hole was unavoidable because the tile was originally applied directly to the drywall, I was still frustrated when a big chunk of drywall came off with the tile. Now I have the opportunity to research drywall repair.
Returning to the questions the class brainstormed to guide our blogging, I’ve discovered after one whole hour in bathroom renovation that it is important for me to get better at this form of creative play AND the play is rewarding in and of itself. I’m pretty goal-oriented by nature, so I’m not terribly surprised that it’s possible for both things to be true at once for me. Still, in re-reading this post a moment ago, I realized that I actually used the words efficient, successful, and mistake in describing my experience. These are words that aren’t typically associated with play, which in my mind has always connoted dalliance and aimlessness, yet they make perfect sense when I reflect on my activity. I think they’re also common to more organized forms of play like completing a crossword puzzle, mastering a lay-up in basketball, or managing a glissando in a piano sonata. And some other unpredictable words emerge in the last sentence: completing, mastering, managing.
Because this is new territory for me, I don’t know that I achieved the state of “flow” described by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, but I was intensely focused on my work–which didn’t really seem like work as I’m used to conceiving of it. Because I had an appointment afterwards, I had to set a timer to make sure I finished up in time. It was a good thing that I did because the time flew, and I didn’t want to stop working (playing?) when it went off. Despite that hole in the wall, I still feel a sense of accomplishment, largely because there is visible proof of my work (play?).
One thing’s for sure: I’m not just engaged, I’m invested, in both the renovation and in thinking more about the roles that efficiency, success, completion, mastery, and management, might play in creative play.