I love the absurd. I’m sure that growing up the the Goons, Monty Python and the Goodies had a lot to do with it, plus living in a family which revelled in the absurd in all its guises (with the exception of my father, who usually played the bewildered/unimpressed straight man, and thus made flights of absurdity that much more delicious). The Jesuits say give me a child until it is seven and I will show you the man (or woman!), and this has certainly been true for me in the area of silliness and wordplay. It’s like my childhood brain was programmed to root out comic incongruity, and I’ve never been able to escape the programming. It’s like an addiction for me.
I particularly like the accidental absurd. I was recently, for example, at a friend’s house to showing him the little that I know about how to use WordPress, and in the process of explaining how to create links and embed Youtube clips I ‘created’ the following….
….Now it may seen like nothing to you, but for me realising that, quite unconsciously, I had just put Bertrand Russell in conversation with Suzi Quatro made my day. I spent hours imagining how that particular chat would have played out.
I’m not prejudiced, though; I also enjoy the absurd in more self-conscious and crafted forms. I am, for instance, a huge fan of the musical mashup. The combination of delightful playfulness and serious beauty in a good mashup works for me at all sorts of levels. Check out the almost seamless, ‘Staying Alive in the Wall’. I think I prefer this to either of the originals.
The same guy has done a fabulous Lady Gaga vs Judas Priest mash up if you can’t get enough of this….
…Anyway, the point I am getting to (yes, there us a point to this post) is that I reckon a well-developed sense of the absurd can serve you very well as a parent of young children. Kids are, after all, a constant source of hilarious incongruity, and an ability to go there with them rather than baulk at the absurdity, or even worse try to stamp it out, is incredibly valuable and, much more importantly, enjoyable.
I tell Tilly a made-up story every night, and as she has become more and more involved in the creation of the stories, and I have became less uptight about narrative integrity and structure, the stories have become more and more absurd and/or surreal.
The last few nights, for example, we have been pursuing a bit of a quirky food theme. Three nights ago, Tilly wanted a story about a little girl who wanted – and I quote – ‘bathroom meat for dinner’. I love the crazy dance that is involved in trying to find some kind of narrative resolution in a situation where you haven’t really got a clue what your co-creator has in mind, or where she in hoping to go with the story.
My method is to just tell the story in a straight-forward fashion until I reach an impasse (usually owing to an inability to climb out of my entrenched adult neural pathways) and then throw it over to Tilly with a ‘What happened then?’ or a ‘What did she say?’. Then she gets us moving again in some wonderfully unexpected direction. It turns out, for example, that you can purchase bathroom meat at ‘Tumbles’ – an indoor playcentre near her grandparents’ house. It goes without saying, that I informed the City of Melbourne Health Services immediately.
But it isn’t just during activities that we, as parents, have designated ‘creative’ that an ability to operate in the realm of the absurd is important. You have to be ready and able to go there at any and every moment. Absurdity can, amongst many other things, redeem drudgery, rescue you from conflict, and offer a handy escape from standoffs (I am referring here, of course, to the traditional Mexican kind that involve you and your child smoking cigarillos and armed only with a revolver or two. Were you both to be coked up to the eyeballs and toting Uzis then something more powerful than the absurd may be required).
Let me finish with a video of a particularly noisy fork in the road of Susie and my parenting journey. The absurd is almost always the road less travelled, and equally often the better road to go down. For those who can’t quite make out the dialogue, Tilly is asking Susie and I if we would like a cake plate…