In yesterday’s post, I wrote:
The garden is strewn with play detritus: not just in the stuff, but in the moments like after-images that slowly recede onto the air – this is what happened here, and here, and here.
I’m in a moment of reverie . . .
I’ve lost count of the amount of playscheme days and weeks I’ve worked on, of the amount of club sessions I’ve done, of days in the park or festivals, trips to the forest or the beach, not to mention all the play settings I’ve visited or moments of play I’ve observed in my travels or day-to-days. Yet, I remember the art of remembering whilst at those sessions. I call it an art because it’s something that needs devoting to, this process of remembering. Art doesn’t just happen on its own. This devotion needs time. It’s not a planned in thing: it’s a spontaneous ‘now, sit and see’.
Many times I’ve worked from stupid o’clock in the morning till way past my last Mars Bar of the day ceased to be of any restorative value: all the children have left the setting, drifted off from the park, or otherwise disbanded. I will sit down, amongst the physical detritus of play stuff (and I don’t use the word ‘detritus’ in a negative way, just as ‘left over’) – if my colleagues of that setting are wise enough to understand the concept of leaving things be, not ruthlessly tidying away. Or, I will sit down in the blank space that was once filled with children, and which has been deserted now by everyone but me. Either way, I sit and breathe and look.
The ghosts of play are everywhere. This is where the children crawled through on all fours, being dogs; this is the room where the girls argued over dolls; up here, we played the ‘monkey game’; there, the children lounged in the sun.
The ghosts of play are imprints on the air. For me, they remain, day after day, becoming layered and layered with more ghosts, like palimpsests. On visiting settings, sometimes years in between each visit, I could often struggle to remember staff members’ names, but I would nearly always remember the ghosts of play imprinted on the air there.
So now I’m remembering about remembering. The ghosts have these layers. I sit at my computer screen and, though I can’t see the ghosts of play directly from here, I think of the area under the trees where the children collected conkers; I think of the muddy puddle played in, one adult-brave day, children literally swimming in their school uniforms; I think, further back, back and back, to the church green we took our chances to play on, or the embankment the children ran along, in the wind, by the sea.
Yes, these are my memories in playwork, but these are all moments imprinted on the air of these places. When I pass these many, many places in my ordinary life, I sometimes wonder, for a second or two, at the ‘play that happened here’. I can still feel it, even some twenty years on.
The ‘play that happened here’ is also infused into the air of public streets in towns and cities. When Jess was much younger than her current late-teen self, she had a stuffed dog who somehow ended up in the river. Jess was distraught that Gary the Dog was floating away at some rate of knots. I often see the ghost of play of Gary as he floats down the river (and his brave rescue) by the police station, whenever I walk past all these years on.
When I sit down at the end of a session in a setting, or whilst working out and about, or after the spontaneous engagement in play by the children I’m with, it is a very conscious affair of ‘see this space or place’. It is an act of art because it must be devoted to, loved, permitted time. Play leaves marks on the otherwise invisible-scape. It’s there, written on the air, perhaps always, for those who can read it.