“Let’s play Pokemon,” Alex said, when he realized dinner wouldn’t be ready for a few minutes.

“No!” I said, dramatically, “I don’t want to play Pokemon. Not unless I can have the Pokemon with the most power because I never win.”

“Well, you can’t have the Pokemon with the most power, because I have that one, but you can have the second most powerful Pokemon,” he explained, as though these were the rules.

In fact, these were the rules. These seem to be the ever-changing rules in the made up game of Pokemon cards which allows Alex to always win and me to always lose. Even though I’m 40 and he’s eight, sometimes it irks me.

“I don’t know if I can play. Let me ask your mom if she needs help with dinner,” I said, hoping with all hope that maybe dinner was very complicated and my friend Kelly would need my help.

“No, I think I pretty much have it covered. You can just play with the boys,” she said, sticking very close to the kitchen herself.

“But it’s Pokemon,” I said, desperately. “And I never win Pokemon.”

“Yep, that sounds about right,” she said, stirring away nonchalantly. I had said that I would come early for dinner so I could play with the boys. But if I had known they would choose Pokemon . . .

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I headed back to the living room plotting to play Alex in his own game. Every time he would offer me a Pokemon character, I would pronounce boldly that it had the most power and would definitely win. I was changing the rules back.

“Huh uh,” six-year-old Jensen chimed in after my first such pronouncement. “Mewto only has 200 power.”

“Well, I think it has 200,00 power. I’m going to be Mewto.”

“Huh uh,” Alex said.

Our play time was becoming increasingly hostile, and we hadn’t even started playing the card game.

“Where are the cards?” I asked, bewildered.

“We’re not playing Pokemon cards; we’re just playing Pokemon,” he said. “You be Tepig. I’m the trainer. Jensen is Sewaddle.”

I wanted to resist. How was I ever going to win if I didn’t even know what game we were playing. And why were the rules, and now the game itself, always changing?

Then, it hit me. Pokemon is not a job to these boys; it’s not politics or government. Pokemon is not a religion or a philosophical system. It’s not a sports league or the military.

Pokemon is just playing.

And the boys just wanted me to play with them, not argue about the rules.

::

Sometimes, I have the same irksome feelings toward myself as a writer.

The rules seem to change, the power seems negotiable, and often, I’m not even sure what game I am playing. When I start to dread writing, I know it’s because I have made it into a job or a philosophical system and have forgot what it means to just play with words.

L.L. Barkat talks about this in her book, Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing.

When we are engaged in what feels like the serious business of writing, we may be reticent about regularly incorporating play into our writing habits. It might seem too childish, too outside our familiar routines, too unpredictable concerning its potential impact on our writing.

Playing in my writing is what happens when I write poetry, when I look at a piece of art and try to describe what it does to me, when I watch a movie and write a review. These aren’t things I’m necessarily good at; they don’t always meet the needs of my target audience or create opportunities for publication. But I like doing them; they’re fun to me.

And hey, if I can’t have fun writing at my own blog, then what’s the point?

Becoming a master writer requires that I work at my craft. I can’t play all the time or my writing will never improve, my calling will never achieve clarity. L.L. talks about this, too.

When we possess a little natural talent for writing, we might be tempted to coast along. Why try to master these things called words? Isn’t writing an art? Doesn’t that mean we just let things pour out as they will? I know a lot of writers who don’t work very hard, thinking this is no disaster. They set down the first thing that comes to mind, and they want that to be the end of it.

So, I don’t just play here.

But what if in feeling around in the dark I discover a new doorway? What if in my playing I find a new direction to become masterful? What if I was meant to be a poet who writes about art and occasionally reviews movies?

Maybe.

But in the meantime, at least I will have a little fun.

::

Joining me to become a master writer yourself? Considering what it means to be masterful in another area of life? Does it all feel too serious at times?

Photo by Song_sing, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.