Everybody plays the fool sometime, right?
That was a Grammy-nominated song in the 70s and a top ten hit in the 90s. I could build an entire life philosophy by quoting lyrics. Trust me.
The foolish things we do might be embarrassing at the time, but often make for some pretty entertaining stories. It’s been more than two decades since I fell off a horse the size of a Shetland pony during an overnight camping trip with my college friends, and yet every time we get together, the story still makes us laugh.
I didn’t plan to play the fool that day, but it turned out being a good thing.But what about the times when we intentionally play the fool? When we don’t let our fear of being laughed at hold us back from some bold move?
That’s when great things happen.
Last week my daughter performed her first ever solo, a modern dance to Florence and the Machine’s “Drumming Song.” It was Friday night and hers was the first dance of the entire three-day competition. She took center stage when they called her number, while I watched from my spot in the second row. (The first row was reserved for the judges or I would have been there.)The music began and two measures in, the unthinkable happened. It stopped. So did my heart. I leaned forward and clutched the back of the seat in front of me, prepared to hurdle the front row, jump on stage, and perform some impromptu bongos if that’s what it took to fill the silence.
My daughter had a better idea. She kept dancing. Filling the silence with beautiful movements and facial expressions. Keeping perfect time to the song in her head. Strangers in the crowd began clapping and cheering her on as I sat there with tears in my eyes, so proud of her grace and strength under pressure.In that moment when the music stopped, she wasn’t afraid to play the fool and I loved her for it. As my friend said afterwards, “She didn’t need music, she was the song.”
They gave her a special award “The Show Must Go On” award and she placed third overall despite the music glitch. But that’s not what mattered. Something magical happened during those three soundless minutes on stage—she faced her fear and turned it into something beautiful. She told me when it was all over that she realized that because the audience couldn’t hear the song, she had to work harder to convey its meaning. When did she get so smart?My daughter inspires me every day in ways both big and small. She pushes me to be better. I’m sure most parents feel this way about their kids. But since her solo I’ve been thinking about how her dance relates to writing. How many times have I held back what I’m willing to put on the page because I’m afraid it’s foolish or readers will think I’m a fool? How many times have I let my fear stand between a good story and a great one?
A few days after my daughter’s dance competition I spotted this quote on Twitter. Despite the fact that he uses the pronoun “he,” I think it’s a good one for my bulletin board.The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always. —Arthur Miller
Hmph. Arthur Miller is almost as wise as my daughter.
(Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine.)