“Lady Windermere: Why do you talk so trivially about life?
Lord Darlington: Because I think that life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.”
-Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan (and also in Wilde’s first play, “Vera; or, the Nihilists,” which didn’t do very well, so he used the joke again)
Today was mostly a game day in my classes. That meant that my students played Charades and Twenty Questions, Human Knot (my thinking always ends up tying me in knots, so it’s nice to just do it physically for a change) and Word Grab, and other games I’ve made up or stolen and don’t have name for. Mostly we spent the day laughing, chatting, relaxing, and trying (with mixed success) to work together. About three quarters of the way through any such day, I start getting mad at myself. “Why are you just playing games with them?” the frustrated, probably dehydrated Azlan yells. “You should be making them learn!”
I’ve listened to that Azlan, and to him, now, I say:
“Oh, piff!” And I add: “poff!” And perhaps even: “pumpkin strudel!”
As though seriousness were the only reason to work. As though, to quote Rostand, we were going to restrict ourselves to finding genius among Geniuses, instead of among flowers and mayhem and noise. As though joy and playfulness and silliness weren’t wonderful reasons for learning. Above all else, in my classes, I want to learn (and teach) to be thoughtful and kind. That’s really it. I figured it out, I think, last summer. Thoughtful about themselves and their actions, each other, and the world. Kind to themselves, each other, and the world. I want them to think and be. And those things, I think, are easier with a spark of creativity. A quirk of curiosity. A jot of joy. If–if–we could keep on solidly, sternly working for hour after hour, perhaps we should. With my students, it certainly seems they can’t. They fall toward apathy. They fall asleep. They fall out of their chairs. When that happens, it’s time to wake up, it’s time to watch a kite fly or a puppy pup, and thank you very much.
And even if we could keep sternly working, hour after hour, perhaps we’d be missing something by only walking through the world one way. What about whimsical, playful leaps of imagination? What about the wish to fly? I’d end with something serious and thoughtful here, but Lord Darlington might laugh at me. While I wondered why he was laughing I would be missing so much.