Strong and Sane and Ready to Fight
by Ellen Wanamaker
I set out to write this column about silliness and fun, about nudging adults to give into their inner child and embrace play and creativity. But then I paused. So many serious and dangerous things are happening: Afghanistan in crisis; the Haiti earthquake; more dire news about climate change; the surging coronavirus delta variant; ongoing issues of poverty and inequity. It’s impossible to ignore these things, and we shouldn’t ignore them. So how do we balance ourselves in the face of all the stresses in the world? How do we keep strong and sane and ready to fight for those who need us – the Afghans, the Haitians, the scientists, the medical professionals, the teachers, the first responders, and the social justice activists?
I argue that it’s important for people of all ages to stay healthy, balanced, and prepared for the hard things by taking some time for play. When’s the last time you played catch with a rubber chicken? Tucked into a cannonball and soaked your poolside friends? Tried hula-hooping or juggling? Made up a ridiculous poem or song? Skipped a stone? Inhaled cotton candy off a stick? Played poker or Yahtzee or cribbage?
Ames Public Library (APL) is the place to turn when you’re ready to stop, breathe, recharge and enjoy life – even for a few minutes. Earlier this month, about 130 adults participated in the Ames Public Library Friends Foundation Pub Fiction event. They dressed up as favorite literary characters and pub-hopped all around Ames with abandon, style, and silliness. APL recently hosted the beloved Hot Dog Dinner Theater extravaganza, complete with a magic show, and magic classes at Bandshell Park. And just last weekend we jammed to the Cherry Pickers and enjoyed popsicles at the APL end-of-summer celebration.
What are some other ways APL can help you find joy and levity? You can use your library card to check out backpacks filled with tools for exploring the natural world (bug nets, binoculars, bird books, etc). You can access the Adventure Pass and visit Blank Park Zoo, Reiman Gardens, the Science Center of Des Moines, and other attractions – for free! Roleplaying game kits are now available for checkout too, as well as puzzles, video games, puppets, Wi-Fi hotspots and STEM kits.
Even with all these high-tech and newfangled offerings, books are still our specialty here at the library. I often encourage adults to check out picture books and graphic novels, because they’re not just for kids! We also have a selection of books in the adult section about games. “How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug your Kids” by Matthew Jervis is a good one, as well as “Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone” by Joshua Glenn. I like the inventiveness of Heather Swain’s “Play These Games: 101 Delightful Diversions using Everyday items.” She features cool things you can do with balloons, beanbags, ping pong balls, and cardboard boxes. If you’re a fan of yard games, check out “Tag, Toss & Run: 40 Classic Lawn Games” by Paul Tukey. It features rules to ladder ball, corn hole, hoop trundling, and my favorite: Kubb (a 1000-year-old Swedish games that involves knocking down sticks with other sticks). “The Art of Stone Skipping and other Old-Time Games” by J. J. Ferrer covers important skills like how to flip coins, play jacks, master string games, excel at hopscotch, and make your own “whirly cob,” an Iowa-appropriate game involving a corn-cob projectile.
Should we feel guilty for taking time to play and laugh when the world quite literally seems to be crumbling around us? Yes… and no. Serious problems require that people from different backgrounds come together, armed with an abundance of teamwork, creativity, empathy, ingenuity, and grit. I guess that one way to keep strong and sane and ready to fight for those who need us is to remember the shared joy of a game played together.