When my husband and I were expecting our first child, we registered for all the necessary, utilitarian, and imagined essentials newly expectant couples do – as long as they were not giant, brightly colored, or made of plastic.
Our baby’s things could be tasteful, we reasoned, and our house could stay that way, too.
And then, when our daughter arrived and parenting became more than just a theory, we found ourselves borrowing an enormous plastic swing that made all manner of appealing baby noises and played at least three lullabies, just so we could get a little sleep. A blue bouncy seat resembling a papasan chair followed. And then, the toys.
We preferred the tasteful wooden ones, of course, but she gravitated toward garish plastic – a brightly lit music table that sang songs in both English and Spanish, a robotic ball that made animal sounds and enticed her to crawl, a machine called a “busy ball popper” that, once turned on, would use the force of an internal fan to hurl colorful plastic rounds all over our house. (That last one was also a big hit with our dog.) And suddenly, we were surrounded not only by our daughter’s playthings, but also by her play, which, as she grew older, routinely involved a script only she knew, and the adults were expected to stick to it.
Now, with three children in our home, “play” has, by default, become a sort of family philosophy, and yet, I feel conflicted about the way it inserts itself into my daily life. More often than not, I’ve found I’m not fully present enough to play, or that I’ve just fallen into someone else’s game and I can’t get around not knowing all the rules. Sometimes, I try to think again of writing as play, but it’s hard to hush that cranky inner voice who ruins the fun, pointing out all the flaws in my prose along the way.
For many of us, “play” can feel a little more like someone else’s script than the spirited freedom the word suggests, and that tension is what I hoped, and was gratified to find, our writers would explore in Proximity’s tenth issue.
Here, in the midst of a collection with a simple and unassuming title, you will find joy, heartache, freedom, discomfort, fear, celebration, skepticism, and ambition. Play, in all its forms, is the cord that binds all these together, and I am so grateful to the contributors who played with their words here long enough to linger in the creative work of bringing their own experiences to life.
Nina Lohman Cilek’s poem, “Chapel Tag” offers a lively snapshot of children’s irreverent play in spite of death’s pallor.
Heather Durham reflects on the lessons in freedom she learned from growing up outside, untethered in “Farm Animals.”
Kimberly Girard owns up to the fact that she’s actually forgotten how to play in “The Brilliance of Pretending,” and works to find her way back.
Garth Jones and Emmet O’Cuana call into question the motivations and influences of old school comics in “Generation Mattel.”
Greg Larson explores the benefits and dangers of gaming in “All Alone Together.”
Rebecca Martin’s “Supplication” engages the tension between her richly lived family life and the dangerous realities faced by so many abroad.
Nicole Provencher-Natale takes us to the poker table with her grandmother and raises the pot in “Nana is a Card Shark.”
Margaret Renkl and Billy Renkl team up to depict a celebration day in “Recompense.”
And Marian Szczepanski’s daughter teaches her a lesson on joy in “Süleymaniye,” a travel essay.
Kristine Mahler, who faithfully served as Proximity’s editorial fellow on Issue 10, was also an invaluable resource. She offered vital editorial insight to our contributors, and was a helpful and willing soundboard for me as we strived to curate a body of work and imagery that would fully encompass the surprisingly complex subject of PLAY. We hope that you will enjoy reading this issue just as much as we enjoyed editing it.