Wednesday, February 5, 2014

the day calliope lost her tongue

There are a few things of which I'm scared .
The things I'm scared of are called: snakes, space travel, being alone in my house after watching Pan's Labyrinth, and writer's block.
There is nothing more terrifying than looking at a blank page and thinking: I have nothing to write on you.
I am not one to hold back an idea, good or bad.
The only thing that worries me is when I don't have an idea.

One of my most vividest memories (most vividest. that's correct grammar. ha.) is the day I stopped being afraid of being wrong.
(Which is good, because I tend to be wrong. And living life constantly afraid is a life half lived, to poorly paraphrase Strictly Ballroom.)

The day I learned to stop being afraid of getting things wrong went like this:
I was playing a game in theatre class.
Our teacher-- a master clown, a sheepishly loving, terrifyingly talented, strangely hilarious and hilariously strange egomaniac--taught us many things: how to do a take to an audience, how to imitate someone's walk, how to make comedy while wearing a sad mask, how to make each other laugh, how to surprise an audience, how to make theatre that was magic and human and unafraid, how to make a joke, but most importantly: how to poke fun at ourselves.

I remember staring up at the juggling ball I threw in the air, almost giving myself an aneurysm, trying to clap as many times as I could before catching the ball.
I remember every single muscle in my arms being tensed to the breaking point, as I tried to clap THE MOST.
And  I remember trying to catch the ball, stressing, sweating, trying to catch the ball.
Desperately trying not to fail.
The bane of the middle-class highschooler's existence.
Our teacher chuckled at me.
Renée, he said to me, it's just a game.
Stop trying to get it right.

It really was just a sentence or two.
That I'd definitely heard before, and were oft-repeated throughout the year.
But I never forgot that moment, that particular instance of being told to stop trying to be perfect.
For some reason, in that moment, those words broke through.
To stop worrying about getting the task right, and to just get on with the business of doing it.

It's amazing how often you hear phrases over and over, that become worn out of meaning, now hollowed out into empty clichés. 
But then, sometimes, those words manage to actually reach your brain, and you finally understand what they mean.

I must have looked absolutely ridiculous that afternoon, desperately attempting to complete the exercise correctly, worried about letting a juggling ball hit the floor of the dance studio.
And I wonder how often I look that ridiculous, trying to catch all the juggling balls, making sure I don't fail.
But, I think what I learned that particular Tuesday is that it's more important to play than it is to get it right.

It's a lesson we all knew as children, as we spent our days wrapped up in our imaginations and building worlds with Barbie dolls and stuffed animals and making pretend soup out of mud and grass and acorns in the backyard.
But then we forgot about playing and started worrying about making sure we won the game, that we didn't fail.
Because failure is embarrassing.
I think that day, I learned that embarrassment wasn't really anything more than fodder for a joke.
Because we are grand, noble creatures, but also ridiculous.
And I think you're missing out on the fun of being a human being if you forget that we are beloved children but also sort of cosmic jokes.

That day, I learned that if I was ever going to make something nearly half as creative as the mud and grass and acorn soup of my childhood, I was going to have to give up my need to control the outcome, and just throw the juggling ball up in the air.
And then see what happens after that.

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