The Confessions of a Stick-in-the-Mud: Searching for Spontaneous Joy

Carnegie Hall. If this stage could talk, what amazing stories it would tell.

There’s a defect in my personality that I have only recently identified. Those of you who know me may immediately think, “Uh huh. Maybe Stilson is actually going to stop (fill in the blank). She drives me nuts.’”

Whatever that might be, today, right now, the defect du jour that I’ve pinpointed is a lack of spontaneity. This came up for me last Thursday. A dear friend and member of my extended family, Lisa, invited me to go to a concert of world music at Carnegie Hall on Friday night.

Janet the Horseshoe Crab stuck her head back in her shell, thinking, “Go out? On a Friday night? Nah.” That’s how bad I’ve gotten. The attitude reached an acute stage of encrustation over the last year and a half, with COVID-19.

But then, thankfully, my mind argued back. “You are incredibly sad. It’s fricking Carnegie Hall! And looks who’s on the bill! Cyndi Lauper! And everybody there will be vaccinated and masked.”

There was just one sticking point: I didn’t know if I was going to have a guest come stay on Friday night. I texted her—my sister-in-law, Angela. She wrote back that she couldn’t come Friday night because she was going to the same concert. So Lisa, Angela and I met for dinner in an also vaccinated-up-the-wazoo bistro, and then we danced and clapped our way through a series of performances that I think I’ll never forget.

Some of the musicians I’d never heard of. Lauper was just one guest performer during a concert that featured, front-and-center, the African songbird Angélique Kidjo. Another luminary was the Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, whose sound caught at my ear and wouldn’t let go. There was something infinite about his sound, like it should have always been with me. Andra Day, Philip Glass, Josh Groban, and Earthgang’s Olu Fann pushed me over the edge into bliss.

My sudden realization that I had this spontaneity defect was driven home by a column I recently edited for a magazine called The Financial Manager. The author, leadership consultant Josef Martens, told a story about himself. He was presented with the opportunity to buy a huge sailboat, a 78-foot ketch. He had never thought he could afford such a large and magnificent boat, but it turns out he could. And so, his self-imposed limitations fell away as he sought to buy something he had only dreamed of.

There’s no wonder that fantasies about people that zoom in and out of different time periods, or are caught between alternative realities, are so popular. I’ve always loved those related fantasy subgenres. The number of stories that fall in those categories is vast, among them: SLIDING DOORS, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, BACK TO THE FUTURE.

In a sense, we can make a similar type of premise become real in our heads—by considering a path that might seem too outlandish at first, and then imagining what would happen if we did the unexpected.

In that crowd at Carnegie Hall, there was a thrill in the air of people exclaiming to themselves and each other: “Look at us! All together!” It was like we were Rip van Winkles, awoken out of a long sleep.

When will you say, “Look at me!” in your own unexpected way? As Josef advised in his column, it pays to examine our nearly-set-in-stone habits in order to find the most exceptional versions of ourselves.

Now, if I can only remember to do that.

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