Do you ever feel sapped of your spontaneity? There are always things to do, and some of the more interesting adventures are not as costly as one might think. With a whimsical spirit, the little things in life can turn into random adventures. I thought I’d share five such experiences of mine in the hope that they may inspire others to rekindle their whimsical spirit and partake in the simple wonders of life.
1. Send a Message in a Bottle
This is by far my favorite random adventure. Every part of the process is a natural high, though of course the most gratifying part is if somebody actually responds to your message in a bottle! The idea of a message in a bottle has always intrigued me. Imagine – your thoughts, a piece of you, encapsulated in glass and riding the currents of the ocean, floating and bobbing through the glittering blue-green abyss like a tiny toy boat, until the Universe decides it is time for it to be discovered. You decide what to write, what to express, and the forces of nature will determine who will be the lucky recipient of your message. For a full account of this incredible experience, check out my post Message in a Bottle.
2. Select an Album or Book at Random
Nowadays we have the world’s opinion at our fingertips. We can easily sample music online before buying an album or scroll through book reviews before purchasing a novel. We can check out what’s at the top of the music charts or bestseller lists. We can research, do our due diligence like responsible adults. But sometimes things that have the potential to move us, such as art and love, are worth taking a risk for every once in a while. Whatever happened to the element of surprise? Whatever happened to true discovery? Serendipity? Yes, a song might come on the radio and sweep us off our feet, but still…we are already listening to a certain type of radio station.
What I propose is this: walk into a record store or library, wander about without looking at anything so that you can’t tell what section you’re in, close your eyes, and select an album or book completely at random. You must buy/check out this item. No do-overs (unless perhaps you have already heard/read this particular item). Listen to the album from start to finish. Read the book from beginning to end. Yes, there is the quite probable risk that you will hate it. But there is also the chance that you will stumble upon something wonderful you otherwise might never have discovered.
In my case, after I had closed my eyes to seal my fate, I opened them to come face to face with Cole Porter. His name sounded vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t think of a single song by him. I made my purchase. Later that day, I found myself doing the Charleston with my friends in the living room as Cole Porter crooned “Let’s Misbehave.” We had been transported to the 1920s. My $3.00 find had turned out to be a treasure trove of music from an era I realized I suddenly yearned to explore further.
In all fairness, however, I must confess that I can’t remember a single detail about the library book I selected at random…apparently that find wasn’t quite so memorable.
3. Leave a Mix Tape for a Stranger to Discover
This experience is similar to sending a message in a bottle, except that the message you wish to express is not explicitly stated on paper, but rather, conveyed through a carefully curated collection of songs. This experience is also similar to selecting an album at random, except this time you are not the one doing the selecting…you are paying it forward, offering a stranger the opportunity to discover the music you love so dearly.
You can leave it on a park bench or a table at Starbucks…wherever the whim strikes you. I recommend writing on the CD cover “Free Mix Tape, Please Enjoy” or something to that effect so it is clear that the CD is an offering and not a misplaced possession. Unless you leave some sort of contact information, however, you are unlikely to learn what the stranger actually thinks of your mix tape. I have no idea if mine created a smile, changed a life, or ended up in the garbage. But that’s ok…sometimes you just need to release your creative energy into the Universe…just let go…and trust that whatever happens thereafter is for the best.
4. Play in Your Schoolyard Playground
You may be a grown-up, but so what? Somewhere deep inside each of us is our childhood counterpart (unless you’re a repressed old curmudgeon). When my childhood friend and I jumped the fence to our elementary school one purple-pink summer twilight, we found ourselves on the swing set, trying to see who could swing the highest and still be able to jump off. And as we soared through the air, we were transported to the past…all at once the memories of our youth populated the schoolyard like a congregation of ghosts.
We recounted experiences we had all but forgotten…the silly dramas of childhood that seem so trivial in adulthood. Old friends, rivals, and teachers came back to life before our eyes, so ephemeral, yet taking shape once again like characters in story book. Inside jokes from over a decade ago knocked-knocked at our door (who’s there?) and we laughed and laughed at the hilarity of our youthful nonsense.
As the sun disappeared and the sky turned a subdued violet, my friend and I traveled through the rest of the playground like royalty visiting the different regions of its kingdom. We played hopscotch in the Land of the Asphalt, dangled from the jungle gym and swung across the monkey bars in The Jungle, and made necklaces and crowns from pink flowers in The Meadow. Before we departed, we paid tribute to the painted hand prints we had left on The Wall when we had graduated 6th grade, placing our now giant palms over the smaller ones from our younger selves. Time-warp high-five.
5. Have a Conversation with a (Coherent) Homeless Person
Sometimes the unheard have quite a lot to say. Just like everybody else, the homeless have their own unique stories, but unlike everybody else, these dispossessed men and women rarely have an opportunity to tell their stories to us because they are often ignored or avoided. Even when passersby offer pleasantries and donations, they do not offer a generous ear. That being said, if you choose to engage in a prolonged conversation with a homeless person, make sure he or she is coherent and not dangerous (ideally not in an erratic mental state or under the influence of drugs or alcohol).
One afternoon in Santa Barbara, my friend and I were enjoying cupcakes at an outdoor table of our favorite cupcakery (Crush Cakes…see A Few of My Favorite Things for more of my cherished spots in Santa Barbara), when a homeless man approached us and asked if we had any change to spare for a meal. This man – I will call him Pete – was fairly young, perhaps in his mid- to late-thirties. Although his clothing was dirty and tattered, his curly brown hair disheveled and his glasses askew, he spoke normally, without the wild eyes and scattered thoughts of the homeless who are too far gone due to mental illness or intense substance abuse.
Since my friend and I preferred giving food to the homeless rather than money to prevent the misuse of our funds for drugs or alcohol, we offered to buy Pete a meal at McDonalds. As the three of us walked the block to McDonalds, we received many concerned stares and a couple of questions from strangers asking if we were ok. Apparently it is not normal for two young women to stroll through town side-by-side with a homeless man while making pleasant conversation.
Anyhow, this was Pete’s story: Many years ago, Pete led a conventional life. He had a job, a wife, and a house in the suburbs. He was also a veteran – he had fought in the War in Iraq. But one day, something happened: he caught his wife in bed with his best friend. His wife left him. Pete was devastated; he stopped going in to work. One day, he packed a bag with a few basic necessities and walked out the door. He never looked back.
Pete wandered from city to city, a stray dog, until he ran out of money. By then, he had defaulted on all of his loans and the bank had taken his house and other major possessions. Still, with only what he had in his bag, Pete continued to roam, except now instead of staying in hotels he slept on park benches and sidewalks. He escaped the pain of his old life by focusing on new stimuli; wherever he went, he observed his surroundings and spoke to people. Not just any people; he spent his time getting to know the invisible, the vagrant, the destitute. He spoke to the so-called dregs of society and found them to be more raw and authentic than the so-called crème de la crème. So he became one of them. He became part of a network of the dispossessed who had their own rules, their own code. For the most part they walked their own paths, but they also helped each other out when they could. They had a system of mutual beneficence.
For a long while, Pete was content with this new nomadic lifestyle. He enjoyed letting all the old complications melt away and getting back to the basics. But, of course, homelessness had its dark days as well. There were times when he missed creature comforts, days he slept in the icy rain or felt so hungry it hurt for weeks. There were times when he felt truly invisible, when nearly all of the people walking down the sidewalks looked through him instead of at him, when his words fell upon deaf ears, and he began to question if he actually existed at all. There were also times when his solitude was suddenly intruded by agonizing visions of war and heartbreak.
Eventually, the dark days began to outnumber the peaceful ones, and Pete decided that after several years of being homeless, he was now ready to rejoin the rest of society. But it wasn’t as easy as he thought. Nobody would hire him for even simple jobs because he didn’t have the right clothes or any recent work experience, but he had no money to buy the right clothes, and how was he to obtain recent work experience if nobody would hire him? So he devised a different plan. He hoped to go back to school in the near future with the aid of the new GI Bill and an organization that assisted the homeless.
After Pete finished his McDonald’s meal, my friend and I wished him the best of luck in his future. Pete thanked us, more for listening than for lunch. Then, though he still smelled like a dumpster and looked like he wore its contents, he flashed us a yellow grin and said with a wink, “You know, ladies…I clean up nice.”