I am a HUGE fan of “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson. (If you don’t like “Calvin and Hobbes,” the door is over there, don’t let it hit you in the ass on the way out. I have standards.)
To me one of the most endearing aspects of the comic is the way Calvin creates massive chunks of his universe with his imagination. Whether he’s Spaceman Spiff or a Tyrannosaurus Rex or turning a box into a replicator machine, Calvin can always deal with a sucky reality by applying a healthy dose of make believe.
The lack of make believe in our modern adult lives was brought into sharp focus for me tonight. (I’m not, of course, counting that “make believe” with the Lucha Libre mask, the maid’s dress, the ukulele, the handcuffs, and the bucket of whip cream.)
I spent hours today taking down this year’s Christmas lights. I spent long enough so that I ran out of time with a large batch of lights still up. These lights:
The top lights here are twenty feet or so in the air. There are steps on the one side which makes getting to them a bit trickier. It took several hours to get all of these lights up, using two different ladders, with a fair amount of time at the top of a sixteen-foot ladder.
Did I want to tackle that in the dark? Well – probably. These are newer lights, they’re the better, more expensive ones, it’s going to be a busy, tough week at work, and there’s rain coming tonight so I would prefer not to leave them up for a week.
On the other hand, it’s not high enough (probably) to kill me if something happened and I fell. Just high enough to break a whole bunch of things that I would prefer to remain unbroken, things which would probably take a while to heal since I’m no spring chicken.
More importantly, how does one explain dying like that to Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates? Or, more importantly, to my boss when I can’t come in to work in a full-body cast? “You were doing what? In the dark? YOU go to Hell!”
So I went and got a forehead mounted flashlight that I find very useful. (It also makes me almost unbelievably attractive…) I got my big, long stick with a hook, also very useful.
I got the ladder and stared down my opponent.
Climbing the ladder, balancing in the dark, reaching with the long stick with a hook for a string of lights that was about five feet out, swaying with the breeze, I had my epiphany about make believe and Calvin. (This might not be the Calvinistic epiphany that is generally associated with that term.)
As adults, we’ve forgotten how much fun “make believe” can be!
The spirit of Calvin took over my brain. I wasn’t 90% blind in the dark with a flashlight on my forehead standing fifteen feet up in a tree precariously balanced while wielding a long stick with a hook in order to take down Christmas lights! NO!
I was on an emergency spacewalk in zero G in the dark depths of interstellar space to fix my broken space ship!!
And that quickly – I was.
Oh, sure, there was some part of my brain that kept me functioning and getting the job done in the reality where I could break every bone in my body and impale myself on a long stick with a hook – but the higher level conscious functions were halfway to Alpha Centauri with a broken motivator module just out of reach!
Suddenly something that was an “adult” thing, a pain in the ass job at the end of a long day when I would much rather have been sitting on my butt and getting some down time before the upcoming week, this “adult” thing was now a game! It was fun! It was an adventure!
The change in my mood and the lifting of my spirits was palpable. It was stunning. It was as close to a magic spell as I’ve seen in a while.
The lights all got taken down, I didn’t fall, I didn’t get impaled, the bittersweet job got done. That probably would have happened anyway. But in addition to all of that, something really critical happened.
I. Had. Fun. I was a little kid again. I was Spaceman Spiff.
Thank you whatever part of my brain made that happen. Thank you, Bill Watterson. Thank you, Calvin.
We don’t have to adult 24/7/365, even when we have a job to get done.
Whip cream is optional.