There is such a great ruckus made about “the arts”, that celebrated pursuit of beauty. And rightly so. In another year I’ll have an associate’s degree in arts, whatever that means. There is music, dancing, poetry, painting, filming, flailing…and a million more. But I have uncovered some others too. Lesser known, but quite useful and not to be overlooked, forms of art.
1. Making Yourself at Home:
I begin with the art of making yourself at home. This one might be taught, but I reckon it’s mostly born.
I was in Pennsylvania once in the height of summer. While passing through, we were staying with some relatives of a friend. I found myself assigned to a room adjacent to the garage and bordering the kitchen. These people didn’t have air conditioning in their home. I guess they thought, like many people of the northwest, that the few weeks of high heat aren’t worth the price of A/C. So they (and any resident guests) just crank up the fans and bear it out. In my room beside the kitchen it was positively sweltering. No amount of turning the pillow over could make me comfortable. What was there to do but find relief? I quietly made my way out to the dark kitchen and peered into the light of the refrigerator. Juice. Now a self-conscious guest might have gone banging around the place, slamming through cabinets until he inevitably found the glasses in the last place left to look. But not me. Me and my associate’s degree, we drink from the jug – leave no trace, wake no hosts. This is a small sample of the art of making yourself at home. If unfamiliar, one might start with helping himself to bathroom toiletries or pantry snacks before tipping back the jug.
2. Looking the Part:
Secondly, there is the art of looking the part. To keep peace inside, you’ll need to align your actions with your beliefs about the world. However, if for an evening it is advantageous to be someone else, it can be done.
I remember playing baseball as a young lad and vastly overestimating opponents. In little league, prior to the game, each team takes a side of the field to warm up. Sometimes I would hold the ball a few seconds and gaze across the field at the giants who were pretending to be ten-year-olds. We’re about to get destroyed. Then, more often than not, they were just too tall for their own good – and clumsy too. We’d beat the tar out of them. But the next week, my senses would fool me again.
We can all recount times when we judged someone to be more than they were, fooled by appearance. I myself had to practice this art for months at a time on stages across the country. I became part of a band (of sorts) one week, and then the next week found myself on tour trying to play songs I’d barely heard. But what can you do? I stood up straight, put the guitar strap over my head, and played like I knew what the heck we were singing. And people bought it, most times. The art of looking the part can be a lifesaver. And while I wouldn’t consider myself good at it, I’m inspired by masters such as Frank Abagale who wrote “Catch Me if You Can” and Jimmy from ”Better Call Saul”. If you’re good at looking the part, you can bluff your way out of just about anything.
3. Laughing at Bad Jokes:
Aren’t there times when the whole truth is just not appropriate? “Your opinion on this matter is literally the dumbest thing I’ve heard all week.” “That was your casserole? What, did you make it on the way over here?” “I would rather spend my eternity eating shards of broken glass than hear this story one more time.”
It takes a certain awareness to be able to discern the nature of social situations. Sometimes it is appropriate to let fly the truth – and sometimes it’s better to just laugh at the bad joke, choke down the casserole, or settle in for another retelling of a tired story. My favorite application of this delicate art comes from a prison chaplain who’s name and state I don’t recall. Prison chaplains are often the unfortunate victims of prison food. This food, I can attest, makes fasting seem more desirable. This guy said he was sometimes asked on the spot how the food was. His response, no matter how good or how awful, was to smile and say, “It’s very tasty.” Which is actually true. Very bad food usually has a very bad taste…and is therefore quite tasty. The art of laughing at bad jokes is a good one to keep in your pocket. And, if I’m honest, one I hope my friends are willingly to use on me too.
This has only been a small sampling of the art forms not taught but ever useful. I don’t have time to tell of making lemonade at restaurants for free, or speaking eloquently about that which you have no idea, or reading at the speed of light, or eating a meal and changing clothes while driving. Jonathon Rodgers says that if we were to simultaneously rid the world of plumbers and writers, we would miss the plumbers much more quickly. And I reckon that if we rid ourselves of both the arts taught in the universities and the unspoken ones, we’d miss that second kind much more.