The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Six: Being a Goofball

I have never once been cool. Being “cool” means, among other things, having a certain sort of unapproachable distance, of holding yourself at a remove, and of projecting an aura of mystery and even dignity — even when (hell, particularly when) you’re not trying to do it. I know people who are cool; indeed, I somehow managed to get married to one, since my wife projects a force field of cool that turns people into babbling idiots around her. She’s not making an effort to be cool, mind you; it just comes naturally. I suspect one may not be able to teach it. It’s fun to watch what it does to other people. But it’s not me.

When I say I’m not cool, you must believe me when I stress I say this not out of personal disparagement. I don’t consider being not cool the same as being uncool. It’s more of a reflection of my own personality in regards to the checklist of what it takes to be cool. As examples, anyone who has seen me live and in the flesh knows I don’t do “aloof” well, and while it’s certainly true my personality projects many things, “mystery” and “dignity” are not two of the words which spring immediately to mind.

So what am I? Well, and with full awareness of McKean’s Inversion here, what I am, fundamentally, is a bit of a goofball. What that means is that both personally and publicly I like to do silly things that are not particularly the things one would do if one is interested in projecting a demeanor of calm and quiet dignity, and I do them without a huge amount of self-consciousness; I just do them as part of my everyday life. For example, when I thought this morning about writing on being thankful for being a goofball, I wondered what picture I could use to symbolize that. Then I looked down and saw my toes, which yesterday I had inked smiley faces onto because it seemed to me I should have happy feet. And I thought, ah, yes, that will do just fine.

Being a goofball isn’t the same as being attention-seeking, although of all the people in the world, I should be the last one to deny attention-seeking tendencies. Certainly many of the goofball things I have done have gotten a fair share of traction out there. But even when you’re not around, I’m doing these things. Not every silly thing I do, think or say makes it out into the world. Not even a majority, in fact. You did not previously know, for example, of the theme songs I have composed for my pets, which I often sing when they enter the room. Because, obviously, pets need theme songs.

Yes, yes, you say. You’re a goofball, Scalzi. This is not precisely a surprise. But why are you thankful for it? Well, aside from that it simply makes me happy to be a goofball, and in one’s life one should be what one actually is, there’s also the fact that, professionally speaking, being a goofball has really worked out for me. I submit to you that no one but a goofball would have written a novel which begins with someone farting someone else to death. Or a story that imagines Hitler killed by suffocation in gelatin. Or a story where yogurt takes over the world. Now, it’s true that being a goofball alone would not have sufficed to make those stories work; there’s some skill involved there. But being a goofball means that I didn’t say to myself “no, that’s just stupid,” when I first thought of those ideas. You know what? Maybe they are stupid. But it doesn’t mean there’s not good stories in there somewhere.

But mostly I’m glad because it makes my life fun. Walking around with toenails that have happy faces on them serves me no particular benefit other than that it amuses me to know there are happy faces on my toes. But that’s not insignificant. I can be a moody bastard; I do think it’s part of the territory of being a creative person. If you’re going to give yourself permission to be a moody bastard, however, I think you should also give yourself permission to swing in the other direction, and connect with joy — or if not joy, then simple amusement for amusement’s sake. The nice thing about inherently being a goofball is that I’m so used to doing goofy things that I don’t have to spend a lot of time giving myself permission to do them. The goofy stuff just gets done.

Being a goofball makes me happy; it’s also been good for my career, and that makes me happy too. I will never be cool, but then as a middle-aged science fiction author who plays the ukulele, well. Let’s just say I came to terms with that a while back. I will survive, and I’ll have fun. And I’ll be thankful that being a goofball has gotten me this far. I like where it’s taken me.

37 thoughts on “The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Six: Being a Goofball

  1. Being a goofball is awesome. I have occasionally tried to restrain my goofiness, but then I think to myself “WHY?!??!?!” and go back to conversations with animals, random acts of public filking, and water bottle fencing in the park. It does, as you say, help to make up for the creative moodiness.

    *waves to her friend the previous commenter*

    *sends this post to her other friends as another example of Why John Scalzi is Awesome*

  2. I was already a babbling fool BEFORE you introduced me to your wife (at, I think, Loscon). The best way to discover that one is not cool, I’ve found, notwithstanding high school, is to become a parent. Especially of a teenager. It is startling how uncool I was to the perspective of my son when he was full-time at university aged 13 through 17 (and thank you for your gracious conversation with him, yet another of your ardent fans). He is now an attorney, Adjunct Professor, and Shotokan Brown belt, with extra sword-fighting, in a rock band (I guess it broke up already), and published scientist and poet and science fiction author. Way cool for a 22-year-old. For example, his insisting that I not set foot in the parties at which I dropped him off my car (he was too young to legally drive). Or even being asked to drop him off a block from the party, so his cool friends would not even see me through the windshield. You and I got VERY lucky, marrying women smarter, cooler, and better looking than we are. No offense intended. Good thing is: coolness is recessive; smart and nice is dominant. We breed true.

  3. Love the happy feet! You are now a model for those of us who are boring weird rather than goofy. Joy is a great addition to life. Thanks.

  4. Showed this picture to my wife. She noted that your feet are very nearly as oddly shaped as mine and then sighed and admitted that I am apparently not alone in putting faces on my feet. Last time it was comedy tragedy smiley/frownies on the balls of the feet. Goofballs of the world present!

  5. I don’t have theme songs for my pets, but we have cartoon-style voices for each of the 4 dogs. Our Aussie mix Sarah is very bright, and if we use one of the other dogs’ cartoon voices to make a comment, Sarah will look over at that dog to see what occasioned the comment.

    Oh, and Elizabeth, you are not the only one who randomly bursts into song in public. My daughters and I are always getting weird looks for this. Middle daughter says she was grown before she realized that not everyone’s family does that.

  6. I’m the opposite — I married a goofball. I’m more aloof (although likely in a far more nerdy sort of way than your wife is). Sometimes it’s hard for us to appreciate our goofball counterparts, but we do, deep down. :) My particular goofball has been depressed for a few years now, so I miss his goofy ways.

  7. As Bill Watterson once said, (through the mouth of that wise old stuffed tiger Hobbes): “What fun is it being ‘cool’ if you can’t wear a sombrero?”

    I have that cartoon printed out and taped up over the computer.

  8. Being a goofball is good. People often use the word “crazy” when they mean “wacky,” “zany,” or “uninhibited.” If we replace “crazy people” with “goofballs” in that conversation a few weeks ago about crazy people making the most interesting bloggers, then I think we’re on to something.

  9. My dog’s theme song is at a frequency that dogs, bids, and dolphins can hear, but people can’t.
    Since she’s an old dog, with fading eyesight, I have not typed up the lyrics.

    The old dog barks backward without getting up/
    I can remember when he was a pup
    [Robert Frost, “The Span of Life”, 1936].

  10. My philosophy of life: The only way to stay sane in this world is to be absolutely crazy.

    Goofballs rule!

  11. Dude, I bet if you recorded them and put them online, you’d see mad crazy traffic to your site. Probably bacon cat magnitude. Especially if you used the ukelele. Maybe go on tour! No matter how successful someone is in whatever field they’re already in, they always want to be a rock star.

  12. “No matter how successful someone is in whatever field they’re already in, they always want to be a rock star.” — so THAT’S why Albert Einstein had the goofy hair and played the violin…

  13. I just wish my goofballitude would pay off for me like yours has paid off for you. Mine tends to endanger my employments and relationships. I’m very jealous of you John.

  14. I married a man just like my father. To put that in context, let me say that my MIL told my husband “that he was left by gypsies”, and my FIL told my husband “the clouds are made of beer”. For years, my father wandered around with the punchline to a joke rattling around in his brain (“if the foo shits, wear it”). But he couldn’t actually remember the joke it belonged to.

    My husband knew the joke.

  15. You know how if you go far enough right or left on the political spectrum that you kind of end up in the same place eventually? Well, I suspect highly that you have gone so far down the goofball side that you are, in fact, approaching cool. Be careful.

  16. I am glad you are a world-class goofball. How else would I ever be able to read wonderful books like The Androids Dream?

  17. I’m willing to bet that being a goofball, in part, got you a gorgeous and awesome woman in your life. So there’s that, too. ;)

    And I can say from experience that having a goofball for a dad is awesome in a lot of ways.

  18. Thank you, John, for this thank-you list. I don’t think of myself as a goofball, just someone who enjoys life too much. I don’t need drugs to be weird, alcohol to dance, or illegal actions to have fun. This tends to drive others around me Nuts with aggrivation(sic), but hey, some people enjoy me being continually happy.
    My friend asked once me to explain why I have escaped so many dangerous events in my life. I told him my theory: I think I entertain God. This seems to explain a lot of things to me.
    Enjoy the day, John, enjoy the night.
    sincerely, Timothy.

  19. @Dave Branson: IIRC, the joke’s about an explorer who goes into the jungle seeking the rare Foo bird. One of the native guides tells him he needs to be careful, because the Foo bird’s feces are deadly to humans and they attack by shitting on your head. If you’re the victim of such an attack, under no circumstances should you attempt to remove the crap yourself, but you should seek the attention of the local shamans who know the proper way to get it off you without danger.

    In other words, “if the Foo shits, wear it.”

  20. I don’t want to hear the theme songs until they have been properly arranged for ukelele. (of course the remixes the internets would provide would also be quite proper too.)

  21. Bravo, Mr. Goofball. Happy Thanksgiving from a fellow goofball. If you can’t be silly, what exactly, is the point of life?

  22. I love goofballing. It means new people I meet are a bit taken aback, but they usually stick around if they’re my kind of weird. New weird friends are exactly what a goofball needs. Here’s to taking life a little less seriously. :)

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