By Leslie Lindsay
I’ll admit it: I hate to play. I think I am bad at it. It’s messy, it’s not always fun and many times it’s very abstract. So after reading Amy Fussleman’s SAVAGE PARK I realize I am not alone. At least from a parent/adult perspective. But not kids. And I now have a better grasp on how to worry less and play more.
We’re lucky enough to have Amy with us today to answer a few questions about her latest book, SAVAGE PARK: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans who are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 13th 2015).
L.L.: Amy, thanks so much for hanging with us today. As I write this, my children—ages 9 and 7 are barking and squawking; they are creating a secret language which they may or may not recall or employ tomorrow. But they are having fun. And I have a moment to write. Which is my fun. Can you describe a bit about your process in writing SAVAGE PARK? Was it really inspired by a spontaneous invitation to Tokyo and subsequent jaunt to Hanegi Playpark?
Amy Fusselman: Thank you for having me, Leslie. Yes, the book was inspired by my trip to Tokyo and to the playpark. I knew I wanted to write something that paid homage to the space. That was my first intention.
L.L.: To be honest, I didn’t care about tight-rope walking or banging sticks and nails together, swinging ape-style through a pi-shaped rope in Japan, or baby bath rings till I read SAVAGE PARK, but you *made* me want to care. How and what do you hope readers take away from your book?
Amy Fusselman: Thank you. The book is really meant to encourage and to inspire. I hope that readers find it moving. It’s not a prescription. It’s a book that asks “Why?”
L.L.: So if life is all about living in the moment, how do you explain—or get around—the busy-ness that is our daily life; do we have to disregard the clock and calendar?
Amy Fusselman: As fellow mom, I don’t have to tell you that disregarding the clock and the calendar is impossible. But the book is a meditation—and meditation is the practice of being present. One of my favorite things about Savage Park is that it doesn’t seek to add to anyone’s to-do list. It’s a book that I hope will encourage people to think differently.
L.L.: Many of our readers are in the throes of raising young kids. We want the best for them. We hope to give them experiences we never had. But we worry. We shout over our shoulder when we drop them off at school and playdates, “Be good! Have fun!” While secretly thinking, “Dear God, please don’t die.” Can you speak to that?
Amy Fusselman: In some ways, isn’t it amazing that we ever say anything but “Please don’t die” to our kids? Having children is a risk on every level. For both parents, it’s making yourself open and vulnerable to tremendous fear and love. For mothers, it’s also a physical risk.
One thing I found very compelling about Hanegi Playwark was that it provided a model for a middle ground between those two poles—between “Please don’t die” and “Have fun.” I think that’s the hard part: finding the middle ground.
L.L.: So with all of your musings on parenthood and play, one would think you have a background in child psychology, but you don’t. You’re “just” a mom, an editor, a writer, but you offer a great sounding board on the ways in which we go about life as parents and children. What advice would you give in today’s parenting landscape?
Amy Fusselman: Yes, I am not an expert and I embrace that perspective. I write an occasional parenting column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency called “Family Practice” and I write it as “Dr.” Amy Fusselman. I took on that “doctor” persona, in part, because of what felt to me like the tyranny of doctor/experts and their parenting manuals. So the short answer is that I have no expert parenting advice.
A longer answer is that right now I am very inspired by the work of child psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, who was, naturally, a pediatrician. His book, Playing and Reality is probably the most important book I have read as a parent although I am not sure it is a parenting book. I recommend that book to people.
L.L.: From reading SAVAGE PARK, your daughter, Katie is so very perceptive especially when she speaks of Noriko’s [the Japanese playpark ‘curator’] baby and her experience with SIDS. I was in complete awe with this little angel of yours. What is Katie like now, and how do you suppose she knew so much about that incident?
Amy Fusselman:I don’t think my kid is unusual. Unique, yes, as every person is, but not unusual. Children, especially very young children, are remarkably perceptive in ways that I think are generally dismissed. Maybe what’s unusual is that instead of dismissing that moment, I recorded it.
I think this is actually relevant to the issue of the playground. A playground that is not connected to the environment, that doesn’t offer a child any ability to change it, or to experience cause and effect, discourages the development of intuition and creativity in a way that seems to me to be pretty common in children’s lives today. Savage Park confronts this.
L.L.: And how is Noriko and her family doing now? What do they think of SAVAGE PARK?
Noriko gave the book her blessing. I would not have published it otherwise. She and her husband have a new baby girl. I hope they come to visit New York soon.
L.L.: What have I forgotten to ask, that I should have?
I don’t think you have missed anything! But I want to know: what is this secret language your kids are making up?!
L.L.: How can we learn more about you, about play in America and the Hanegi Playpark. What are some of your very favorite resources?
Amy Fusselman: The International Play Association (ipausa.org) is a fantastic resource. I also love Brian Sutton-Smith’s book, The Ambiguity of Play.
As for me, Savage Park is my third book; I do have other books out: The Pharmacist’s Mate and 8.
L.L: THANK YOU so much for being with us, Amy. Best wishes you and yours and thanks for allowing me to see play in a different way.
Amy Fusselman: Thank you, Leslie, I enjoyed it.
Bio: Amy Fusselman is the author of The Pharmacist’s Mate and 8. As “doctor” Fussleman, she writes the Family Practice parenting column for McSweeny’s Internet Tendency. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times magazine, Ms., Hairpin, and ARTnews. She lives in New York City.