In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert tells us to befriend curiosity. It can be any little whisper in your ear telling you to follow it. Except for alcohol or drugs, I would add, since I’ve just finished Janelle Hanchett’s brilliant memoir I’m Just Happy to Be Here, in which she followed her curiosity into various types of booze, drugs, and bad behavior.
I think that Gilbert intends us to obey curiosity in the carefree ways of a child, like hopping up to circle a decorative water fountain. Kids do it by default; I did this alone today and felt utterly embarrassed. I wondered: When did I start caring what people think of me? It got worse when I asked myself: When did I become such a bore?
Having kids made me a mother. Unfortunately, it also made me grow up.
Some parents get sillier when they have kids — it’s reason enough to have them — but not me. Still, getting silly with children doesn’t count if you can’t get silly by yourself. Don’t rely on them because they will get un-silly pretty soon if you don’t show them how to ward off shame.
In college, I didn’t care who saw me circling a fountain, or dancing, or even just living. Now that tiny eyes are on me, I feel that big eyes are on me too. Suddenly it matters that other people think I’m a good mother, that my kids are well-behaved, and that my house got KonMari’d.
We have children, and we (sometimes) play with them, but we do we play alone?
Curiosity suggests things to me like:
- Turn up the radio!
- Go over there!
- Now over here!
- Read in the hammock!
Curiosity is always trying to tell me that work will wait for me, and she’s always right. Sadly, I miss a lot of what Curiosity asks me to do since for years I have drowned out her voice. I have opted instead to listen to a variety of Adult Responsible voices. I need to become re-attuned to the voices of Play, of Make-believe, of Lightness, and of Curiosity, mostly when kids are not around.
I just need to play stoopball.
Who will lend me their 5-step stoop? I need one to remember how to play and to show my kids how to play New York’s favorite past-time. It’s how I learned to count by 5s. Regular one-bounce returns are worth 5, but if you manage to ricochet the ball off the corner of the middle stair and catch it sans bounce, you get 10. You know which it is by sound before you see the ball hit the glove. But I have no stoop now, no mechanism by which to touch my childhood or my most brazen self.
“Do you wanna play?”
These wonderful words are how my best friend and I would start our phone conversations. When did we demote that perfect phrase to “do you want to hang out?” And now, do we even use phones? Thank god for kids but do they secretly siphon our stamina for play?
Playing with them has become somewhat of a chore, after which I don’t feel like going to play alone. But I am certain I need to. (Sober) adults don’t seem to be very good at play, even those without kids.
Maybe the answer lies in adult playgroups, sober ones. Who’s in?