April 1st 2009: Required: A wise man to play the fool

April 1st 2009 and off I go with gusto, setting out on my PhD journey in my usual quirky fashion. 'Quirky' here could of course mean any number of things; idiotic, foolish, odd even. 'Quirky' can also mean original, and few people get to be truly original if they stay safely within conventional boundaries. In my view that creative strategy that confines so many people to mediocre conventionality; an inherent fear of failure, is partly responsible for creative restraint and consequent creative constraint. As the old saying goes: 'the man that didn't make a mistake, didn't make anything'.

Nobody really wants to be perceived as a fool or foolish, yet many innovations, improvements, moments of inspiration, occur because something falls slightly out of sequence, an edge pops out, a kink occurs, some minor deviation happens, something goes wrong and the fool within notices it , becomes interested or intrigued by it, the attraction to the flaw in the pattern supersedes the pattern itself and a new possibility is born.

I've been fascinated by creativity most of my life and my interests have always been diverse and oddly deep in my personal potholes on a vast and vibrant synonymous 'seebed' sort of way. I learned by going to Maynooth University that Theatre has always been regarded as the meeting place of the arts, many years after I had literally fallen into making theatre, won a few local competitions and awards and figured stuff out the hard way.

I studied industrial mechanical and production engineering during the day, while at night, at 19 years old in an Irish border town, I became writer director producer and general persuader. I was free and freewheeling, making, poems, plays, stories, comedies specifically, stuff up generally, learning on the job, making lots and lots of mistakes in rehearsals, discovering that some of my ideas worked and many didn't. I regret none of that learning.

The high price of that learning was making a fool of myself, in front of my peers, in the interests and the name of theatrical art and individual and collective enjoyment. Most of my friends were just as prepared to make fools of themselves too for the good of our production, for the craic, for the collective aspiration to enjoy ourselves. We were suitably naive and enthusiastically inept, the perfect mix for the slapstick style political and parochial parodies with which we played and won.

Today almost 25 years on from those halcyon days of foolish informal theatrical learning, I find myself perhaps foolishly excited about reading digital creativity and digital literature in the School of English, Drama & Film at University College Dublin. The last quarter of a century provided much additional learning for which 'fool' was the least appropriate role to adopt, or frame to think within. In my own experience stern seriousness dominates todays commercial and corporate worlds and an irony beyond humor permeates those competitive cultures with their inherent lack of fun, absence of playfulness, senselessness of humor and general short term myopia. Where failure is frowned upon, mistakes and misnomers are punished, how can creativity be 'explected' to survive let alone flourish ? ('explected' = expected with an expletive - & title of a poem I wrote today)

Despite the morale budgets, fuseball machines, inspiring environments, limitless office supplies and apparently caring culture, the actual truth is: While we all at some point like to be entertained by one, nobody wants to be seen to be the fool, indeed as I was warned in my youth, "it takes a very wise man to play the fool'. Like so many sayings and proverbs from my youth, I have found that one to ring true each and every time.

Back in my new PhD world I'm wondering who is 'Gusto' ?