Sunday, September 28, 2008

An Audience With Whimsy

A friend visited our home for the first time a while back and wandered through every room before turning to me and saying, “You know what I like best about your house? I can tell that real people live here. Real eccentric people.” I had to laugh. Not only was his statement meant good-naturedly, it was rather refreshing in its honesty. And it was also quite true. Yes, that’s a life size wooden rocking horse in the bedroom.... yes, you do see a collection of witches’ hats in my office .... on that table by the window? yes, that is indeed a tiny, perfectly formed dress-wearing china pig sitting inside an architectural model of a Victorian gazebo holding a spyglass to her eye.... and those antique velvet shoes with the turned-up toes and feather trim resting on that stack of art books? Well, they could be part of an early theatrical children’s costume, or they just might have belonged to a forest
wood nymph....who knows for certain?

Through all the seriousness of life, one thing I have happily carried along with me from childhood is a love of, and charmed devotion to, whimsy. When one enters the star-strewn hallways of the imagination, that soft laughter one hears coming from one of the more colourful corridors to the left, is whimsy. Whimsy is the unseen velvet clad fellow who visited J0 Rowling on the Manchester train one evening to whisper in her ear about a certain school called Hogwarts.... his is the voice art decorators heard when they designed the sets for the movie Nanny McPhee. P.L Travers politely asked Mary Poppins to jump into a pavement
painting at his suggestion, and it was he who informed J.M. Barrie that the best way to Neverland was out the window. Oh, his influence has been, and continues to be, phenomenal. The lake-diving pig in the Michael Sowa painting, that sweet, timid lion trying to get through Oz, the muffler-clad faun leaning against the lamp post in a land called Narnia, a trespassing rabbit named Peter. All created by adults following a well-timed audience with whimsy.

While allowing him autonomy of one’s imagination is never recommended, I have heard that he behaves most poorly when kept locked up for too long. Indeed, if unfairly treated or worse, ignored, he has been known to vacate the premises entirely, which is just about the saddest thing conceivable. Let him loose occasionally. Seek his counsel every now and then. Let him choose a book he’d like to read, or a movie he might enjoy, perhaps even a scarf to wear on a blustery day. He’ll be full of ideas.

And lucky for me, one of his favorite holidays, Halloween, is almost upon us, and I do need to seek his advice on which of those good witches’ hats to don this year.