Choose Your Own Archetype: The Fool

Author’s Note: This is my entry to the Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge for April, hosted by LisaBee. April’s theme is The April Fool. This isn’t a story; it’s a personal reflection. I’m in the midst of a major life transition, having retired in January from my full-time job, and I’m finding that most of my creative energy is going into adapting to the rhythms, pace, activities, and choices of this new life. I’m feeling very much a Fool. But the theme draws me in to reflect on my favorite archetype, and maybe to find some strength, as I have during past challenges, in the Fool’s fortune. So have an essay!

Friendly readers, please check the listing of April submissions on LisaBee’s blog after April 30. You’ll find lots of great entries, and you’ll be able to vote for your top three! Happy reading!

I’ve always identified with the fool. As a young child, with two older siblings, who were smarter, stronger, and more able in countless ways, I found myself in Simpleton, the boy who didn’t speak much, especially as he made his way through the world in “The Queen Bee.” This fairy tale showed me that you didn’t need to be the cleverest, fastest, boldest, or know-it-allest to succeed, that sometimes, a good heart, kindness, and a kiss of luck from the universe could see you through, and for me, as a child, this gave me hope that I might grow up all right, after all.

In the Tarot deck, the Fool–his head literally in the clouds, fingers twirling a white rose, white spaniel yapping and dancing at his feet–walks along a precipice, a step before a fall. But his pup will stop him, or the wind will catch him, or the nimbus will form a road to the heavens. It doesn’t matter, for we know he will be all right, saved, somehow, protected.

When I feel safe and protected, I let myself fall into the Fool’s state of bliss, always just a breath away, savoring sounds and scents and sights and changes in temperature and air pressure that lie just outside the normal range of perception, as if heightened sensitivity let me understand a language seldom heard, but always whispered. As a child, I learned I couldn’t always go into those states of being: chores would go undone, instructions would be unheard, accidents would happen, and I’d be punished for being irresponsible. I carried that lesson with me into adulthood, and whenever I do let myself venture into rapture, I try to set an internal reminder to pull me out in time to make supper, pay the bills, or show up on time. It’s like living on the precipice, a foot in each world.

In the Grimm Brothers’ tales, the Fool is always bullied, by siblings or villagers. How could it be otherwise? Those of us who think differently, who live with one foot in another world, are bullied, at home, school, work. It was that way for me. Our brains get shaped by bullying, too. Part of the Fool’s secret is that he carries on, anyway, with sincerity, or at least seeing past the meanness of others. There’s always a task that needs to be done, even if you’re being teased and harassed on the way to doing it.

Usually, in the fairy tales and in real life, the tasks seem impossible: pick up the thousand pearls scattered in the pine needles before sunset; choose the finest carpet in all the world without venturing from your village; post and link to 568 PDFs before 5 p.m.–oh, and you’ll be receiving them at 3:45, by the way.

But something in the Fool’s luck makes these tasks accomplishable. In the stories, the Fool has helpers, the bees, ants, and frogs he showed kindness to along the way. When I was a child, I relied on imaginary friends to give me assistance and resilience to sweep the thousands of pine needles off the walkway before supper, or to wash and wipe dry each window, and these seemingly insurmountable chores became possible. As an adult, I relied on my super power: the focus and attention to detail that comes from an autistic mind.

Accomplishing impossible tasks never won the Fool his sibling’s or the villagers’ favor, but they did put him in good stead with the king. At the office, I didn’t finally find friends, acceptance, and inclusion when I met the impossible deadlines–but I did earn good performance reviews and administrators’ respect. It brought job security, even if it didn’t help me fit in.

I guess what I love most about the Fool is that he’ll never fit in–even when he succeeds, he’s just as weird as he was at the beginning, still ridiculed, excluded, made fun of. But he keeps on–he’s got his helpers and their enduring gratitude. He’s got the king’s respect. He’s earned rewards. His strange contributions are sometimes what is needed.

When I think that these stories have been handed down, generation after generation, for over five hundred years, I see that we have a place–we neurodivergent folk–and we may never fit in, we may face impossible tasks in our everyday lives, and we also have the resilience and individual strengths and abilities to be able to tackle some of the challenges we face. And we can do so in our own Fool’s way.

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