The email sat open, mocking me with it’s unfeeling, bright white glow. The task before me—to be witty and comical in a single sentence. My boss has issued a challenge that I write 5 captions each week for the New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest. He thinks it will be a good creative exercise for me.
This week’s cartoon?
Now, ideas were percolating quickly enough as I began playing with irony, absurdity and self-delusion for the head-lamped protagonist. Soon I was chuckling at my desk with the extremes of each caption:
- “And that was the day— cut, clamp, suction, repeat.”
- “It’s Oedipus. Squinting just felt a bit overdramatic to me.”
- “I’d say pretentious. That entire exhibit lacked subtlety.”
- “Yep. We’re definitely taking on water down there. Another round?”
- “It’s the black light feature that I like best. Here—Whoa, Martha!”
So what was my fear? The moment of submitting those captions to my boss. Would he find them stupid and predictable or over the top and too prosaic? (Only I would worry about being too dumb and too intellectual all at once). Would he laugh? Maybe I should just start over…. No, dammit, I’m funny. I should submit them.
I sat there for 15 minutes without changing the headlines before I clicked send. That was yesterday. I haven’t heard back yet. If I think about the silence for too long it results in visions of me getting called into an office and fired for lack of humor.
I am realizing that sometimes play feels really risky. And yet, I LOVE when people play with me, when they bring laughter and unexpected adventure my way. Play is this stunning fusion of creativity and spontaneity, self-blessing and acceptance of the unknown. It is a space I wish I lived in always.
Over the weekend, I spent some time with my best friend. She took me to one of her favorite inner city eateries, which can only be described as a taco shack (emphasis on SHACK!). There we gorged ourselves on sketchy, but oh so savory, bean and cheese tacos with special green sauce, all the while enjoying the festive luau decorations that graced the trailer-like room where we sat.
At the end of the meal, she went to pay the tab and came back with something in her hand and mischievously dancing eyes. “I got this for you,” she said, handing me a kind of candied sucker in a Mexican wrapper while unwrapping her own. I followed suit. I could have sworn that what I pulled out of the wrapper was a glazed cockroach.
“Mercy, this looks like a bug. You are feeding me a bug right now, aren’t you?!” She laughed and with a shade of defense said, “These are my favorite Mexican treat. They are sweet hard candy on the inside and have chili powder rubbed all over the outside. It is an experience!”
I did not want the experience. But Mercy wanted to share a love of hers with me; she wanted to play. I popped the sucker in my mouth and then watched her roll with laughter as my face contorted from the sour spice and the pepper. “Oh my GOSH!” I yelled and she continued shaking with giggles. I kept sucking, each time my face grimaced she laughed more. “Watching you eat that is the best thing ever!!!” she exclaimed, her own spicy tongue relishing what felt to me like a slap in the face. Soon we were laughing together and ended up sharing the story with multiple people throughout the weekend. It was hilarious. I am so glad Mercy risked the invitation… not because I loved the sucker, but because I loved the laughter with her.
Looking back, play with Mercy just meant saying “Yes!” And I actually like saying yes a whole lot—yes to cooking new foods with my friends that might be awesome… or awful, yes to playing video games with my brother even though I am the worst video game player ever, yes to camping trips and road trips and crazy dancing at a public transit stop. Just, yes.
Even playing with my boss only requires holding onto my yes— “Yes! I love your idea to share my humor with you, and I believe that I offer witty things there.”
When I let go of my “Yes!” I loose the chance to play—to share my heart and what I love. Instead I start to doubt that who I am is worth enjoying. And the truth is, it doesn’t have to be that way, and it isn’t really that hard to say yes.
To my point, lunch hour just ended and my boss walked past my desk. “Those lines your wrote were hilarious!!!! So good!” Well, yes.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 25 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called The Someday Writings, and someday, she may let those writings see the light of day. For now, she is honored to be a part of Red Tent Living.