January 30, 2009 § 1 Comment
I’ve often said that I wish the world had more genuine surprise. I wish there was more unknown, unexpected, more agog, aghast, and WOW. What about Yetis? For some reason this mythical creature has taken up residence in my soul as sort of a mascot for what I want for the world. The simple explanation for the non-existence of the Yeti (or bigfoot, or Nessie or fashionable plus sized tops) is that we haven’t found it yet. We’d have seen it by now. We have the technology, the elbow grease, the knowhow, the staff. We can search every inch of that lake in Scotland with some sort of robot water camera thing. We believe, as a species, that we’ve found everything there is, and if we haven’t, we’ve CONCEIVED of it, and the Yeti? I’m sorry, says the normal world, it’s just too crazy to conceive of. We don’t want to except that somewhere on Mount Everest or Nepal or whichever version of the story you believe, there’s a snowy white manbeast, walking on two feet, roaring and gnashing six inch incisors. Andthis is precisely why I want there to be a Yeti. I want to wake up one day and instead of hearing about the Dow Jones Industrial Average or Environmental Crisis or the House and the Senate fistfighting on the Mall, I want the top story to be the live capture (and why are we CAPTURING the Yeti, why not just invite him, or offer him the chance to be studied and admired?) of a Yeti. I want to wake up and see the Loch Ness Monster. In the meantime, I just visit blogs like I Love The Yeti — and hope.
But there are others out there like me, who want to fill the world with hidden surprises, to make every day a little more magic and unknown, to take Tina from HR out of her routine while she’s walking over to Max &Ermas for cheesecubes. The first I heard of this was Chatty Rocks. This art project involved printing sentences, questions, quotes on rocks and placing them randomly throughout San Francisco. Like this little fella right here:
I fell in love with these rocks. There’s a slew of them on the blog, with funny or inspirational messages on the back. I would absolutely squeal if I found one of these. Not only because it would be a pleasant surprise on a day that I probably had weighed myself or discovered a banking error, but because it would renew my faith in the idea tha not all of us are on this wet rock to ‘grind out a product’ or amass a limitless fortune. Some of us just want to live comfortably, live happily, and inject a little bit of fun into the mundanity of every day life. There are no Easter Egg hunts after age six. But now we can hunt for chatty rocks.
And if that wasn’t enough, someone else decided to start The Toy Society. A group of artisans creating handmade toys, packaging them up and leaving them around town with a note saying “take me home, I’m yours!” . Imagine being a child, or a world weary adult walking hand in hand with a child, wondering why good things happen to BAD people sometimes and how to explain that to a five year old, and then you come upon this:
Well there you go Sally. There ARE workshop elves. There IS a free lunch. Sometimes you DO get a present for no reason. There IS such a thing as ‘just for fun’.
The best thing about these groups, this art, these ideas is that they’re not “done”. Sure, we can pout and say we wish we were first, or we wish we’d thought of it, but so far these are only in California and Australia…and let’s face it, those people are already living in a warm paradise right about now, so why not whip up a little stuffed lemur, put it in a shiny box and put it where some lonesome, weird kid with big glasses can find it? She’s probably looking for a little magic already.
December 8, 2008 § 7 Comments
‘Round about this time of year I find myself not only getting progressively more red faced and skittish as the advent calendar pops open each day…but I also find that the world at large gets my hackles up and I’m forced, yet again, to beg people the word around to get over themselves, and with great haste. I don’t care if they are miserable, jaded old coots, but I’d hope they would try and pull themselves together for the sake of the children in their immediate vicinity. If you’re of the childfree variety, or a hermit, or a villain of sorts, then go on with your “Santa Claus is a lie and blackmail and betrayal” BS and sip your vodka gimlet while you smoke cloves and watch The Seventh Seal. Enjoy, God bless.
Just yesterday I encountered a young, hip mother who hadn’t decided whether to “let” her children believe in Santa Claus. “I don’t want to bribe them to behave, or blackmail them by telling them an old man watches them while they sleep. It’s totally creepy, and the worst sort of betrayal when the truth is revealed.” Technology as it is here in 2008 prevented me from backhanding her over the internet, but I feel like she’s contributing to this world wide push to force children into adult misery as soon as possible.
Already there are television shows and clothes and music for children designed to exactly mimic their adult counterparts, right down to high heeled booties for infants and leopard print satin robes that say Diva offered for 2 year olds in the Lillian Vernon catalog. We complain that kids are growing up too fast, that in a blink they’re gone, grown up and toddling off to college, and out of the other side of our mouths we squeal with delight at little teeny neck ties for infants (let’s not do away with those, they’re adorable) and we buy our five year old daughters a pilot’s rollerbag for going to grandmas. With the discovery that children are born absorbing everything around them from languages to scientific principals to math to art, we immediately enroll babies in schools, classes, GROUPS, scheduling every second of their lives to make sure they’re growing up as quickly and with as much knowledge as possible. Chicago public shools have gone without recess for years in an effort to improve standardized test scores, some giving children as young as six only 20 minutes “away from desk time” a day. Kids are issued hours of homework in first grade, pounding away on laptops from the moment they can sit in a chair.
And so now, when that one time of year rolls around when even grown ups can be giddy, silly, sugarpacked kids, eating cookies for breakfast, snooping for gifts, wearing reindeer antlers and jingle bells at work, NOW we’re trying to do kids a favor by “not lying to them” about Santa Claus. Every year I hear of people saying they won’t have Santa at their house because of the ‘horrible betrayal’ the children feel when the truth is revealed. I’ve been around this great big world for 36 years, and while I don’t know everyone in the world, I know quite a few people, and of all of those people, I don’t know even ONE person who remembers a feeling of lasting betrayal once the magic trick was revealed. Do you know why?
Because it’s fun. It’s fun to find out that mom and dad have been being silly, playing a joke and being like you. When you tell a grown kid about Santa Claus and they say “why?” the only answer is: “because it’s part of the fun”. It’s not because “we wanted to deceive you about the nature of the universe, convincing you for five years that there are actually a population of altruistic elves, only to tear you down and laugh at your misfortune.” It’s fun. It’s playing pretend, it’s make believe, it’s theatre,it’s magic, it’s a fun secret that’s fun to build on, from putting out cookies and milk, to making reindeer tracks in the yard, to renting a suit and pulling out dolls and games from a big red sack. For the nerds in the crowd, it’s live action role play.
To be honest, I don’t want my daughter to know the ‘truth’ about the world yet. I don’t want her to know that once you hit puberty, the color picture of life starts fading, muting to grey. I don’t want her to know that someday she’ll have to plan and make TIME to have fun. She’ll have to WORK at being happy, she’ll have to forgo surprises and fun and goofiness for the sake of time or money or social obligation. I don’t want her to know that what you see is what you get; that while there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in her philosophy, she’ll probably only see 1 half of 1% of any of it.
I want, for just a while, to jump into her mind, to take a break from my adult mundanity and believe that a fairy flies in to collect up my lost teeth, that my beloved dog Margaret is somewhere on a farm where she can run and run, that a big cuddly bunny leaves eggs and candy hidden EVERYWHERE in the spring time, and most of all that for a while every year, everyone who celebrates Christmas becomes overstuffed with an ability for surprise and magic, and art and music and creativity. That the world turns multicolored and sparkly, trees live indoors, jewels and stars dangle from strings, and on Christmas Eve, when you can’t sleep a wink for the excitement of the upcoming unknown, a little fat man in a funny little suit comes to your house and rewards you for putting up with the truth of the real world for one more year.