Imagine this: I used to be even more defensive than I am now. Back in the day if anyone impugned my intelligence, I’d take great offense--“How dare they? Don’t they know of my brilliance?”
With age comes wisdom, or at least we hope—we can see our flaws and our foibles, the petty concerns of our days, the silly worries and resentments.
Here’s a list of some of the really foolish things I’ve done in my life:
--Once, in my twenties, hustling in LA to scrape together a living, I bought a four hundred dollar shirt to go on a date.
--I liquidated an IRA my folks started for me so that I could go to Europe for the summer.
--I moved to New York when I was 38 with $600 to my name and no job.
--I started a non-profit arts organization with no knowledge of how to do that.
There are tons more—my life is threaded through with foolishness. I’m keeping some of the really dumb things from you because I don’t want you to think I’m a total ass. And, yet, isn’t that foolish in itself, thinking we can control how others see us? Think of all the things people don’t do out of fear of seeming foolish.
Years ago when I was doing a play at the Actors’ Gang in Hollywood—it was a production of The Imaginary Invalid by Moliere, now there’s someone who knew a thing or two about fools. Isn’t satire a beautiful thing?
This night, after the show, the cast was all upstairs in the dressing room, laughing and taking our clothes off as actors like to do. The stage manager came in and picked up a piece of clothing from the floor, “You guys,” she cried out, and the room got quiet, “every night I come in here after the show and have to pick up after you. That’s not my job.” She could have left it at that but she added, “I mean, what do I look like?”
After a perfect beat, someone in the cast said, “You look like a jackass.” It’s one of the funniest moments I can recall. I still say this line, just in the way she said it, and it still makes me laugh. “You look like a jackass!” Sometimes I say it when I catch myself doing something lame, like getting irritated at a stranger at the gas station, or at people driving too slow. You know what you look like, Chris? You look like a jackass.
Life reveals us, doesn’t it? Like this moment is revealing all of the flaws and cracks of our shared lives—our busted healthcare system, radical income inequality—we’re living under a magnifying glass caused by a pandemic. An acting teacher I had in my 20s said something I think of all the time, “The truth falls out of everybody, just watch, when you’re waiting at a stop light and someone crosses the street, you’ll see the entire truth of their life just fall out.”
The fool is the first card in the tarot—he is pictured as a happy fellow, dressed for a trip of some kind, he’s taken his first step but, his foot is in mid-air, it hasn’t landed yet—what he can’t see is that the ground beneath him, where he’s about to place his foot, is uneven; in some decks, he’s stepping off a cliff.
If I knew what it was going to be like starting my life over in New York City when I was 38, how hard it would be, the grief I would feel over the life I left, the many terrible jobs I had to work, the extreme hustle I had to get on—would I have done it?
Foolishness is a gift—it permits us to do brave, ridiculous things, things that pure reason would prevent us from doing.
We are in a moment of incredible danger but also great hope—we must guard against being romantic about this time, guard against idealizing the future that hasn’t come yet. And yet, for many creative people, in this global crisis and the shut down we’re in, we see a blank page, an empty canvas, a new story waiting to be told. We can’t help ourselves from having bold visions.
Thinking back on the many times I’ve left the house in search of adventure, and the many times I tripped as soon as I set my foot down—suddenly lost, in the wilderness, under dark of night, how often I have wanted to turn back or just give up—I see how incredibly foolish I have been. And, I see how many of the richest aspects of my life are the result of foolish actions.
In many cultures, the fool is revered, the trickster who knows that nothing is certain, who understands the wisdom in disruption, tricksters are playful, sly, upsetting your well made plans. It strikes me that we are in a profoundly foolish moment: Take that! Silly humans.
Those of you with open hearts, with dreams and plans for great new things, you may be ridiculous, but your courage will guide us.