In our society, memory lapses are considered embarrassing character flaws and the term “senior moment” has been coined to make a mockery of them.
But hold on here: isn’t it good to forget things? After all, most of the stimulus we take into our brains is not worthy of our attention in the first place. We don’t really need to know which actresses are posing nude on the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair. Nor are the latest sports scores or political dust-ups crucial for our survival in the moment. Even a fact as seemingly crucial as who won the Super Bowl or the latest primary polling numbers is optional information.
Really, losing memory is a blessing, as it clears out the crawlspace and leaves the mind free to remember more interesting occurrences, such as the time you hitched a ride to Philly to see OzzFest. Or how wonderful it was to jump a spider bike over a tree stump for the first time. Or remembering where you put the tickets to the opera you ordered three months ago.
Ah, bliss! Thy name is…uh…hmmmm…well, it’s obviously not that important.
Illustration: Getting older means more time for abstract thinking.
Founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote: “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.”
Yes indeed, no one was a bigger fan of the pickle than his buddy, our first President of the United States, George Washington, who cultivated and collected both rare and commonplace plants in the gardens at Mount Vernon. Washington amassed a collection of 476 different varieties of cucumbers meant for pickling.
The moral of this story is simple. If you have a very deep and powerful enthusiasm for something — even as common as a pickle — you must follow your joy. Follow your enthusiasm to full flower. It may lead to a lot more than just a tasty pickle; you might even start a whole new country as swell as the U.S.A.
Edgar Allan Poe, master American author and proto-goth innovator of the macabre, knew how to make the best of things.
In 1835, Poe, then 26, obtained a license to marry his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. They were married for eleven years, by all accounts a loving and respectful match, filled with true romance. One evening in January 1842, Virginia showed the first signs of consumption, now known as tuberculosis, when she indelicately vomited blood while playing the piano.
Virginia lived another five years in a state of pallor, weakness and lingering sickness as she approached the grave. But Poe turned this horrific situation to a creative bent, developing a theory that “the death of a beautiful woman” was the “most poetical topic in the world.” This became his touchstone of gothic writing, like his most famous poem, “The Raven” — exploring themes of death, sickness, and the ghostly lives of captivating young women who happen to be dead.
There are opportunities in the worst situations for a true SuperOptimist, and as old E.A. Poe said: “To die laughing must be the most glorious of all glorious deaths!”
The ritual of playing a joke or spreading a hoax on April Fool’s Day is all well and good. But the merriest of pranksters know that returning to the narrow confines of “good behavior” for the other 364 days of the year completely misses the point.
The wise among us realize that our foolish nature is something to be embraced — and as often as possible. Apple pioneer Steve Jobs urged on the graduates of Stanford with the mantra “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” The queen of show business reinvention, Cher, says, “Unless you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.” Both agree that you must free the wild child inside you rather than timidly hide beneath a veneer of “respectability.”
So the question is, how will you embrace foolishness today? What pranks are you planning to shake up the status quo? What could you do tomorrow, next week, or next month that will have the office, locker room, or family den buzzing with laughter and conversation (after the shock wears off)?
Shouting “April Fool’s!” once a year is really not the best way to practice the art of foolishness, unless you do it on April 3rd. Or December 15th. Here’s to acting like Cher, or Steve Jobs, or your Uncle Dave, 24 hours a day…starting…now!
Even today, Cher is unafraid to act foolishly.