The joy of play for play’s sake

Yesterday I looked longingly at the room where the local church choir meets once a week to practice. I even saw one person enter. These days my musical activities involve operatic renditions of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ in which I mimic the vibrating ‘Eeeeee’ sound the washing machine makes when it is in the final stages of a cycle. I also sing Nature Boy on loop. I love the idea of our toddler being subjected to the song’s core, that the greatest thing one can ever know is to love and be loved in return. I eat the word ‘return’ so I can begin again. He falls asleep at some point. I continue until I am sure he is ‘out’. I like being able to exercise my vocal cords, but it is not the same thing as singing with other adults in a choir, training one’s voice to improve its stamina and breathing in and out at the right moments to hold a note. I joined a choir when I was seven or eight years old, so singing has played a formative role in my life. I didn’t expect to miss it, but when I hear the choir sing here, I am so seduced by how marvellous they sound, I want, badly, to be in their number.

These days, because I am also slowly making my way through the final episodes of the second season of The Bear, I have also been missing having the time to cook with elan. It is another thing I am ‘good’ at, another thing I have been doing since I was six or seven, that feels somehow ‘in my blood’. I do cook almost daily. But as parents of a toddler, our daily menus are more practical than culinarily inventive. I cook once a day and make larger portions, so we can eat the same meal twice. We have found this to be the most effective form of time management. We make soups twice a week, and the rest of the time alternate between pasta and rice. I miss the luxury of being experimental with my cooking, trying out new recipes or finding ways of infusing more complex flavours into dishes. I remember when I was child-free, I used to manage the anxiety that often crept up while falling asleep by thinking about how to plate certain dishes or creating three-course menus for no one in particular. Cooking feeds my creative impulses and my desire to articulate to another how much I care for them. I hadn’t necessarily thought of myself as ‘good at it’ until I began living on my own and cooking for friends. I miss making feasts for 20 or 30 people. I long for the opportunity to cook for many of those friends again because I am an even better cook now than I was then.

Every day I think about such ‘talents’ and feel a wistful longing to explore them further. The problem is I want to do many things. I want to learn to make ceramics. I also want to learn the basics of watercolour. I want to embroider. I also want to make lace. I want to return to learning either the guitar or the piano. Book binding! Calligraphy! Knitting! 

I wish I had known earlier in life that it was perfectly okay not to be ‘good’ at all the things I enjoyed doing. I gave up on learning to paint because nothing I made looked memorable. But in doing that I quit revelling in the basics of colour and simply enjoying the process and the experience. It was similar with learning the piano or singing. There were so many people who were so much better than me, why bother. But I could have allowed myself to play for myself. All the hobbies I abandoned in my life were the ones for which I received the least internal or external validation. Why hadn’t I learned, instead, to delight in the joys of materiality… to engage in pure play for the sake of it, without the aspiration towards perfection? 

These days I am beginning to think of motherhood as a form of second childhood. I am giving myself permission to ‘play’ more. I am learning to draw tractors because they are the object of our child’s fixation, and I am learning to colour them. I am helping him navigate the world of arts and crafts as well as baking. I’m trying to shift the axis towards having fun and enjoying oneself rather than being ‘good’ at any of these activities. I still nurse an intense hunger to build on and expand my hobbies. I want to learn to sew like my father and embroider like my mother. I tell myself there will be time, there will be time, that perhaps my yearning is reflective of my commitment to live more intensely, intently, and defiantly.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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