Every so often I hear a phone scam conducted by a popular morning radio team in New York and get a good chuckle as I begin my day. Recently, though, I heard one that made me squirm as I listened.
The DJ posed as a member of the Mets organization and the call was placed to a 50-something guy who had attended a baseball fantasy camp. He was essentially telling the guy he’d been impressive at the camp and that his skills were being taken seriously by the team. The man was elated and his elation just kept escalating as the call went on. The prank had been engineered by his wife.
I found it cruel. My sense of humor can be pretty dark, so I was surprised at my reaction, but further thought made me realize why it bothered me so. Here was a guy who had decided to play some baseball, rub elbows with the big boys, get in some healthy competition and--hello--have some fun. Apparently he came home from the camp and excitedly told his wife how well he did; her response was to embarrass him in front of a nice chunk of the tri-state area.
What he did was exactly the kind of thing I tell my life coaching clients to do when they build out what I call their “non-work” life. There are things all of us are pulled to do, not for a living or to get overly serious about, but just for fun. It’s pretty much the opposite of beginning with the end in mind. Instead, it’s about simply beginning, engaging, playing.
Back in my high school days I used to write poetry that fell into one of two categories: adolescent angst or sugary Hallmark. Then while in college, I began studying Keats and Dickinson and Wordsworth and suddenly I realized what “real” poetry looked like. It was so intimidating that my poetry writing ceased.
Then in 2001, just before Sept. 11, I attended a creativity camp in New Mexico and the poet James Nave took us through an exercise that called for crafting poetry out of words on a white board. He took the seriousness out of it and had us play with sounds, even if none of it made sense. It was liberating and a luscious feeling to indulge in language that way.
That opened a door for me, but I often regret not keeping it up since then. That is, until now. When I think of all those people in Japan whose lives have been shattered, as I wrote in a recent Game Plan column, the least we can do is live our lives. Sometimes I am slow to take my own advice. The truth is, I want to write poetry. Not for publication. Not to be Maya Angelou. But to relax with it the way others wind down with a crossword.
About five years ago, a friend gave me a book by Stephen Fry--a novelist, comedian and actor -- called The Ode Less Travelled, Unlocking the Poet Within. It is designed to do precisely what I’m talking about; Fry enjoys his verse and meter as a fun diversion as well.
“For me, the private act of writing poetry is songwriting, confessional, diary-keeping, speculation, problem-solving, storytelling, therapy, anger management, craftsmanship, relaxation, concentration and spiritual adventure all in one inexpensive package,” Fry writes.
Now couldn’t we all use some of that?
I began reading Fry’s book and became joyfully reacquainted with “the rising rhythm of the five-beat iambic pentameter.” At his urging at the end of the chapter, I spent a nice portion of a recent afternoon trying to craft my own lines of iambic pentameter. Not so easy, shall we say? Therein lies the rush.
Fry introduced me to the term “opsimath” which, according to Wikipedia, is “a person who begins, or continues, to study or learn late in life.” Now I’m not exactly ready for AARP, but surely this kind of thing qualifies. It’s why adult education programs exist. Beginning something takes confidence, but also builds it. Trying new things breeds openness and enriches us.
It also teaches that maybe a connection with an art form, hobby or even a person isn’t supposed to be what you originally thought. Sometimes things don’t fit in a box. So what. Playfulness transforms our energy. Dabbling is not a dirty word.
There was a Sex and the City episode where the women were dating 20-something men and the theme was fun. It was indulgent, something they were trying on for a while. That’s not to say something serious can’t occur in that context or in your venture into taking voice lessons or watercolor classes.
But everything isn’t supposed to flower into a satisfying career or life-long relationship. Sometimes it’s just a fantasy camp. It’s about experience. Sweet, immersive experience amidst all the darned seriousness in our lives.
Now if I can just figure out how to say that in iambic pentameter.