Ten Thousand Days

The Serious Business of Play

March 6, 2016
Photo by Evan Kirby

Photo by Evan Kirby

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 558 – Day 564)

I had one of the toughest feature article interviews of my life, this week.  Most interviews for a 2000 word piece run about an hour.  Sometimes less, never has it been more.  It takes a lot of energy to conduct an interview.  One listens for hooks, for the unconscious revelation and looks for places to probe.  One looks for the unanswered question and the unspoken motivation.  It is a lot like counselling and the level of listening and processing is intense.  This week, I had an interview that lasted 3 hours.

The research leading up to the interview had been intense and challenging.  I was exhausted before it began.  The day before the interview, I decided to take some time and I went to the V&A sculpture section, sat down and drew.  I tried to draw the lines I saw, but I couldn’t.

I used my eraser a lot.

And then something amazing happened.  At one point, I felt this wave of love and tenderness wash over me.  It is the same feeling I often experience when looking through the camera lens and seeing the uninhibited beauty of a private moment.

The result was better than expected, but it doesn’t matter how it turned out. I will treasure the unfinished sketch simply because it reminds me of that moment, with dozens of people walking all around me, that my heart opened.

Mother and Child - sculpture and first sketch

Mother and Child – sculpture and first sketch

The next day, I had the long interview.  I slept for 24 hours after it, and when I finally got out of bed and tried to write up the piece, I felt like I had walked through hell.  Later, I went to an exhibition and I felt unbearably tired. I said hello to friends, looked at art in two galleries but when the chit chat kicked in, I was so bored.  I felt my energy draining away and I had to sit down. I could have slept for days.  I went on to a third venue, but left early.

The introvert in me hates chit chat and twaddle and so, the evening drained me.  I have said it before – and I have come to a decision – no more opening nights unless it is to support a friend who has a piece or pieces in a show.  Art is such a joy for me – and we need to protect our joy.

Yesterday, I had a spray painting lesson.  I guess I was totally naive: I didn’t expect to have to draw; I thought I would be playing with spray cans and writing the kind of letters I am used to doodling. But, I got a crash course in character drawing and lettering (which requires drawing shapes – who knew?!).

It was so much fun!

I have no intention of becoming an illegal graffiti writer and I am not condoning the practice.  I wanted to learn to paint because  there are, in London, so many places where one can paint legally.  And, I did enjoy trying something new, being rubbish at it, and not having any ego attached to it.  I learned more about drawing, learned to be more gentle with my pencil to allow myself to find the shape of things.

I even managed to turn one of the most beautiful street artists out there into a cartoon character, as per the assignment.

Illuzina a la Scooby Doo

Zina a la Scooby Doo

I liked feeling the rapid flow of paint, beginning to sense the line before spraying and using my whole body to paint a line or a curve.  I have watched painters and it is like watching them dance or conduct a symphony.  I loved getting a better understanding of what they do, and it makes me respect their mad skills even more.   If I had more time, I would learn to draw first, but time is short, so I dove in, head first, to spray painting.   If I could draw with ease, it would be fun to try painting a character.

When I left class, I was energised. I could have skipped to the tube.  Both teachers used the same magic word during the lesson: Play.  I have said it before…the art of creative play is essential for the soul.  It is essential for the life force.

There is nothing frivolous in it.

Creative play is essential.  There is so much I can no longer do, physically, because my body is at war with itself.  But I can take my heart and soul out for some play, and wonder at the colours still available.

This week was a really tough week.  I had that intense interview and I also experienced triggers that took me back to the the darkest period of my life, when I was a victim of crime.  This week we watched Trump soar ahead in the US primaries despite (or perhaps because of) his racist rhetoric, and we sat powerless as part of the makeshift refugee camp in Calais was burned down and inhabitants tear gassed in the name of preserving their dignity.  Privately, my flatmate and companion of the last half year moved home to Paris this week.  It was a week when the most practically optimistic person I know shared that she thought that there would be no human race left, once we reached the Singularity.   It was a week when we breached the 2 degree threshold that signals the tipping point for catastrophic climate change.  It was a week that, if I could, I would have slept through, in order to escape the emotional pain, which has been my only recourse when the physical pain gets to be too much.  And so, it was essential, amidst the heartbreaking reality of the week, to play.

I got in touch with the best of me, which is also the best in all of us.  Instead of losing hope for humanity, I held on to the knowledge that the emotional palette we see spreading now is not the only selection available to us all.


This week I am grateful to all the visual artists who have given a word of encouragement to simply try my hand at visual expression:  C Michael Frey, Anna Laurini, C3, D7606 and, of course, Plin.   I am grateful for that teacher some 25 years ago that showed me how to draw the lines and not worry about creating a picture.  I never lost the lesson of how to really look at something, even if doing that in this world can feel too intense.  And of course, I am grateful to the street artists The Krah and Illuzina who didn’t blink when I told them I can’t draw although I had paid for their street art course!  And while they are both professional artists of incredible talent, they never made me feel small for wanting to just try – and play – in fact, they encouraged it.  Playing with a spray can, like learning to stand on a surfboard, jumping off a mountain with a paraglider and driving a Ferrari was one of the pure moments of joy in my lifetime.   I may never take another graffiti lesson or hold a can again, but in a week when I needed it most, I got a chance to play!  And in the act of creating, this week, I was in the flow that takes us outside of time and space and absorbs us into Oneness.

Spray paint practice inside the Crows Nest Studio, London.

Spray paint practice inside the Crows Nest Studio, London

My service this week was nothing spectacular.  After my work on Friday I met my flatmate to help her with her luggage.  It doesn’t sound like a big thing but it was an expenditure of physical energy that everyone takes for granted and has to be measured out very carefully by me.  The bus station is the worst port of exit from London and it is a depressing place.  She didn’t achieve her hopes and dreams here and decided to cut her losses and leave.  I hope it made a difference to the way she will remember her time here, to know that someone in this city cared enough to see her off.

So…the meaning?  I was thinking of Matisse and his chapel in Vence.  I made the challenging trip last year specifically to see it.  His most truthful, spiritual and essential work came at the end of his life, as he had to let go of familiar technique and learn to do the minimal that his body would allow.  By necessity, he pared down to the essential and yet his choice of colour became perhaps even more vibrant as he “raged against the dying of the light.”(Dylan Thomas)

Of all the artists, I am perhaps most grateful for Matisse.  I think of the glorious yellow and green and blue windows and of the joyful light dancing on the gleaming tiles that lined the walls and floor of the church, evoking a sacred forest chamber.  I remember sitting in the warm glow of those windows for a very long time, and thinking that  it’s never over, until it’s over…and maybe…not even then.




For what are you most grateful, this week?



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  • Reply urspo March 6, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    This week I am grateful a person on Youtube bothered to reply to a comment i gave him. This is not much but it was enough.

    • Reply Tania D. Campbell March 8, 2016 at 10:29 pm

      It is important, when we take the time to comment, that we feel heard. I am glad you received that. Xx

  • Reply Bart April 15, 2016 at 6:43 am

    I am most grateful for finding this Blog .
    It gives me hope, Im not the only one who knows, lives and even has the courage to spread the importance and seriousnes of play.


    • Reply Tania D. Campbell April 17, 2016 at 7:13 am

      Indeed, Bart, you are not alone. Thanks for dropping by. Hope to hear from you again. 🙂

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