Friday, April 2, 2010

Everybody Plays the Fool Sometimes

by Susan McBride

Yes, I know I'm one day late for April Fool's (aka the unofficial birthday of Blue the Kitty); but I think the topic of fools is so timeless it needs no official date. I'm not talking about pranksters or the fools who nearly run you off the road while drinking Starbucks and yakking on cellphones. Nor am I alluding to the political mouthpieces who never seem to give their pieholes a rest. Nope. Instead, I want to discuss a trait that I envy more and more the older I get: being completely unafraid to act foolish in front of others, something I don't think most humans master until we're too cranky and tired to care.

For a long time, I lived under the false impression that perfectionism was attainable and if you achieved it--or came anywhere close--everyone would find you irresistible and would want to be fast friends. Although when you're born a smart ass (as I was), it's very difficult to curb your tongue when there's such an itch to add a punchline to everything. Shockingly, not everyone appreciates the fine art of wordplay, so I often found myself at odds with siblings and friends who didn't "get" my sense of humor. What's an impressionable girl to do? I tried my darnedest to refrain from saying things that might be miscontrued, no matter how much it pained me.

That training came in very handy in my sorority days and was invaluable once I became a real-live author at 34 (egads, eleven years ago next month!). When I was a newbie, fresh off the I-can't-believe-I'm-finally-published bus, I tried super-hard to behave. I was as nice as I could possibly be to everyone I met. But after a few years and a couple eye-opening incidents where something I said or did was taken the wrong way, I began to realize that, despite my best efforts, I was never going to: (a) say all the right things all the time; and (b) be seen as funny and delightful by all of those watching me. It was about then that I said, "To hell with this." I had to stop being afraid of every word that came out of my mouth. I wanted to live every moment fully and enjoy everything I did, even if there was a person or two (or three hundred) out there who didn't like my tone of voice or felt offended by my word choice.

I do believe that turning point came after I hit forty, which seems to be a magical line that, once crossed, gives you the freedom to be exactly who you want to be. I stopped worrying so much about making a fool of myself, and it felt like finally breaking out of a tightly laced corset. If life is high school then I'd rather have fun being the goofy class clown than the perfectly presentable prom queen. I'm not talking about disposing of manners, merely not taking things so seriously. One of the best parts about writing is feeling like I have no boundaries. I love concocting characters who don't always behave the way they probably should. I adore when they say things out of turn that crack me up. That's how I want to live my life and maybe why I have a plaque above my file cabinet that says "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

I'd like to propose a year-round celebration of the good kind of fools who aren't afraid to be themselves, even if that means looking stupid and screwing up once in awhile. Hey, as the song goes, "everybody plays the fool sometime." I think I'll do something foolish today, just so I never get out of practice.


  1. Good for you!!! It took me way too long to learn this lesson...

  2. Susan, I'm with you! I embarrass my kids on a daily basis--singing in the grocery store, dancing at CVS, talking to strangers--and I always tell them that I'm just being me. I, too, used to parse every single word that came out of my mouth but now? I just say what I feel, without being hurtful, if I can. Doesn't seem like anyone else is really watching what they say, so why should we? We really are sisters from another mother. :-) Maggie

  3. Thanks, Gram! I'm learning. ;-)

    Maggie, embarrassing your kids is good training for them. My mom used to do it to us, and now I realize I'm doing all the things she used to that made us go, "Ma, stop!" Like making up goofy songs for everything and breaking into spontaneous dance moves (hey, we could perform together at CVS!). :-)

    Happy Good Friday!

  4. Zita, you are too generous! ;-))

  5. I think the best lesson that time teaches is that nobody really dies of embarrassment. Everybody does play the fool sometime, and people are more likely to relate to us when we do. Thanks for saying it, Susan.

  6. Great post, Susan! I think anyone who's had the privilege of communicating with you would be able to sense the air of good will you give off ;). My theory is that people find what they look for... So, if we head out into the world intending to be kind and helpful, most people will respond to that--whether we're acting silly or not. As for the ones that don't--they're just looking for something to criticize. Don't think you can go wrong just being yourself, Susan :-).

    Wishing every member of The Stiletto Gang a great holiday weekend!

  7. I enjoyed this entry so much, I posted it on my Facebook page for my FB buds to enjoy. Right on! I feel myself loosening up quite a bit as my senior discount gets closer!

  8. Thanks, Kris. :-)

    Marilyn B., you are quite the emitter of good will yourself! ;-) I hope your holiday weekend has been wonderful 'cause you deserve it!

    Hi, Bear Chick! I'm so happy you enjoyed the post and shared it with your FB friends. As someone who started out pretty tightly-wound, I'm looking forward to loosening up in the years to come, too!