Lessons from an Ice Castle


• Boston, MA

The ice castle in question. (And thank you for the picture, Sarah!)

The construction of an ice castle in my freezer is the latest update in my perpetual search for meaning.

Curiously, this relates to a chapter I read yesterday from Ellen J. Langer’s The Power of Mindful Learning. It clarified the distinction between work and play—they aren’t intrinsically different, but our motivations for them are. To summarize, play is done for its own sake, whereas work requires external motivation. It goes on to explain how play is made into work and how to make work into play. Interesting, no?

It seems that somehow, school has made all the things I find interesting into work. I have been taught for so long that the world is all about assignments and deadlines that I’ve forgotten how to play. I want to take back the work I’m given and repurpose it as fun and challenging playthings.

Back to the ice castle. I spent a couple of weeks building this structure because the freezer was noticeably bare and lonely1. (It didn’t require much time—I only had one cup of water to freeze at a time, and so I would add to it once or twice a day.) This could have been conceptualized as work or play, but without due dates looming behind my back, I would characterize it as play.

We often criticize people for enjoying personal activities (“they must have no life”) and laud those who position themselves as busy, around-the-clock workers. However, it may be wise to reclaim a bit of free time and find out how to turn work into play.

For me, I enjoyed having a project in which I was the motivator, and I hope to find other ways to make room for play in my life. This has been a lesson from an ice castle (and Ellen Langer).

  1. The ice castle was demolished shortly after its ribbon-cutting ceremony—after all, ice is intrinsically impermanent—but another one shall be erected soon. ↩︎