I was once the star second baseman for the New York Yankees. It didn’t matter that I was nine years old and only had a pink rubber ball that I would throw repeatedly against the brick wall of our house and that the infield was our driveway—I could field every grounder and line drive. Maybe catch a pop up that I’d toss into the air. And if I made an error, I could always redeem myself with the next imaginary batter hitting into a double play.

Enthusiastic as I was, my baseball skills never reached major league standards, but I loved the play of it, the nothing could go wrong and even if it did, I could fix it sense of this game.

Last week I became a tiger in my son’s living room, nurturing one grandson who was a tiger cub and chasing another grandson who was a gazelle. I didn’t choose the animals, but I willingly transformed myself. The chase was thrilling and if the gazelle was caught, it was easily resurrected for another run across the grasslands.

I’ve never doubted my ability to play, to pretend (from Latin praetendere “stretch forth, claim”); I feel most myself when my imagination and the things of the world come together and I can claim that territory of possibility.

It has taken me much longer as a writer to stretch forth in the same way. Getting ready to write can be anti-mantra or playground taunt: there’s nothing there, there’s too much there, I can’t find it here or there. I spent years not letting the free spirited side of me gallop into my artistic life. I thought that there were standards to uphold or expectations to deliver on.

The only expectation for me is to have no expectation. In making art or writing there is no “supposed to be.” There is only what’s in front of you. Isn’t making metaphors a game? One thing becomes another thing and is itself at the same time. It’s the world reimagining its borders. One metaphor begets another image and we are just like the little boy Harold in the children’s picture book Harold and the Purple Crayon, drawing our world as we’re living in it. This isn’t to say that we’re in control. We’re in control enough. Enough to get things started.

It may seem wrong or at least incongruous to write about play when the world is falling apart wherever we turn. Last week I was having breakfast with some friends and someone made a silly joke. I found myself laughing uncontrollably, laughing so hard that I was crying too, which is to say that even when we’re playing, it’s serious business. We can’t intend anything. We can’t intend to make the perfect work or intend to travel deep into our souls. We can’t intend transformation for ourselves or the world. We can throw the ball against the wall and see where it bounces, field it, and throw it again.