Well, this has been quiet for a while, hasn’t it? This is in part due to a combination of real life pressures, general apathy and a lack of anything remotely interesting to discuss. But there’s something that I was talking about yesterday that’s prompted me to write an entry.
First of all, as I’ve mentioned in passing on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I’ve decided to take a step back from writing projects for the time being. After writing four novels in less than three years, three of those practically back-to-back, I found that I was pretty exhausted. With a full-time job, a family and other external pressures, it’s been hard to throw myself into it as fully as I might otherwise have liked. So a rest is kind of welcome. I even sat there the other night reading a book for the pleasure of it and it feels like ages since I last did that.
I also returned to LRP this year and realised just how much I missed both the fun and the people and it’s that, in part, that I want to talk about in this entry.
I had a physiotherapist appointment yesterday and Greg, my very nice (and exceptionally brutal) physio asked if I had any energetic hobbies. So I said ‘Live Action Role Playing’ and, joy of joys, he knew what it was. For once, I didn’t have to try to explain it. I’ve heard people use all sorts of ways to try to summarise it:
1) Cross-country pantomime;
2) ‘Like paintball, but with swords and stuff’;
3) Lord of the Rings-style… thingy
For me, the phrase I prefer most of all is my own. ‘Let’s Pretend for grown-ups’.
I have long held to the belief that grown-ups should have playtime. When you are at school, they encourage that break from the grind to let you run around aimlessly letting off steam in whichever way you prefer. When I was at primary school, this ranged from playing ‘Red Rover’, or skipping, through to the summer joys of handstands, cartwheels and ‘British Bulldog’ on the school playing field. On quieter days, I loved nothing more than lounging beneath the beautiful big tree at the top of the field and creating pictures in the clouds.
At secondary school ‘playtime’ became ‘breaktime’ and once we hit thirteen or so, largely consisted of groups of Trendies gathering together in secretive knots that never untangled to let me in. For a handful of us misfits, bullied and awkward, breaktime meant freedom from the torment and a hiding in the drama studio where we picked scenes from plays and did little lunchtime readings. Or talking about the Trendies in the safe knowledge that the drama studio wasn’t a Cool Place to Be.
I remember well the games of ‘Let’s Pretend’ I had as a child, mostly played out with my neighbours-but-one, Darren and Lindsay. Over the years we created stories and characters of startling complexity when you look back at it. Sometimes we acted as characters from favourite films of the time, but mostly we just created our own characters. We were always a family, the two sisters and the brother. Our playground was the patch from the back path of our terrace down to the alleyway and it was variously an ocean, a mountain range, the plains of the Western USA… the year we slid into the farmer’s field beyond the copse and built a castle out of grass cuttings still lingers in my memory.
Now there’s houses being built on that field, just as there are houses on my old school playing field. My tree is still there, though, and that gladdens me.
When you become an adult (according to the conventions of society), and enter the world of work, you get a lunchbreak. You usually take it at your desk whilst still working. Sometimes, I gaze out of my window at the clouds. I still paint pictures in the sky. (As I type this, there’s an elephant out there). What happens to playing?
Those of us who engage in roleplaying games of any kind, tabletop or MMO or LRP are given a connection to our creativity that is horribly stifled in adults. I had missed the freedom of being someone else for a few days, not just in thought, but in action and body. Sarah would never dream of being as adventurous and daring as Morwenna Kerrow turned out to be. Sarah would never have thought she could stand in a ritual circle and be a part of an exceptional success ritual for which the preparation was ‘we need to do this ritual, off we go’. But Morwenna didn’t think twice. Sarah would never have put complete trust in a strange priest of an unknown heritage. Morwenna didn’t think about anything but her drive to obtain a greater understanding of the world.
It’s an escape of the best kind: a freedom. An unspoken acceptance amongst like-minded people. A playground.
I still firmly believe that if workplaces had playgrounds, the grown-ups would be out there on the hopscotch in a flash. There’s all these soft-play centres for kids opening up in industrial units, where are the soft-play centres for adults? I’d go. And I bet most adults, if given the chance, would do the same. (Case in point – adults on bouncy castles. ‘Nuff said).
Why does society expect us to just switch off the need to play? Well, guess what, society? I’m pinging an elastic band in your face.
(The elephant-cloud’s gone. There’s a giant lobster up there now).
So… go outside and play.