When did play dates turn into dates? As children, other people coordinated spaces for us to gather with friends either for a specific event or just to play. My mother was usually this person, calling other moms to plan tea parties, a game of tag or a walk to the local playground. Now, I wait for someone to ask me on a date or I myself do the asking. Either way, “dates” are no longer organized by a third party, rather, they are planned by two autonomous individuals for a particular purpose.
Similarly, the word “play” has been removed from the concept. The traditional definition of the word play is “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than serious or practical purposes”. A playdate was time specifically set aside for this. Now, dates have ulterior motives; they are not for child’s play anymore. But what if they were? What if you could go on a date that looked more like a playdate meant to foster curiosity, quality content and rest.
Let me propose an entirely new kind of dating. There is no second or third party necessary for these dates and they are curated and attended by you and you alone. They are meant to nurture your inner self. Commitment to play is necessary for the true enjoyment of this time, because play is at the heart of all good outcomes. I am proposing the artist date.
The reader of this blog may be wondering how dating fits into the art of writing for public engagement. Perhaps dating doesn’t, but the artist date does because it prepares the writer’s private self for public viewing. Moreover, for the writer to be ready for publication, their private writing must be kept healthy with quality tending. One way to do this is by taking yourself on an artist date.
Author Julia Cameron was the first to introduce me to “the artist date”. Dr. Jeske assigned a reading from her book The Artist’s Way in which Cameron writes, “doing the artist date… opens yourself to insight, inspiration and guidance.” She says that the artist date is a “block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.” On Cameron’s website, she says that artist date fills the writer’s well with curiosities, “triggering synchronicity and the flow of creativity in their pages and in their life.” It is important to note that the artist date doesn’t have to be inherently intellectual. Indeed, artist dates are more effective if they are catered to the inner youngster, i.e. centered around something that enchants your imagination. Exploration and festivity can be at the heart of your time, or, the experience of something cerebral that can resound through and inspire your writing.
During this class, I needed my artist dates. They sparked peace and a readiness to engage in heavier writing projects. Cameron suggests trips to a bird store or getting lost in a city. My artist’s dates took me to the children’s section of book stores, long walks through my neighborhood, hours spent in a marsh looking at acorns and leaves and the reading of a good book at golden hour on my fire escape steps. I often found my hands covered in flour or my nose filled with the fragrance of cooking onions during my artist dates. There was nothing systematic about the dates. My time was never overly planned, but magic always happened, sustaining my ability to engage with the more adult things of this world.
Dating is for adults. Artist dates are for the adult who is awake enough to value their inner kid. It is hard to produce good writing that remains private, but when writing is for the public eye things get especially vulnerable and risky. Set yourself up for success by refreshing your mind with what is meaningful to all of your senses. Research, outlining, and the collection of data is necessary to write a good paper or journal, but these tasks will be laborious if your imagination hasn’t been tended to. Take yourself on an artist date to become re-inspired by the world around you. Recall the things that brought you joy when you were young or the things that nourish your body now; revisit the wondrous and the wild, the simple and the tangible, letting them captivate you and give you rest and readiness to write well.
Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. 10th anniversary ed., J.P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002.