Thursday, November 13, 2014


     Bored with godawful daily life? How ofter I hear that from people. Poor things! I have the solution. Spice it up! Learn to live with spontaneity---to do the unexpected, to be receptive to the wonderfully oddball things that are constantly going on around you.
     Life is an adventure. Be open to it, and be prepared to do a goofy thing or two! Half of the fun in life is what happens "outside the box." Be awake to the possibilities, the joy of the unexpected, whether it's something that you do, or something that happens to you.

     When my daughter was a young teenager, I was constantly bombarded with the line, "Oh, Mom, you're embarrassing me!" ( I might merely make a face when we were walking down the street, or speak to a stranger as we passed.) But by the time she was graduating high school, she had learned from the rest of the family that goofiness was "cool". She was a dancer (went on to be a professional, as a matter of fact). As she received her diploma on the lawn of the boarding school she attended, she leaped into the air in a grand jete, surprising and delighting all of us. (Our only complaint was that she hadn't told us in advance what she was going to do, so all our cameras just caught her coming DOWN, not going UP!) She made the day extra-special for everyone.

      My mother was a master of delightful surprises. Crook-necked Thanksgiving squash would suddenly be turned into an elaborate centerpiece of swans on a pond---complete with cabbage-leaf wings and spiky pineapple-top tails, all nestling on a mirror dotted with lemon-slice "water lilies". (Only my more serious Dad missed eating the squash that year!) And several times, while I was away at college, I received boxes of assorted cookies in the mail, carefully wrapped, and accompanied by a BALLOT, for heaven's sake, asking me to vote for my favorites! And occasionally, if we bugged her while she was spreading butter or peanut butter, she would say nothing, but calmly grasp our arm and spread the goo there! Our surprise would stop us in mid-rant, and we'd all laugh and move on.

    When my brother and I were young (probably about 9 and 7), we read an article about how color could influence a person's appetite. To check it out, we baked sugar cookies. Divided the batch into 4 and colored each batch. Sure enough, the yellow and pink cookies were delicious, the green slightly less so, and the blue simply not palatable unless we closed our eyes. Years later, as a young bride, I told my husband about this. He didn't believe it. So I surprised him! Put blue food coloring in the bottom of the Russian dressing cup, the mashed potato bowl, the gravy boat. Dished out my own serving from the top of each bowl, then stirred and dished out his portions! We laughed together as he forced himself to eat without looking at his food!

     One of my sons had a long-standing game that he played with his much-younger sister and her cousin. Whenever the families were together, he would try to "kill" their favorite stuffed animals. They would wake in the morning to find the animals hanging from a chandelier, or hidden in the blender. And once, when they couldn't find their animals, they found a note, which he had carefully smeared with dirt, claiming that they would NEVER find the toys. (Of course they found them outside, near a pile of dirt.) The girls loved the constant surprise, and looked forward to it.

     I remember once visiting my sister and her husband. A hot summer night and no air conditioning. Kids had all been asleep for hours. It started to rain around midnight. My husband and I immediately put on our bathing suits and ran out into the night. Sister and husband reluctantly followed, then expressed delight at our goofiness. (Though they never quite achieved the spontaneity of our family---years later, when both families vacationed together, they couldn't get over the fact that our 4 kids had kept their 2 kids up most of the night, analyzing the different ways people tied bows with their shoelaces!)

    But spontaneity adds so much joy and fun to life. When my husband and I traveled in England, we would occasionally come across a road that wasn't on our map. "It's a small country," he'd say. "How lost can we get?" And off we'd go. Found a small town, once, that had an amateur theatre group. Don't remember what the play was, but it was an unexpected treat. And a lovely Bed and Breakfast that had a live peacock strolling on the lawn. (I still have a discarded feather among my travel souvenirs.)

     And sometimes the spontaneity can enliven someone else's life. I was a young mother. 3 sons. It was a hassle to get them all set to go grocery shopping. And when my youngest---around 4 at the time---wailed that he couldn't find his shoes, I didn't know what to do. No shoes, no matter where we looked. And I HAD to pick up the week's groceries. But I spotted a pair of Dutch wooden shoes, which had come as a gift, filled with chocolates. They fit him! So that's what he wore. And for years after that, friends and store personnel laughed and remembered hearing the clop-clop coming down the aisles!

     One of the goofiest things we ever did---I had seen a tiny ad on the bottom of page 1 of the New York Times. (Do they still have them?) Guy wanted a family dinner. Was willing to pay $10. Friends thought we were nuts. We called him anyway, arranged for his visit. The boys were young---7, 9, 11. They asked all the nosy questions we wouldn't have asked. He was ordinary, fairly uninteresting, and completely emotionless. Same reactions to what he liked and what he disliked. When he left, after the only extraordinary thing he did---paid in all crisp new bills, as though he were ashamed or something---we wondered if he was newly come from therapy. Odd evening, but an adventure that we wouldn't have missed! (We declined his query about a second evening, simply because he wasn't interesting enough to bother.)

      Funny P.S.---a good friend called just before he was due to arrive and insisted we keep the phone off the hook so she could listen in case we screamed or something!

      And did you ever play dress-up on a whim? We did! One year, while I was still in college---and the night before we were going home---my buddies and I decided to have a dress-up contest. The rest of the dorm dreamed up the categories---old, mad, young, etc. We tore everything out of our packed suitcases and trunks---had to spend half the night repacking them. But it was a send-off for the year that delighted us all.

      And as for being alert to others' surprising actions---had a lovely moment last week on my day off. Was having my coffee and morning bun at my favorite little shop. Rainy day. Seated next to the window. Suddenly heard a knocking sound on the glass. Looked up. Young girl (12? 13?) was frantically waving her fingers at me and saying something. No umbrella. No visible adult with her. I couldn't hear what she was saying through the glass. She just kept waving her fingers at me. I leaned my head against the glass. She came close and shouted. What did she say? "I LOVE your nail polish color!" I grinned for the rest of the day.

     Recently, I saw on TCM an interview with the late Lauren Bacall. She quoted John Wayne. When  someone said to him that it was a beautiful day, he replied, "Every day I wake up is a beautiful day."

     Make it more beautiful for yourself and others by daring to do something unexpected. You'll never be bored.



  1. After I posted, I remembered something that happened a long time ago. I had already published 4 or 5 books. I received a fan letter from a young woman, basically bemoaning her small-town life and envying me for my far more exciting existence (at least as she saw it). I could have answered her with bland sympathy, but somehow her passive attitude annoyed me. Her sense that HER life was boring, while mine was not.
    Instead, I chewed her out for not being aware of what life had to offer. "London and Paris are fine," I told her. "But have you looked around you? FInd the nearest city to your small town, and do some research! You may discover lots of fascinating things in that city, as exotic as anything that may exist in Europe!"
    I held my breath, waiting for her answer, and hoping I hadn't gone too far. (Even checked with my daughter, who was about the same age. She assured me my response was more helpful than some wimpy reply would have been.)
    Didn't hear from the young woman for months and months. Then I got a letter from her, thanking me profusely. She had researched the city, visited it, discovered a school that "spoke to her". Had enrolled in college, even had a part-time job that was on her career path. We corresponded for several years. She married, had a career, a great husband, a wonderful life.
    And all because I had pushed her to "think outside the box."

  2. These are so great Syb! A friend of mine has a son with a gorilla costume. That gorilla shows up at all kinds of events. Her straight-laced daughter is getting married soon and everyone is holding their breath. I delighted in your story about the young man who came to dinner. I was hoping it would be like the Edward Gorey story about the guest who never left but alas! You tried and had fun.

    My grandmother played little games and made life interesting for us. She made puppets out of pieces of medical tape and entranced us with her origami. She whistled and told riddles. Always a lady...but she knew how to have a good time. If I asked her what time it was, her reply was, "Why? You gotta take a pill?" That sent me into peels of laughter being only 4 and light years away from timed pill popping.

    Love your blog post and love your advice. I actually may do something impromptu and fun tomorrow night that I dreamed up after reading this. I'll keep you posted.

  3. By the way, remember the play "You Can't Take it with You"? Now that family had fun!

  4. Donna, love the gorilla story. Do let me know how it turns out!

    My mother was a total flake! The children, who adored her, didn't call her Grandma, they called her Graham, for the cracker---because they said she was cracked! (At some point, there will be a blog post on all the nutty things she did. She was so funny and creative.)

    As for the play, "You Can't Take It With You", it is currently playing on Broadway, with James Earl Jones, Elizabeth Ahsley, and a bunch of hilarious characters. At my age, having seen so much, I seldom find things that make me roar with laughter, but when I saw the play recently, I was practically rolling in the aisles, it was so funny. I can't recmmend it enough.

    And do let me know what your impromtu bit turns out to be!