Saturday, January 09, 2010

Making life unexpected

V is at a friend's house tonight for a birthday party/sleepover. Watching her do her thing is interesting in so many ways. I think she's right at the age where the change-over begins, from longing for the status quo to yearning for the new and unexpected.

For the most part, children hunger for ritual and routine. There are certain things that must be done at birthdays, on Fridays, before bed, etc. My best guess is that routine -- the same old thing -- gives a deeply-anchored sense of safety and permanency to a child, for whom just about everything else in life is new and unfamiliar. V was no exception to this rule; when she was little, she never wanted us to move, and when she came to visit us during the summers her room had to be just so. The route to bed had familiar markers -- bath, story, prayers, and usually a half-hour chat after lights-out -- that made her feel secure, because she knew what to expect. She so desired routine that one year when we took her on a surprise trip to Disneyland, she reacted with fear and anxiety at the airport before she had the chance to let the reality of it sink in. Even so, she's told me repeatedly that if we ever go to Disneyland again, she wants to be informed of that fact well in advance.

I think it's in the early teen years that this situation begins to flip. Teenagers (and adults, for that matter) still need a certain amount of routine, but at some point their sense of security morphs into a feeling of boredom. Much of their daily ritual has become so well expected that they want a certain amount of relief from it. They begin to seek out new experiences simply for the sake of doing something different. They want that sense of possibility, the idea that anything might happen, which is so prevalent in childhood.

A great deal of the adult world is mired in routine. Much of it doesn't have to be so; I think it's easy to get into a rut where you don't think to expend your creative energies on making daily life different in some way. Salvador Dali is supposed to have expressed regret that when he ordered dinner in a nice restaurant, no waiter ever brought him a flaming phone book instead. The concept holds true for most teens and adults, I think; though we might not specifically yearn for a nice Yellow Pages Flambé to top off the evening, there's something in most people that responds with delight when something out of the ordinary happens -- even something as prosaic as being told that the person ahead of you just paid your toll. Or maybe Surprise Mango Lassi, which Captain Midnight and I did a few times when we were first married (this simply involved secretly buying a round of mango lassi for a random table of strangers in an Indian restaurant).

Which brings us to: music! I've been listening to the album Ocean Eyes by Owl City today. This style of poppy electronica may be too candy-sweet to appeal to everyone's tastes, but I enjoy it; something about Adam Young reminds me of a modern American version of Howard Jones (yes, complete with overprocessed vocals). One of the things I've been enjoying about his compositions is the unexpected quality of the lyrics. So much of pop music is given over to the romantic ballad that it's odd, even wonderful, to come across songs about dental anxiety, or anthropomorphized creatures hailing the city of Seattle, or an insomnia-fueled account of being taught how to dance by a huge swarm of fireflies. There's no reason why we shouldn't have more pop music lyrics like this; it's just rare for someone to look up out of the rut, or never to have fallen into it in the first place.

So, do you do anything to make life a little more unusual, surreal, or otherwise unexpected for others? Or do you have a story of being surprised by an unexpected break in routine? Do tell.


LDahl said...

As usual, your post has me deep in thought. :)
My family and I have what is called (tongue in cheek) "The Dahl Curse".
Which is, always expect the unexpected. We don't even plan where we are going to end up on holidays because, what's the point... something will happen at the last minute and off you go doing something else somewhere else(this year being no exception)
Not a lifestyle I would recommend for everyone, but as we seem to be stuck with the curse(blessing) bring on the flaming phone book... put out fire... use book to order take out Chinese, leave restaurant, pick up order on way home and put on a Netflix... heheh!

Soozcat said...

As curses go, that's not a bad one. (Inconvenient if you're the kind who yearns to stick to a schedule, but interesting!)