Thursday, February 4, 2016

Not the Party I Was Planning

Dear readers, I must confess something: I’ve been moonlighting, stepping out of my writing closet to work on something much bigger than my novel, bigger than any of my writing projects.

I’m building a playground.

Let me take a step back. My two kids attend a public elementary school with a woefully inadequate playground. I’m involved in the school’s parent-teacher organization (PTO). When teachers approached the PTO for help with the playground, a friend of mine stepped forward to investigate things. Soon, I and another friend, hopped on board. That was 2 ½ years ago (or, according to a misprint in a recent article, 212 years ago…and sometimes it feels like that).

I’m not going to give you all the details of this project, but suffice it to say, it has turned into a huge undertaking involving committees and proposals and construction drawings, and wine, and crying and laughing, and throwing things, and embracing, and more wine, eventually resulting in the plan for an outdoor learning and play environment like no other. If you really want to know more, we have a website for that:

What I want to talk about is the party we had last week, because it was an incredible party. We were
People talking and laughing and eating cheese
celebrating the successful fundraising campaign ($600K, almost entirely from our town of under 30,000 people) and the imminent construction of the PlayLab this summer. It was a party I’d been anticipating for a long time, almost since I first became involved. This is what we call putting the cart before the horse. Guilty, sorry. There’s precedent for this in my life. I’ve done the same thing with my novel.

You see, at random moments while writing, I would sometimes imagine the epic bash I would throw when it gets published. I even started a guest list (Are you on it? There’s still time.). It was an incredibly pointless way to waste writing minutes, but it was fun. I may just dig out the list today and add a few names, because I’ve met an awful lot of new people during my volunteer work on this project. 

Me listening carefully to our
speaker and also wondering if there's
any Havarti left.
Writing is lonely, folks, especially when you live where I do with few other writers around. When my youngest started school, I planned to throw myself into my work full-time. I found this was not possible. I quickly learned I didn't want to live inside my own head for seven or eight hours a day.

This project gave me something to be passionate about, entirely outside my writing work. It gave me a community of like-minded people focused around a goal. And there was intrigue, mayhem, double-crossing (sometimes it was a damn Parks and Rec episode). I know, you may be thinking, it’s a playground, but then you may not know small-town politics like I do, or like I do, now. And I also know about fall zones and pea gravel and site drainage and all sorts of things I may never need to know again once this project is done, but who can say? Maybe I’ll write about it. Odds are good.

This blog is about creativity, and thus far, most of my posts have been about writing, and sometimes painting random bits of cast-off furniture, but there are so many ways we’re all creative in our everyday lives, figuring out how to work together, coming up with solutions, even when the solution involves something as seemingly unimportant as the width of a slide. It’s important to someone. It’s important to many someones in the case of our playground.

I’ve been mentally planning a book launch party for a lot of years, way before “Happy, Indiana,” way before the book I wrote previously (which was cast into the proverbial drawer). But this PlayLab party was everything I could have hoped for and reminded me there are so many more ways to be successful, way beyond my narrow, writerly focused ideas of success. 

And you know what else? Helping other people makes you happy. I’ve read stacks of research on happiness for my novel, and I can tell you the findings there are quite clear. So, more helping people! More parties! More wine and cheese!


  1. Don't feel bad for imagining book launch parties--I've been interviewed by Terry Gross on "Fresh Air" so many times I could take up residence in her studio!

    Second, big congratulations on the work you've done for the playground! It's amazing how convoluted the process can be, and all the little regulations you never knew existed. I hope the kids in your community will be able to enjoy it for years to come (and, hopefully, your kids are still young enough to use it!). Way to go!

    1. Oh, I forgot Terry Gross! I've been on her show as well;)