When Trickster Gratitude Sneaks In

Martyr says: ‘Life is pain.’ Trickster says: ‘Life is interesting.’

Elizabeth gilbert, big magic: creative living beyond fear

I used to have this wine glass that was, ahem, really more the size of two wine glasses.  It sat flat on the table, no stem.  It’s side was etched in tall skinny lettering, “THIS IS MY HAPPY PLACE.”  Subtle, huh? Early in my teaching career, I would come home from school, pour myself a glass of wine in that glass, flop down on the couch, and say a prayer of thanks that I was NOT at school anymore. 

It’s funny how recently I’ve stuck a little sticker on my paper-clip holder at school that says the same thing, “This is my happy place.”

I’m not sure when my happy place started to be school too.

In my becoming a teacher (I think I will be becoming one forever), I’ve always been reading along the way. I love books about just about anything, but my favorite topic is creativity. In her book on the subject, Big Magic, Liz Gilbert identifies a shift from martyr energy to trickster energy.  The martyr sits down at the keyboard to slog out her words, dutifully, and dreadfully, HA-TING every minute of it.  The trickster, does just what her name implies, fooling herself into doing the task at hand, and maybe even into enjoying it

Instead of tight-fisting inspiration, trickster dances a bit with hands open, ready to catch it.  She still shows up dependably, still puts in her hours, but with a different outlook.  She notices what works for her.  If writing comes easy at 5 a.m., that’s when she writes.  If she can avoid evening writing sessions, she does so as a gift to herself.

But trickster energy isn’t just for writers. It’s for teachers and moms and anybody who just plain needs a break from all this martyrdom.

Sound crazy?  Here’s a classroom example . . .

Toward the end of class once, I was telling a group of students a story–as I tend to do.  This normally rowdy class of 26–that I could NEVER get to pay attention–was leaning in and listening.

I was reading Big Magic at the time, so my trickster self noticed, and the next day when I was struggling to get their attention, annoyingly waiting with my hand up yet again–I’d tried the clapping thing, the lights out thing, the choral response thing–instead, I pulled my hand down and said, “I’ve got a story to tell you guys,” and I began telling a story before they were all even listening. 

And as my mouth told the story, my mind started smiling at these students, totally tricked into listening–you could hear a pin drop–so when the tale wove back to the day’s plan, they heard it without being asked or classroom-managed into complying with their attention.  While this might not sound like a big deal, for me as a teacher at that point in my career, this was alchemy.

For the trying can wear us plain out. Teaching, mom-ing, just Tuesday-ing can be exhausting. And trickster energy just might bring us back to life.

It’s the trickster who says, “Do you want to wear the blue coat or the orange coat?” knowing full well her son doesn’t want to wear a coat.

She’s the one who decides that supper can be simple and made from things we already have!

She’s the one who knows it’s possible to do a teacher happy dance without moving a muscle, smiling at how this daunting calling can also sometimes feel light, like a puzzle piece that slides into place. . . a happy place.

Gratitude Dare

  • Eat that frog! Do the thing you’ve been putting off. . . maybe with a little trickster energy. Marge Piercy says, “the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies.” Sit back having accomplished something in a new way, and say thanks.

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