Play The Fool

~ Give yourself permission to be creative | Ethan Hawke

^ This was a video I watched earlier this year that really resonated with me. Think I originally saw a clip of it on Twitter {score one for the hell site✍️} and then sought out its source. I wanted to write about it, reflect on it, here.

Ethan Hawke is our speaker, for a little TED thing. A very solid actor imo. Underrated; try to think of a bad film/performance? Gattaca. Training Day. Boyhood. Predestination! Those “Before” films I need to see about finally seeing… And yet, perhaps his greater talent, from a few talks and interviews I have seen with him, is his ability to articulate himself on the topics of his career, creativity, acting, his heart. He speaks of grand themes in an inspiring tone that never approaches pretentiousness or smarm or word salad. He has an amazing memory for the most minute details and his own feelings past and present. And he’s from Austin, Texas! Hell yeah. 🤘 Seems like a great, down-to-earth dude.

Rewatching this talk now — on “giving yourself permission to be creative” — and I realize that the concept of “the fool” is something that I have never truly valued. {…like a fool…}

The Fool is the first card in the tarot journey. Meaning it is the first archetype that everyone must pass through to make it anywhere beyond.

~ “To see The Fool generally means a beginning of a new journey, one where you will be filled with optimism and freedom from the usual constraints in life. When we meet him, he approaches each day as an adventure, in an almost childish way. He believes that anything can happen in life and there are many opportunities that are lying out there, in the world, waiting to be explored and developed. He leads a simple life, having no worries, and does not seem troubled by the fact that he cannot tell what he will encounter ahead.” … Keywords: beginnings, freedom, innocence, originality, adventure, idealism, spontaneity
The Fool is everyone…” ~ from Cyberpunk 2077 (2020)

The *fool* is something no one, of a certain age (like Hawke says in the vid, kids are never worried about how foolish they may look trying something new — no habits or preconceived notions, they just go!), ever wants to appear as. And yet, the fool is how we all must begin.

Especially when it comes to creative acts. Even if you aren’t an amateur! Your audience might be… Hawke references the poet Allen Ginsberg and how he spoke of his “job” as that of playing the fool; he was supposed to give “Joe Schmoe” back home on the couch something to think about, something — or maybe just someone — to laugh, think, or rage at. He wanted to use his art to keep people up at night, changing hearts and minds for one reason or another.

Being a creator — hell, often being a person in this world — is all about sometimes playing the fool.

In a related sense, Ginsberg/Hawke is right in that we don’t get to decide what other people think of us. Whether or not someone finds us foolish is their prerogative. We cannot dictate other people’s opinions of our art, or our personality, any of our actions in the world. Whether you are a creative type or not, from this perspective, your anxiety about what they will think?? is truly foolish. It’s not up to you! Just do your thing!!

{Easier said than done, I know, I know. How much of us ‘doing our thing’ ends up truly tied up with the expectations of others… 🤔} 

This is one of those obvious/ingenious little insights; yet I struggle with this, have struggled with this. This apprehension comes as a person with a past and problems, “foolish” or no, that for long have been unexpressed to any but myself. Maybe I have used my art and my writing to express those things in a sidelong way. But it was for my own private catharsis; I have gone for long not sharing most of my creative work with those closest to me either.

With a fuller clarity, I have stymied my own yearning to connect my life with others via vulnerability — via the ‘telling of my story’ that Hawke even stresses at one point as a way to start an all-important human-to-human “dialogue” — because of that fear. That anxiety about looking like a fool {to any but myself}. And to top it off, more than outright rejection or people laughing at me, I have feared indifference.

It’s not that I have wicked friends or lack the faith in humanity to hear me out.

It is more: But who will *really* care?

These are my problems — this is my writing. It’s nonsense. It’s meaningless. It’s my burden. No one will care. It only matters to me, anyway — it can only matter to me.

Foolish? I fear so. I so fear having to “play the fool” that I have avoided the stage altogether…

And this extends to other areas of life as well, and not just the profound, deep, existential or creative shit.

I’ve always somewhat feared being in foreign places, having to interact in simple, transactional spaces like restaurants and shops without being able to speak a common language. I feared looking like an idiot, looking awkward, looking like I don’t belong. I have feared judgment, that I will look cold or uncaring. Or… indifferent to others, disconnected from the world around me. {Maybe I just rely too much on talking in how I consider my relationship to others…?}

And this psychological phenomena is not just in foreign lands, but often in relation to the strangers in my own town! Merely going to the grocery store, to the mechanic, to a work or community gathering, going to play pickup ball! can sometimes be a whole endeavor that I have to build myself up to. Social anxiety borne of fearing the fool, I think. And there is a fear in there of having to do all of this, all of the time… alone.

Ethan’s words help me to understand that these are not things that are worthy of being afraid of. And in these mundane situations, it’s not even something that is real! {I know this…} You have to be in the game — you have to express yourself — you have to be present. You have to be human!

And in being human, if such perceptions do actually fall upon ye, you have to risk looking stupid sometimes.

Something I have come to realize, over time and reinforced by recent experiences, is how important presence and expression is. Those are our prime tools. We cannot make someone pay attention to us; we cannot make someone like us or our art or our jokes or our awkward little maneuvers out in the Real.

We {I!} have to get out of our head; all we can do is show up and express. Show up — be there, be present and conscientious, self-aware and willing to listen and respond and be compassionate to the other people about you. And express yourself — tell the truth, ask questions, let people know what is burning your soul up. Or just what’s generally going on with you. What you find funny, or helpful. Express to people on what you find beautiful — on what your love is, as Hawke emphasizes — and you will find yourself on the right path.

And then, if someone wants to join you alongside that path… then you have really found something, someone!

But that can only happen when you are willing to play the fool.

Look at this freak! You gotta love ’em.

More than just creative advice, I see this as stone-cold LIFE advice.


The above is my main takeaway, but there is so much more in this talk, little nuggets of wisdom and insight from a man who seems to understand the human condition in a much deeper way than you might guess just by looking at him…

  • Art turns into sustenance in the face of extreme experience — like death or love. We need artists and their art to relate back to us the beauty or terror, the sadness or happiness of our personal predicament. “Creativity is vital — it’s how we heal each other.”
  • “Human creativity is nature manifested through us.” ~ through art, we try to mirror the beauty we see in the world around us, ala aurora borealis, the grand canyon at sunset, etc. This is related to one of my favorite things: art and the sublime.
  • By playing characters {or creating them} “you start to see how connected we all are.”
  • “If you get close to what you love, who you are is revealed… If you want to help your friends, family, community, you have to express yourself. And in order to express yourself, you have to *know* yourself. And it’s super easy. You just have to follow your love. There is no path. There is no path ’til you walk it. And you have to be willing to play the fool. Don’t read the book you should read, read the book you want to read. Don’t listen to the music you used to listen to, listen to some new music. Talk to someone you don’t normally talk to. If you do all that, you will feel foolish. That’s the point! Play the fool.”

Ah, good stuff. Refreshing. Thank you, Ethan. ~

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