I’m no prankster. I’m no good at lying and I’m too prone to guilt and anxiety to be very good at playing tricks on people. I’m much more likely to be the fool.
But this year I realized what an important holiday April Fool’s Day can be.
This year on April 1st, I stood in a circle with a bunch of strangers in a bare room in the Lavapiés neighborhood in Madrid.
“Now,” said our bespectacled leader in his British accent. “Introduce yourself to the circle, and tell everyone how stupid you are. Say your name, and these words: ‘and I am very stupid.’” We nodded gravely and began.
“My name is Sarah. And I am very stupid.”
“Yes,” said the leader. “We can see that.”
Madrid is a place I regularly make a fool of myself. I’m still not used to the customs. I still expect handshakes when meeting someone new at my job instead of a kiss on each cheek. I still don’t speak the language so well, but I’ve grown so accustomed to not understanding people that I just listen to the sounds coming out of their mouths, and I’m completely unperturbed until I get the sense that I may have been smiling and nodding at something I should not have been.
Growing up as a girl and then woman—and a blond one at that—I used to feel like I needed to work very hard to counter the flaky, naïve, inane stereotypes people wanted to plaster all over me. As a result, I scowled a lot, I rarely asked for help, and I expected myself to be demonstrably intelligent and competent in whatever setting I entered. Not only was it exhausting, but people still condescended to me. That was their problem. It was my problem when it kept me from stepping out of my comfort zone, trying new things, taking risks, and being my fullest self (something I wrote about in my first blog post a year ago).
And while I do not believe in dumbing oneself down or in treating someone else like an idiot until they’ve unequivocally earned the title…
…If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last 7 years of my life, it’s the value of reclaiming one’s inner fool.
Call it your innocence; call it your beginner’s mind or your childlike nature. “The fool” gets a bad rep and a lot of undue disrespect as a result. But we’re turning our backs on something important when we resist our inner fool at all times.
Almost 8 years ago, I had just gotten out of a long relationship that had begun before I was an adult. Suddenly, I was in my early twenties and trying to re-imagine myself as a full-grown woman who could operate in the dating pool. It was like I’d been dropped back onto earth after a stay on the moon. I didn’t know how to be smooth and beautiful. I didn’t know how to get from “Hey there, how are you today?” to making out with someone or even asking for their number in a way that wouldn’t seem like I was filming the first painful 20 minutes of a romantic comedy before the protagonist gets her makeover and the dreamdude comes to her.
We live in a society that teaches women how to be pursued—not how to get what they want. I didn’t know how to ask for someone’s number, but I did know that I would never get what—or who—I really wanted if I was resigned to just sorting through whatever came to me. So I had to be honest and put one big, goofy foot clumsily in front of the other.
Enter the fool.
On April 2nd of 7 years ago, I went out to eat with a friend and his girlfriend. We’d gotten through the entire meal without him bringing up anything that had happened at his recent party, and I was relieved.
Two nights before, I had been engaging in the kind of springtime frivolity (read: heavy drinking) one can only sustain after a break-up in one’s early twenties. It all would have been completely inconsequential if his younger brother hadn’t come home to visit their mother. He wasn’t feeling well, and was therefore stone-cold sober, but was still good-naturedly receptive of my drunken over-sharing and my feet finding his underneath his mother’s kitchen table. For my part, after hearing about how much everyone loved this guy’s indie rock band, I had assumed he would be a real egogre (that’s a word I just made up for someone who is made ugly by being too full of himself), but the dreamy-eyed individual before me was listening thoughtfully to my blatherings and was wearing Daffy Duck slippers. I was well and thoroughly disarmed. I kissed him on the cheek as we said goodbye, and I felt like I was really getting the hang of this adult flirting thing…until I woke up the next morning under a tidal wave of self-doubt.
“So, something kind of funny happened yesterday,” my friend said carefully when dinner was over and his girlfriend had left to use the restroom.
“…Oh yeah?” Oh god. How much did he know?
“Yeah, so after you left the other night, my brother was like, ‘You guys, I think Sarah Donnell is kind of into me.’ And we were all like, ‘Nah, I’m pretty sure she was just wasted.’ So the next day, we thought it would be funny to play an April Fool’s joke on him. I reprogrammed my mom’s number to show up as your name on my phone, and then I sent myself a text from “you” to say ‘Hey, your brother is really cute. Can I get his number?’ And then I showed it to him and we all laughed.”
“Oh yeah. Haha. That’s pretty funny.”
“So yeah, then it was really funny later when he saw your Facebook message from 4am that said basically the same thing.”
I covered my face.
“He came downstairs with his computer and showed it to us and was like ‘WHO’S THE FOOL NOW?’”
It took him 4 days to answer that Facebook message…so I was pretty convinced that I was the fool. Seven years later, we are standing in a bookshop in Madrid, looking for a book to read together, when I sneeze and my sunglasses go flying across the room. He pats my back and smiles at his April fool with so much love in his eyes.
(We picked out a copy of The Little Prince. Highly recommended if you’re ready to reconnect with your most wise childlike perception.)
In the Tarot, the fool is a great card to draw.
She’s the first one in the deck. She is Zero. Pure potential. In my deck, the fool has birds flying around his head and a bindle on his shoulder. The sun is shining as he’s beginning a journey, a new cycle, a new quest.
In Shakespeare’s plays, the fool is often the only one who sees things for what they are,
and she is often the only one with the freedom to speak about it. The fool gets away with a lot because he speaks and dresses in a funny way, but he is like the child who will point out that the emperor has no clothes. Throughout theatrical traditions, fool archetypes play with status. As audiences, we love seeing the most lowly outsmarting the king, using nonsense to point out or cut through the nonsense everyone else is living.
Maybe it’s cynical, but maybe not. After all, you might notice that it’s the fool who thinks he’s a king who is the most dangerous. But if the lowly fool has the power to turn us—the observing crowd—maybe there is hope.
“Look at us when you tell us you’re stupid,”
the bespectacled workshop leader tells one of my classmates. “Enjoy the eye contact of everyone around you. Relax your arms. There’s no need to perform anything. Just be yourself.”
Rooted in a realm of fools, clown has a bad reputation, but it’s one of the most spiritually transformative art forms I’ve ever dabbled in. I’ve been acting for over 20 years, but lately I’ve only been interested in starting over at the basics to learn clown. Clown is performance that eschews acting. When you are trying to birth your clown, there are no scenarios, characters, or lines to hide behind—not even a fourth wall. There is just you stripped to your simplest fool self, making eye contact with the audience. To be a fool onstage is to observe yourself being observed, and then this bravery gives the audience a similar gift.
Here we are just past April Fool’s Day, but still in the beginning of spring.
The trees are blooming here in Madrid, starting a new cycle. It certainly is a new world, and what do we really know of it?
This is the time. This is the time for being brave and laughing at ourselves. This is the time to look at our unique physical bodies in the sun and marvel at all their silly shapes. This is the time to fall recklessly in love with someone or something—or to remember the last time you did and do it all over again with fresh, fool eyes. This bloom time is the perfect moment to reconnect with the birds and the bees and innocent, explorative connotations of sensuality.
Maybe, without trying, when we stop pretending we’re so seasoned as to be able to explain “this is just how the world works,” we might be the one seeing things through new eyes—seeing things even more clearly than those elevated around her.
At its heart, April Fools invites us to disrupt the balance and even our own sense of power. It pulls power’s underwear up over its eyes and then looks out at the audience without pretense when they laugh. As if to say, I’m as surprised as you are. And that’s what we love.
What do you see when you look out into the eyes of your audience, April fool?
What are you facing? Is your big, stupid foot extended in front of you, about to take a first step into you know not where?
This week marks my one-year anniversary with Narrative Pull. I stumbled into this venture with no idea how much joy and connection I would get out of it. Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts with me, dear readers! It’s truly an honor to connect with you.