Jill Badonsky’s wonderful book, The Nine Modern-Day Muses (and a Bodyguard), features a Modern-Day Muse called Bea Silly. Of the Nine, she’s one of my favorites.
I look around and see so many people (including me!) who, over the course of their lives, have picked up the message that life is not supposed to be fun—or worse, that if you’re having fun, you’re doing something wrong. How many of us have no memory of ever hearing someone whose opinion we respect saying something like, “Be serious!” or “Would you stop clowning around?” or even, “Grow up!” This message comes from so many sources—family, TV, teachers, friends…it’s a major part of Western culture. It’s also a major part of why those of us who live in Western cultures tend to be stressed and unhappy, and why our creativity seems to be drying up—if it hasn’t already. This last is especially troubling, because as Daniel Pink argues in his excellent book, A Whole New Mind, the future of our Western economies belongs to the creatives, and we’re going to need more of them than ever.
Of course, there’s a time and place for being serious, and we’re socialized as kids for a reason. But that should mean that there’s also a time for silliness, for embracing that part of us that never grew up and letting it come out to play. Silliness is a function of our creative minds, and it breaks down the walls that keep that creativity from coming to the fore as often as we might like. Those walls also keep us from having fun. Far too often, the rules we grow up with make us just a teensy bit paranoid about what we’re allowed to do creatively as adults, which keeps us from letting loose in ways that are healthy and even productive. You’d love to write a novel, but can’t quite get started. You love show tunes but will only sing them in the confines of your house or car for fear of being heard. You love the theater but would never dream of auditioning no matter how much you wish you were on stage. How many of us trudge through our days wishing we were doing something that really speaks to us, that lights us up, but don’t because we were raised to believe that those things were an unproductive waste of time? Maybe we even like our day jobs, but still feel that creative call.
Being silly—maybe just 5% more silly than we’re used to—is one way to open up to the creativity we all hold inside.
I went back to Flushing Meadows this weekend with my family and was thrilled to discover that the Unisphere fountain was on. It made for a completely different experience, and since it was roughly ten zillion degrees outside, a fair number of people had decided to take advantage of the running water to cool off. I realized that I was wearing nothing that would be destroyed by the water, including my sandals (the water was not pooling inside the fountain, but even so, I’d likely have been okay), and decided I was going in. I asked if anyone would join me, and when I discovered I was alone, I left my purse with my family and spun myself over the ledge.
It’s possible that they had fun laughing at me in the fountain (my mom took pictures, trying to gently guide me to where I’d be right on top of one of the jets, for instance), but I’m going to bet that I had more. It was so liberating to be on the other side of the divide, to stand there and crack up because I was standing in this enormous fountain next to a giant stainless steel globe, getting just wet enough to feel a whole lot cooler on a hot day. (My dad took a picture of the sign saying, “Please do not enter fountain” after he took one of me. I don’t condone breaking the big rules, but it was a hot day and I think the park police, who were out, were deliberately choosing not to enforce that one. Maybe they were secretly feeling a little silly themselves?)
I dare you to go do something silly this week, even if it’s just a baby step in that direction. Blow bubbles. Fingerpaint. Draw on your driveway with big sticks of chalk. Dance around your house to Michael Buble’s version of the Spiderman theme (I dare you to sit still!). Write a limerick. Practice your Irish brogue while you’re grocery shopping. You may not be ready to bust through the “be serious!” rules, but you can at least put a dent in them, even if it’s a small one. If you take me up on my dare, let me know how it went!
After all, as Robin Williams says, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”