01 May 2011


Elizabeth Gilbert had eat, pray, love as her routine to rebirth – what could I have? What could be my trinity of recovery from years spent on finishing a PhD? Trust me, I love my PhD to bits, but having 4 years devoted to reading, studying and writing, to the exclusion of any normal social life, begs for a very serious rehabilitation plan. I wouldn’t of course write a book about this (she winks). Because there is time for everything: a season to work and a season to rest. I was merely musing about the unfolding year. And I thought of this – to replenish my physical, emotional and creative self, I would do the following: rest, play, connect (in that particular order).

Resting was a killer. I planned to do it for a couple of months. I had devised all kinds of strategies on how to rest successfully and tired myself out more than when I was doing real work. Then I was struck with a bout of a deep, inexplicable depression which left me so listless that all I could do was lie in my bed, sleep and occasionally watch my favourite TV shows. It felt like being Virginia Woolf, who wrote that life was ‘behind a pane of glass’ – out there but disconnected from her. Lesson learned: you can’t control the manner and amount of rest your being needs. Just go with the flow, for god’s sake, or you’ll end up deeply depressed. If this happen, be grateful – short waves of inexplicable depression are a perfect way to rest.

As the two months of rest were coming to an end and my energy was slowly waxing, so were the worries about what to do next: how to make a living, how to put the anthropological doctorate to good use. No time for playing (around). Sure I was applying to all sorts of academic posts and sources of funding, but my heart was left untouched. I had one overwhelming challenge: how to reconcile my creative writing (play) with the serious job (work)? Wouldn’t they destroy each other? Instead of fearing this might happen, I just stuck with an open-ended question: how can I play at work? This brought about two major shifts.

The first one was, you might think of it as, rather sad. I lost the teenage illusion that ‘I must be a full-time writer’ in order to fulfil my life’s purpose. In a way, I relinquish the totalitarian call that there is only one way to accomplish one’s true destiny. In hindsight, I find it extremely liberating, rather than sad. But you might not believe me if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Maturity, as compared to a wild unhindered youth, has its own perks too. I opened myself to the option of actually having a job (to earn a living) instead of insisting on being a professional writer (whatever that means).

Then came the second great shift. The space which I left open suddenly became filled with the most unusual of jobs. I have become a research fellow on the project about gambling at my own (very dear) Goldsmiths College. Let me remind you that gambling is really another word for playing (usually with luck). As such, it has been around for centuries – there is evidence that the cave man gambled with bones and stones. It is why human kind is called ‘homo ludens’ – the one who plays – because the capacity to play is what distinguishes us from other species. Last but not the least, I am writing a novel about a man who is a passionate poker player and who translates his gambling rules into other areas of his life. How’s that for playing at work (she smiles)?

The playing season now begins. When I asked for a perfect combination of play and work, I had no idea in what form it would arrive. That’s the magic of it. For how can we desire something completely new if we are not prepared to go through the state of uncertainty? Just a word of warning though – the universe takes all our desires seriously, and very literally. I wanted to play, I got a job researching gambling: can you be more playful than that? Careful when you send your wishes to the master. Martha Beck once wrote that she put a photo of a beautifully-designed living room on her vision board because she wanted a new sofa. She failed to notice there was a golden retriever seated by the sofa on the picture. She realised it only later, when she was given a golden retriever puppy.

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