Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

monkey play artwork Neil Mach

Ever watched a cartload of monkeys?

I went to Malaysia in 2019 and while there I visited a monument where these inquisitive little animals were very much in charge! Some monkeys were comical, many were cheeky, and a lot of them were downright rowdy. They were invariably mischievous,  playful, and very exploratory. 

Monkeys love to experiment and explore. They experiment and explore to play (not to work) and, through this propensity for irrepressible playfulness — and their love of unabashed mischief making — they add to their own (and their tribe’s) wit, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. Yes, primates have a natural inclination to play. It serves their kind very well.

primates have a natural inclination to play

However, human beings are reared to behave well — to be sober above all else, to be methodical, deliberate in language, and measured in learning and thinking. They teach us not to ask stupid questions; they teach us not to stick our necks out; they teach us not to have dumb ideas; they teach us not to skylark around; they teach us not to retreat into a wonderland of imagination. And, certainly, they teach us not to create mischief.

This homogenization of free-spirit deprives our species of creative thinking. It’s an assimilating restraint that interrupts our naturally found & autonomous expression. It’s puritan prudence, and it stifles our creative brain-work and suppresses our inclination to produce art, science, and invention. And this smothering goes on from early childhood and into our adult lives, stifling our playful minds and interrupting our dynamic ingenuity. The authorities (whether they are parents, teachers, work bosses, kings, or governments) always seek to end free play and capricious thinking.

primate with viewfinder

Why do we do it? Why do we allow grey unremarkable people in their grey unremarkable suits with their grey unremarkable ideas and their grey unremarkable impulses stifle the inspiration game? We know influential thinkers, from Galileo to Turing, from Caravaggio to Chaplin, from Einstein to Kandinsky, all these and many thousands more have been victimized by the greys over centuries, for their alleged indisciplines and refusal to obey contrived sets of “rules” dictated by a (largely) uncreative society. The “ruling classes” suppress the playfulness of artists! It’s a fact.

And, of course, we know that writers continue to be routinely harassed, imprisoned, risk physical beating, and even get murdered each year, solely because they “think differently” from those who claim to be in charge.

Do the grey unremarkable powers have enough on you? Do they have enough evidence to crack down on your artistry?

Play is Good For Your Brain

It is unnatural & artificial to behave well, and to be repressed, and to be clamped-down and to be reserved as a primate… yet we are all primates, aren’t we? So why don’t we all lark-about like a cartload of monkeys? At this stage I could analyse the reasons for regulating and penalizing free-thought and artistic expression (it probably has deeply rooted religious, political, and sexual reasons) but I’d prefer to leave that for another time and instead promote the message that it’s not the ones who play who are the perverted ones! Oh no, in this narrative it’s the spiritless/soulless grey ones in charge that are flawed! They are the perverted ones! We, the artists, the ones described as weirdos, crazies, eccentrics and (at best) “funny characters” or “arty-farty types” are not the odd ones! No! In reality it is everyone else, the so-called “ordinary” folk, the mediocrities, the boot-lickers, the sycophants, and the under-performing plutocrats who are the ones who are genuinely nonconformist. How can I be so sure? Because they transgress the rule of our species: they don’t play… and our species is a playful species!

So it’s the grey unadventurous people who deviate from the natural impulse of our taxonomy: the natural impulse of a primate is to play, and to be playful, and to encourage others to play, and to stimulate imagination and to be mischievous. Anyone who suppresses these natural impulses is atypical — i.e. they deviate from the true-type of the species.

The reason, perhaps, that the grey world disapproves of our play is that it’s voluntary, pleasurable, and self-rewarding. They view play as not entirely serious, as a waste of good time, and they hate the way it doesn’t (directly & instantly) benefit them (i.e. the grey unremarkable people we work for.)

empty box mentality

As creative artists, we need to goof things up a little! We need to think like a monkey! 

Benefits of play include:

  • greater muscular coordination
  • improved motor skills
  • strengthened social bonds through interaction
  • faster attainment of developmental milestones

Pretend play also improves a primate’s ability to cope with unexpected situations (a positive by-product of pretend play is a less pronounced physiological response to stressors.) Play also improves a primate’s mental health and, if the play has a physical dimension, it will help maintain general fitness. Furthermore, we can associate play with greater cohesion and less aggression/rivalry, because it builds on multicultural interactions.

As creative artists, we need to goof things up a little!

— Neil Mach

Scientists suggest that conducting informal suck-it-and-see experiments, messing-about with objects, kidding-about with tools, tinkering with options, joking-around with pals and toying with ideas — all these play-activities will allow us to better understand cause & effect and help us develop useful artistic methods.

Play is a vital learning mechanism. Have you played enough today?

To participate in some creative expressificity exercises with me over the next few weeks, follow me on my socials:

https://www.facebook.com/author.neilmach or go to

https://www.facebook.com/mythmagicpodcast

Words: @neilmach August 2021 ©

Any comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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