I was listening to the Monty Python Sings album while I was sewing the other day, and it got me thinking about the importance of not taking myself too seriously. No serious topic is safe from the Pythons: not philosophy, not art, not religion, not politics, — not even death. I admire them for tackling the big, unwieldy, and uncomfortable topics of life, and making me smile in the process.
In my own work, I’ve discovered that when I focus on those very topics — the big, serious, meaningful stuff of our lives — I can no longer write. It’s one of the reasons I remind myself every time I sign up for NaNoWriMo to “keep it silly”. If I try to write something important, I wind up writing something ponderous, pompous, or worst of all, dead.
Lofty characters and lofty themes are admirable. But they don’t work for me. As Mozart says in the movie Amadeus:
Come on now, be honest! Which one of you wouldn’t rather listen to his hairdresser than Hercules? Or Horatius, or Orpheus… people so lofty they sound as if they shit marble!
Humor can loosen us up and still get us to the deep, profound, and important places we want to go. As an example of how being light-hearted can change the world, here’s a TED talk by Jay Silver. His kit for connecting computers to anything, from pizza to Play-Doh, allows for playful, silly creation. That very same kit is inspiring people to solve serious problems like computer accessibility for the handicapped. Silly and serious, all in one package.
It’s only 13 minutes long, but if you’re in a real hurry, jump ahead to 4:55. That’s when the mind-bending silly stuff starts to happen. You’ll be hooked from then on, trust me.