how to know what to do

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a grown-up. I assumed that, as an adult, I’d get to do amazing things – like go sailing and write books and have my own art studio – but mainly, I’d have what I imagined to be the warm, powerful feeling of knowing what to do to make big, grown-up things happen.

Imagine my surprise to find myself sitting here at age fifty-two intent on playing like a kid. Yes, I’ve sailed. I’ve written a book. I’ve had my own art studio. And fulfilling those dreams led to further dreams.

The irony of growing up is that continuing to play is exactly how to keep knowing what to do to make big, grown-up things happen.

When we’re stumped, play can leap us into the warm, powerful feeling of knowing. Engaged play that leaves no room for worry allows knowing – the kind of direction-finding certainty that makes things happen easily – to get our attention.


What’s your favourite way to play? What would be fun to try? Wouldn’t it be great to take a break and play now? (Yes, it would.)

Here are some playful options:

Get Arty – There are colouring books for grown-ups. Really amazing ones. Keep one lying around to dabble with, along with some coloured pencils. Or make a friendship bracelet for yourself or a pal. Or draw. Or make a collage. Or sing. Or dance. Or put on a skit that you make up on the spot. Ask some friends to get arty with you.

Get Puzzled – Do a puzzle, like a Sudoku or crossword, one that makes you forget everything else while you concentrate. Buy a puzzle magazine that calls your name, then whip it out when you’re waiting in line, eating lunch, riding the bus, or needing a break. (I’m rather attached to the 300-page crossword puzzle tome I lug around our apartment because it instantly brings on the rooted-yet-engaged calmness of a savant.)

Get Out – Toss a Frisbee. Put on your bathing suit and find some water. Wander in the woods. Skip stones at the lake. Beachcomb. Tootle about in an inflatable raft. Set up the croquet set in a way that involves rooting around in the garage for that piece of old gutter, then get your neighbours together and play crazy croquet until it’s too dark to see. Lie on a blanket under the stars and whistle your list of greatest hits.

Get Dressed Up –Reach waaaay back into your closet and haul out that thing. Yes, that one. Put it on. Add accessories (talking tie? blinking earrings?) that send a clear message that seriousness is not invited on this outing. Enter into a different persona. Take your persona out for a spin or stay in. Throw a backyard party with wigs and a dress-up box of wacky clothes to choose from.

Get Away – Go somewhere new and do something there just for fun.

Get Zoned Out – Get a massage. Listen to music you adore. Try out a treatment at a day spa. Tell everyone you’re not available, then haul boom box, grapes, lavender bath foam, and a gripping novel into the bathroom and go far, far away. Arrive back on Earth restored and relaxed.

Get Childlike – Do now what you used to love to do for play as a kid. Reach back and connect with the feeling of joy play inspired. What activities gave you that feeling? Find a way to recreate and reengage in those activities in the present day.

Because writing involves the whole self, play that connects us automatically and easily with knowing what to do also infiltrates and strengthens the processes of thinking and writing.

Play gives writing the muscle of connected perspective.


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4 comments to how to know what to do

  • LOVE LOVE LOVE this post, Grace!! xoxo

  • Melissa Frykman-Thieme

    Hi Grace,
    Child’s play reminds me of how children play in the midst of grief.
    You’ll look out the window to see the kids playing while all the adults are moaning about, practicing their long faces. Kids take time off between mourning and moaning to play. HOW HEALTHY!! Imagine taking a half hour off while in the midst of deep grief, to play gently or hard, to go somewhere in your imagination, somewhere far away in a distant and mourning free life. Then come back to the reality of loss. It really really works. I’m not sure why we loose it, but we do. Time to reclaim our ability for deep play in the middle of deep loss. It is time to feel all our feelings and play through.

    • This is such a good reminder, Melissa. In fact, thinking back about dealing with my mom’s dying, I figured out then that around 5 or 6 pm, right before dinner, I had to draw a line in the day, as I called it. Everyone around me knew about the line and respected it. Before that time of the day, I dealt with a dying mom and my grieving and all the pieces of the arrangements and tough conversations and all of that, but after the line … I simply DIDN’T. I didn’t answer the phone if it wasn’t the care home. I took the time to make something really great for dinner. I watched a good movie, with a good friend whenever that worked out. I got silly when I could. I read a good novel and got to bed at a decent hour so I could get a good night’s sleep. Because I knew I’d be doing the same really hard things all day the next day, and the day after that and the day after that … for several months, it turned out. Play saved me, in a very real sense. I could be there for my mom in a big way because I figured out how to play in the midst of it. (I was, after all, still a kid, in some sense of being in relation to my mom.) Thanks, Melissa. I love you.