Friday, March 02, 2012

Fools, tricksters and other high achievers

You probably know Jack because of the beanstalk story. I know Jack from dozens of stories. What they all have in common, from the Jack who killed six with one blow to the Jack with the dancing cockroach to Ti-Jean who had three unusual piglets is that Jack always gets what he wants. Always.

The unusual and delightful part of this is that Jack never, ever does the appropriate thing and any plans he makes are completely irrational and beside the point. It doesn't matter. Jack has energy and optimism and a clear sense that everything will end well and so it does.

I loved telling Jack stories to small children. I was never a fan of teaching kids to be small adults who work with discipline and logic towards their goals. Under the guise of a storyteller, I got to encourage them to dream, to engage with all the wonder around them, and to work with what they had to be happy.

Later I met Herschel and Hodje and other wise fools who, like Jack, survived poverty with good humour and a quirky sense of how to think sideways.  They seem to be cousins to the outright tricksters: genies and coyote and some of the more interesting fairies.  The secret of the trickster is not that they work around the rules: the secret of the trickster is that they do not see rules at all. Like the fools, they use whatever is at hand to move towards their goals. Sometimes it works and sometimes it goes comically wrong, but tricksters always survive to play more tricks.

It's possible that our stories of tricksters and fools delight us because they represent the qualities that make us successful even when we do not get exactly what we planned. They are often described as creative, but I think it is even more important that they are both optimistic and engaged. There's a trick to that, to seeing the world out of the corner of your eye when looking at it straight on would stop you in your tracks. There's a trick to knowing what you want when everyone is either running away or telling you why you cannot possibly get it. There's a trick to being happy first and successful as an afterthought.

It's the weekend. Here's to the fools and the tricksters.

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