Book Recommendation: FREEPLAY

The blog theme this month is Hidden Gems, and the first thing to come to mind for me on that topic was this relatively little-known book—FREEPLAY: IMPROVISATION IN LIFE AND ART, by Stephen Nachmanovitch. 

Nachmanovitch himself is a musician by trade, but the principles he explores apply to the creative process in general. “Finding the heart’s voice,” he says, “…is the adventure at the core of this book.” For me, it’s been one of the most theoretically and practically useful things I’ve ever read — when I first encountered it fifteen years ago and then again last year, when I came back to it and found it just as useful, all over again. 

One of the things I most like about this book is the value Nachmanovitch places on different kinds of playfulness, as well as the openness that comes with that quality—as in, an openness to spontaneous moments of creation. He refers to improvisation as “intuition in action,” and encourages artists to remember that feeling from childhood, where the only point of a given activity is the activity itself. 

He also uses a travel analogy to talk about his subject when he says: 

“A walk, following your intuitive promptings, down the streets of a foreign city holds rewards far beyond a planned tour of the tried and tested. Such a walk is totally different from random drifting. Leaving your eyes and ears wide open, you allow your likes and dislikes, your conscious and unconscious desires and irritations, your irrational hunches, to guide you whenever there is a choice of turning right or left.  You cut a path through the city that is yours alone, which brings you face to face with surprises destined for you alone. You discover conversations and friendships, meetings with remarkable people. When you travel in this way you are free; there are no have-to’s and shoulds. You are structured at first only, perhaps, by the date of the plane departure. As the pattern of people and places unfolds, this trip, like an improvised piece of music, reveals its own inner structure and rhythm. Thus you set the stage for fateful encounters.”  

As writers and artists working for, with, and because of kids --- who are themselves experts at play, and whose sense of wonder is the gold standard -- we get the benefit of work that constantly reminds us to hold onto that quality. It’s one of the things that I love about what I do, and I’ve found no better reminder for it than in this dense (but worth it), fascinating, and thoughtful book. 


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