Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Being Mr. Bucket

Kristopher Avila/Flickr
The other night, while screwing the cap back on to the toothpaste I had an epiphany.

I am Mr. Bucket.

Poor Mr. Bucket,as you might recall from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," is the sole provider for a family of seven, including two sets of bedridden parents, a wife and one soulful little boy.

"He worked in a toothpaste factory, where he sat all day long at a bench and screwed the little caps on to the tops of the tubes of toothpaste after the tubes had been filled."

OK fine. I'm not the man of the house. I'm not caring for two sets of elderly, invalid parents. I don't have a son. And I don't work in a toothpaste factory (though I might argue that working in the content marketing factory is no less tedious).

Mr. Bucket is representative of so many parents at a certain stage of life. The endless cycle of doing in order to provide. Feeling swallowed by the mountain of toothpaste caps and the mountain of toothpaste tubes (the laundry, the bills, the dishes, the meal preparation, the commute, the email inbox, the what have you). Avoiding eye contact with the futility because confronting that would surely cause a psychotic breakdown. 

And anyway psychotic breakdowns would be ill-advised and inconvenient because there are people you love and who interrupt the assembly line to deliver little boxes that when opened spill over with giggles and joy.*

Mr. Bucket's character isn't really fleshed out too much. Which is probably fine for a children's book. I don't think that as a kid I would've cared to read more about the tedium of Mr. Bucket's days. Not when Willy Wonka was around.

I feel kinship with Mr. Bucket. I'm sure as a child, he had dreams of being a Wonka – maker of edible grass, chocolate rivers and lickable wallpaper. Isn't that what childhood is about? All the possibilities? And even as an adult, I have to believe that Mr. Bucket, like me, still imagines building magical, beautiful things. But then the sun comes up and the day and its distractions slam into me in waves I attempt to swim over or under. The space for making gets pushed further and further back into the day until it's the night and then it's time for sleep.

Elizabeth Gilbert would tell me to just do the creating anyway. That it's not just the thing to do to pass the time, it's the thing to do to fill that part of your soul that's murdered daily by those damn toothpaste caps. 

It's an investment in your spirit and so an investment in humanity as a whole. The act of creation sending ripples of inspiration and empathy and beauty to the collective.

I think it takes tremendous courage to be a Wonka. And I think that our society doesn't value our Wonkas enough. We value them as far as the next cool gadget they design for us, maybe for the diversions they offer us from our own lives as Mr. Bucket. But I think if we really valued the Wonkas in a meaningful way, we'd all be Wonkas. 

Because It would be impossible not to be inspired and absorbed by the power and possibility of creation. More so than the allure of consumption.

Wonka knows.

"We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dreams."

I'm forever amazed by the Wonkas I know. And not just because of the things they create, but because of how they live their lives -- dedicated to things that bring them joy regardless of what the rest of the world might think. 

Like my friend Ellen who wouldn't think twice of wearing the sequined pizza shirt I found at Target (if only it came in a grown-up size) and our mutual friend Sam who has built an entire art empire around her obsession with bulldogs. And Beth and Megan whose dogged pursuit of fiction never ceases to amaze and inspire me. Or my cousin-in-law and her husband who have made art as essential to their lives as pants or water or (in my case) ice cream and who are raising their two little wild-haired girls to do the same. 

She shared this video, which says better what I'm trying to get at here ...

I imagine the Wonkas I know have moments (maybe many moments) when they feel like a Mr. Bucket. And I know I have times when I'm more Wonka, less Mr. Bucket. We are all both characters. Both practical and impractical and all the things in between. It's maybe a matter of whose voice we choose to listen to on any given minute on any given day. 

Ultimately, I think creation is an act of love. So then living creatively is living a life centered around love. And maybe that's why I struggle so much with feeling as if I'm sitting on that bench in the toothpaste factory. It feels more about survival than love. 

Over the summer, I attempted to do one act of art a day -- maybe it was just coloring something silly with the girls or writing a few words that weren't work or dancing in the kitchen. Nothing big or deep or anything. Just little acts of joy. 

I should probably get off my bench, get on that glass elevator and try that again.

*Today's little box of giggles came in a conversation with Jovie about our fish. I was attempting to determine the genders of the five baby fish we now have when Jovie informed me they'd already named them all girl's names.

"It's OK," she said. "If one of them's a boy, we can just change his name to Josh."

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