At what age do we become too self-conscious to simply enjoy ourselves? We took our four-year-old son to the Strong National Museum of Play yesterday, mainly to see Iron Man, though that was just the first (and longest, as we waited an hour in line) of many activities. The one that brought the biggest smile to Grant’s face was a dance floor where the outline of his grooving body was projected onto a wall in an orgy of funky color. He was alone when he started, boogying by his own self in his Batman t-shirt, but was soon joined by several other children, ranging by my best guess from his age up to eight or nine. Whether it was the joy of dancing to music louder than they typically hear it at home or the novelty of seeing their silhouettes shimmying on the wall, the kids were momentarily lost to the rest of us. They danced without an inkling of self-consciousness and they had genuine fun doing it.
They were somewhere I can’t go.
I’m not capable of moving like that without looking around the room and thinking how stupid I must look to everyone else there. Not without a lot of alcohol anyway. Worse, I project this mindset on others, and, if you’re honest, you likely do as well. Were an adult to shed their inhibitions and wriggle around on that dance floor like they hadn’t a care in the world, I’d have a chuckle and wonder what was wrong with them. I’d excuse it if they were playing with their kid, sure, but what if they were out there alone? What a nut, right? Who else would make such a spectacle of themself?
I’ve been conditioned this way. Probably starting around junior high, when it became critical to look cool any time there were witnesses. Given the invasiveness of technology, that mindset often governs my actions even when there aren’t any humans in sight. Someone is watching. Big Brother?
It’s difficult for most of us to put our creative selves on display. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t generalize that. It’s difficult for me to put my creative self on display. For as much as I love to write, it’s hard to shake that “what if they think it’s stupid?” fear when releasing a new work into the wild, or even when first sharing it within my network of trusted readers for feedback. I had a dream last night that I was explaining to someone what the new novel I’m working on is about. Though she listened and offered polite encouragement, her body language gave away her skepticism. It was then I realized I’d left the most important bit out of my elevator pitch, the Chapter One hook upon which the entire rest of the story depends. I frantically tried to recapture this woman’s attention to explain, but in the end settled for spieling it to someone else, a man who struck me upon waking as novelist and all-around good guy Joe Wallace. I needed to tell it all to someone to prove to myself it really was a good concept.
Why does this kind of validation matter so much, even in my dreams? And how much longer can I enjoy watching my son before he falls into line and regulates his behavior based on what everyone else might think?