Perhaps the most groundbreaking role of my acting career came when I was 17. Having already performed the role of a jail-breaking piglet some years previously, when I succeeded in landing the role of Janice the giant talking chicken from New York City in a stage adaptation of “George’s Marvelous Medicine,” I could not believe my luck. Naturally, the principles of method acting required me to cluck in a New York accent for months before the performance.
The show finally opened. My chicken drawl was ready. My wire-and-feathers costume was enormous and incredibly convincing. My own family could not have picked me out from a crowd. As I squatted over a basket and pretended to lay a giant egg while a large crowd of children howled with laughter, I knew that I had found my calling. I would dedicate my life to animal impersonation.
Not exactly. But being a giant chicken for those few short hours reminds me of the importance of remembering, every so often, not to give a shit. We all have a lot of things to remember. Paper deadlines. Work schedules. Job application deadlines. Internship deadlines. Grad school deadlines. Getting dressed before you leave the house. It can get pretty stressful inside the little bubble that is your own personal world. But when stress hits, the best thing to do is laugh at yourself. ’Cos you’re not that important, really. No offense.
Here’s a super cheesy quote. Ahem.
“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” I don’t believe in angels, and I think being an angel would be rather boring and inconvenient — you’d have to cut holes in all your T-shirts for your wings to poke through, and you could never go anywhere incognito with that glaring halo.
But trying to take myself lightly and laughing at myself as often as possible means I care much less if other people laugh at me.
It is one of the reasons I am drawn to theater, too — so much of live performance is letting go of your uptight idea of how the world should see you and being prepared to fall flat on your face, either figuratively or literally. We’re all pretty attached to our own images. Facebook basically exists because people love to hone and project their images. Trying to live your life within the prescriptive image you have developed for yourself can be exhausting. Virtually everyone cares about what other people think — but the less you care, the more liberated you feel.
“Life is far too important a thing to ever talk seriously about.” At least that’s what Oscar Wilde thought. It is impossible to go through life without ever being serious about anything. I think that you should take what you do — your work, the people in your life — seriously. But holding on to your own well-crafted and fiercely guarded image comes at the cost of being silly.
As young children, we don’t care what other people think. We topple over all the time, but we’re so close to the ground that we just get right back up. Achieving the total unself-consciousness of child’s play when you’re older is not so easy. It’s hard to stop thinking, What am I getting out of this? Where is this taking me? But sometimes it’s where you are right there and then, not where you’re going, that matters.
Artists in particular are especially prone to taking themselves too seriously. If I had to have dinner with Bono, it is highly probable that I would punch him in the face. Take your sunglasses off. It’s not sunny at night, or inside, or in Dublin. Are you worried people will be blinded by the awesomeness that oozes from your eyes? You are a good musician. But you are not the shit. Frankly, none of us is. Obviously we are all invested in our plans and fears, our hopes and dreams. But if you make a mistake or fall flat on your face, the world will move on. If you succeed beyond your wildest dreams, the world will still move on.
Humor keeps us going in a very fundamental way. When I was small, I wanted to be a comedian. I soon realized that I am vastly unfunny, but a lasting addiction to puns, wordplay and all varieties of silly humor has kept me laughing for years, even if I’m sometimes laughing alone. Taking myself lightly helps me to be more accepting of circumstances I cannot change. It helps me to realize that most of life’s hiccups and speed bumps are not the end of the world. It means I can dance while endangering the lives of those within range of my flailing limbs and not care one bit. Well, sometimes.
How wise and insightful I am. No doubt I’ve made you think extremely hard now. I know that can cause brain ache, and for that, I apologize. If you need to, go and have a lie down. No one will judge you for it. In the meantime, I must put on sunglasses immediately, even though I’m indoors. It’s really not my fault that I’m the shit.