Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Play's the Thing

Being my sixth submission to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group.

During my creative life cycle, I go through periods where my work loses a sense of play that it previously had. The first time I became conscious of this cycle was during my "aspiring actor" days in high school. My trajectory as an actor went from a kid who loved to get up on stage and revel in trying on unusual skins and squirming around in the moment to a college student, considering acting as a career, who had become concerned with words like "authenticity" and "craft". Ironically, the more I attempted to consciously improve my skills as an actor, the more my acting suffered. I had lost the daring spirit to just play on stage.

A similar thing happened with my drawing. As a child, I filled tablets, rolls of butcher paper and any scrap of drawable surface with an array of material from pencil doodles to full-color, matted works of adolescent art. I still have a lot of my old art, and by 30-something-year old standards, a lot of it is derivative, sloppy, or reflective of a disturbingly violent part of my childhood psyche. I should note that I consider myself an amicable and well-adjusted individual who had an amicable and well-adjusted childhood, but the amount of carnage depicted in my drawings from about age 8-13 would likely have constituted a "credible threat" by today's standards of school-place safety. Anyway, by the time I reached college, I became more concerned with drawing well, and anxious over whether my tendency to sketch eyes and leafless trees was too shallowly emo and whether my love for anime characters with swords was some sort of freudian issue with my subconsciousness. The amount of time I spent drawing began to taper off, and has still not recovered.

The same goes for my writing, though this took a bit longer to fall into the seriousness trap. In college, I made a dedicated decision never to give my academic papers serious titles. All the research and information I needed to convey was in there, but I kept my voice decidedly goofy. I think my professors actually found it to be a breath of fresh air because my grades never suffered for my decision. By the time I reached grad school, however, propriety and proper academic decorum began to weigh heavily upon my voice. I still have my old undergrad papers, and looking back, some of them really hold up well. I have found myself lamenting the apparent decline of that whimsical voice. I think, "damn! that was surprisingly good! What the hell happened?"

And so, now, I find myself going through yet another seriousening, in of all places, my game-mastering for my D&D campaign. I mean, it's a game! It's all about "play", right!? Yet, I find myself struggling to match the creative experimentation that marked my early adventures. It's been years since my players had to talk their way past the pixie highwayman with an addiction to shiny things, or battle the crazed pigs that had broken into Fenwatch's potion shop. My moments of "you know what'd be neat?" have been replaced by endless poring over articles on running efficient combat and plot structuring rubriks. I search for tricks that will help me be "better" instead of letting my inspiration lead the way. Perhaps my awareness of this pattern will help me break out of the funk, but for now, I find myself decidedly mired.

Have any of you experienced a similar counterproductive shift towards perfection over play in your own creative work? If so, what did you do to overcome it?

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