PLAY x PLAY: Doug Adams
Play by Play is an ongoing series in which we invite a variety of creative minds to explore the importance of play.
Discover how engaging their physical selves helps them to stimulate their creativity while also liberating them from the often stressful and sedentary confines of our technologically dominated era. We hope this series will motivate you to take regular tech breaks and make time to play everyday. It’s good for your physical health and crucial for your imagination.
DOUG ADAMS is a teacher, musician, runner and soccer coach. His latest project Run Along! is a very personal endeavor that weaves together all of his passions to encourage kids to overcome obstacles and find inspiration through physical movement and music. We think it’s a terrific project and so we invited Doug to tell you more about it and share his own inspirations and obstacles.
To see a video from Doug and to support Run Along! via Kickstarter, please click HERE
by Doug Adams
Castles in the Air
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
–Henry David Thoreau
If you are reading this you’re probably a dreamer too. Our type thrives on ideas and lives comfortably in our minds imagining stories and sensations that don’t require physical apprehension. We know how to play. Give us a block, a brush, a ball, and we’re inspired; we’ll do the rest. I have long focused on Thoreau’s first sentence with its validating reassurance for what comes naturally. But I’d like to write about the second sentence today, the foundations imperative, because I’m in the midst of building a project called Run Along! and learning that reaching out to others to help fund it (an entirely new enterprise for me) is every bit as energizing, connective, gratifying and playful as the dreaming part. As I write this, I am conducting a Kickstarter campaign to raise several thousand dollars to pull off a “one-man, one-guitar, 5,000-step musical stage show for children to promote exercise, goal-setting, and positive family fun.” I don’t know if the campaign will succeed, but this creative act of masonry has been unexpectedly fulfilling in its own right.
Run Along! would be a show about goal-setting, letting go of self-limitations, and overcoming obstacles. We would sing together, play together, and find peace and inspiration together through physical movement.
Audiences of children and I would take the directive to “run along” (oft commanded by adults who want kids to disappear) and morph it into a call to exercise both body and mind. We would literally run along by setting a goal to take 5,000 steps (half the daily amount generally recommended). By wearing pedometers, we’d be able to track our progress (mine would sync to an on-stage screen). As we step, I would sing playful songs that chronicle the journey: songs I wrote about lacing up your sneakers and taking that first step, about breathing, about the long middle when boredom lurks, about hitting the wall before the final push, and especially about the power of trying. Songs that express the challenges, necessary efforts, and ultimate joy of using your whole self to reach a goal you weren’t sure you could achieve.
I want to share running with children for two reasons. First, with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, introducing the option of running (even if it’s in place, in a living room, in front of a screen) will help inoculate kids from childhood obesity and Type-II Diabetes. As for me, I started jogging in the early 90’s (my early 20’s) inspired by my younger sister Annie’s passion for and obvious delight in running. I soon discovered that the more I jogged, the less I wanted to smoke, until one day I had lost all interest in smoking. Poof. Little had I known that running could be a bad habit surrogate. I wish I’d discovered this before adolescence, when all kinds of unhealthy behaviors held the most appeal.
As I continued to jog a few times a week – nothing too serious – I noticed that just putting my body into motion quieted my brain from nagging concerns. Plus, it inspired creativity. As the air filled and left my lungs, and I sailed on the weather of the day, and my cells refreshed with oxygen, song ideas, story ideas, and other insights started popping. Sometimes I’d crank my Walkman, Discman, or iPod (choose your decade) and sing along at the top of my lungs. I was that guy. Sorry.
This is the second reason I want to introduce kids to running. The rhythmic pacing, the deep, cyclic breathing, the unboundedness from sitting, brings a feeling of well-being, a natural high that can free one’s mind. It’s as if the body, in getting what it desires, lets the mind wander off-leash, and the mind really travels. It plays. “This world is mine, and I am part of this place,” I sing in one song inspired by this state. “We share this good space by breathing.” This playing with free associations that occurs so naturally while jogging is a wellspring of imagination and creativity. Everything becomes metaphor. As a result, the runner is treated to his or her own, customized inventions, instead of off-the-rack dream states confected for pay by the directors of films, television shows, and video games. It sounds odd, but in my experience with young school children (I’ve been an elementary teacher for almost ten years), many of them need coaching in the art of play. Is ubiquitous access to technology breeding the play out of them?
The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.
So the castle was looking pretty nice there in the sky, all turretty and stuff. My imaginary show was perfect. There it languished for many months, like a balloon stuck in a tree, which luckily, neither popped nor blew away while I went about my daily work and the mundane and meaningful activities that circumscribe our days.
But then I came across the Mary Oliver quotation about creative people and regret while researching a poetry unit for my third graders. I realized that I was at risk of becoming a most regretful person if I didn’t give more energy, power and time to this restive idea that had found me.
It also dawned on me that the show I had imagined could only exist if I produced it myself, because of its unusual format. It wasn’t like a bunch of songs I could shop to record labels or a TV show I could pitch to a network. I would have to do some research to figure out how I could get a pedometer to link to a huge screen, how I could pull off singing and running in place for an hour. I needed to approach these questions with the same creativity and playful attitude that had informed the writing of the songs, the same pulsating energy that infused my imagination while jogging.
The Good Kind of Heart Racing
My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like, I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.
–Maria Semple (from Where’d You Go, Bernadette?)
Finally, the Boston Marathon bombing in April, 2013 sealed the deal. I needed to produce work that honored the act of running, to be part of the “Boston Strong” response. The tragedy also awakened my belief that children need to hear positive messages about the world. They need to know that violence is a choice, not an inevitability. People with flexible imaginations can “imagine all the people living life in peace,” as John Lennon sang. My project had seemed like a nice idea when I conceived it. Now it was a calling.
With the creative work begun and the imperative to complete it, I began asking for help. My first phone call was to an old friend and former bandmate, Ken Michaels, a talented music and video producer, who agreed to contribute by producing the song cycle I’d written at his homey Boston studio — gratis. He brought in a sound engineer named Daniel Abuggatas, who also mastered the songs. We recorded together on Sunday afternoons over the course of several months in 2013 and 2014, and it was the most musical fun I’d had in years.
Next came my brother-in-law’s suggestion to try to crowdsource the money to produce the show. He told me about the website Kickstarter, and more months ensued as I prepared my page.
But the best was to come. After finally hitting the “Launch” button to take the Run Along! campaign live, I began hearing from old friends from around the world. A former colleague, now teaching in China, was my first backer. Then came a long-lost friend who offered to help me build a Run Along! website. As I reconnected with other creative movers and shakers, I learned about their inspired dreams too. One friend in Los Angeles is about to embark on an app-making venture. Another, based in London, just sent in a book submission. My friend Melissa, in Paris, told me about her organization, Seymour Projects, and offered this space for me to share my story. You know the expression that every problem looks like a nail if you’re a hammer? Well, when you play, every corner of the world feels like part of the playground.
Although I can’t say that my project will be funded through Kickstarter, I can promise that one way or another it will happen. And I’ll share with you that taking a creative idea from the ether and making it material has been a whole hell of a lot of fun. I hope that you will find similar joy in whatever beautiful castles you’re dreaming up.
Run Along! is 68% funded on Kickstarter as of February 8. The deadline is February 20. Please consider making a pledge!
Published: February 12th, 2015