What’s your whimsy?

“All you need to do is find and follow your whimsy.”

My uncle wrote these words to me in July–continuation of a conversation about work and retirement and possibility that we’d begun the previous Thanksgiving–and they have been rattling around in my head ever since.

The notion astonished me, really, coming from him. His field was computer science. He’s a retired Naval officer, who was a private contractor for the government for years. “Whimsical” is not a word I would ever ascribe to him, nor is whimsy something I would have thought he much valued.

What does that even mean, I have wondered, to follow your whimsy?

According to Webster, a whim is “a capricious or eccentric and often sudden idea or turn of the mind.” To be whimsical is to be “lightly fanciful,” and “whimsy” is “a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art.”

Defining by example is a great way to build conceptual understanding, and in the months since he wrote, I’ve been on the lookout for others who, perhaps, have followed or are following their whimsy. It’s amazing what you notice when you start to look for something.

The first examples I collected are those whose connection to whimsy is obvious. I found Jessica Coffee of Jessica Cloe Miniatures, who quit her job as an art director to make miniature house furnishings.

Via jessicacloe.com

Jessica took up renovating a dollhouse sometime in 2019, and now she and her husband make really tiny homes that look just like stylish full-sized ones. What could be more whimsical than doll houses?

There’s Brannon Addison of Happy Cactus Designs. I think I once pinned something of hers on Pinterest, and then when I decided to jump into Instagram last summer I started following her, and just this week I saw this:

Via happycactusdesigns

She reminded me of Portland fiber-artist Alicia Paulson, whose whimsy-following also began in the wake of injury. She now makes and sells creations such as this:

Via aliciapaulson.com

The more I looked for whimsy, the more I found it. A recent article in My Modern Met highlighted many. Here are two of my favorites:

Baker Hannah P. of Blondie + Rye is also a high school history teacher. See gorgeous photos of her fantastic work here.
Nathalie Lété‘s house is full of whimsy; you can see more here.

The works above are whimsical in obvious ways, but as I’ve continued to look and think I’ve realized that whimsy is an idea that can extend beyond the cute and decorative and be an entry to other kinds of things.

Also on Instagram, the poet and essayist Kim Stafford regularly shares his daily writing practice–which is really a daily noticing practice. His feed is full of photos of ordinary things, scratchy first drafts, small poems and large wonderings:

Via kimstaffordpoetry on Instagram

Is Kim a follower of whimsy? I would argue that he is; remember, a whim is an “often sudden idea or turn of the mind” and to be fanciful is to be marked by “unrestrained imagination.” I might argue that all poets, no matter how serious their subject, are fanciful followers of whimsy, ideas and feelings they trail along behind or with, to see where they might lead.

This past week, Jena Schwartz (a serious guide for those seeking their whimsy through words) asked in a Facebook post:

My first thought was: Permission to leave my career. My second was: Permission to find and follow my whimsy. My third was: That’s a potentially problematic progression of thought.

I understand that whimsy and work are not necessarily intertwined. Although some of those I’ve shared in this post followed whimsy into work-for-pay, not all have. We don’t have to leave our careers to find our whimsy, and our whimsies do not have to become careers. In fact, I think there’s probably no better way to kill whimsy than to yoke it to questions of livelihood or talent, particularly when we are getting our first glimpses of it.

Still, there is a line between my two thoughts that’s worth following. As I’ve thought about whimsy and my uncle, I’ve realized that my understanding of him–and of whimsy–has previously been shallow. Until recently his life seemed, to me, to be testament to whatever is the opposite of whimsy–because I was paying attention to the what of his work, rather than the how and why. Reflecting on our conversation, I can see that although my uncle has spent his life in serious work, what’s essential about him is that he’s a person who gets excited about ideas and possibilities. He loves a problem that needs solving or a need that needs meeting. “Fanciful” and “fancy” are words about a stance or state of mind more than anything else, and that means there is opportunity for whimsy in everything, doesn’t it?

Working on this post, I have wondered if it might feel out-of-touch with reality or oblivious to the struggles so many are living with right now. In this darkest week of this very dark year, it’s easy to see how can musings about whimsy and the following of it might feel irrelevant, perhaps insulting, even. But as I’ve been writing, I’ve been wondering:

What might it mean to find and follow whimsy in the context of our biggest challenges? What if each of us could spend our life’s energy following notions that engage our hearts and minds? What would that do for our world?

I once shared with one of my children my hope that they would find a way to “embrace your inner nerd.” We all have one, that part of us that gets excited about possibility and creation and questions. I think, as the coming week finds us turning to days of more light, I’d like to make an argument for following whimsy, for listening to the voice that calls us to those things that absorb us–whatever they are, and to suggest that doing so might be a path to solutions, salvations, and comforts we all need, even if the only one who benefits from it is ourselves. (How many problems in this world come from the pain of those who cannot do that?)

I’m so thankful for those of you who follow along as I pursue all kinds of whimsy through this blog. I’m a person who likes company, and I appreciate yours greatly. If I could give all of you any gift in this season of giving, it might be that we could all discover ways to find and follow our whimsy.

Following some whimsy on my birthday last week.

15 thoughts on “What’s your whimsy?

  1. Tom says:

    Love it! Not sure anyone would ever think of anything I do as whimsical, but… when I cook, grill, smoke, etc., I enjoy the being free and creative. My buddy Lionel and I share this passion. It is relaxing and inspiring, and greater to share the results (most of the time).
    I found some of the same energy while starting our first real attempt at growing a full vegetable garden. Intrigue of watching how things grow, chasing bugs down while being organic and environmentally conscious, now that was whimsical…

    • Rita says:

      Can’t wait until I can visit again and have you cook for me 🙂 You are really good at that, and I want to come learn from you how you created a garden. I’ve dabbled in that, but have much to learn. Maybe this summer we can do that.

  2. Hillary says:

    Happy Belated Birthday!! Thank you for this post. I love
    readings the twists of your thinking and your heart over many years. It seems like you are circling back around to some of the creative endeavors that you and Cane were doing before – but from the vantage point of where you are in life right now.
    I just rewatched “my octopus teacher” with my son and was stuck again by how following his instinct (whimsy) and not his brain, he transformed, and healed that place inside him that had become so broken. In that process it also led him back to the creative endeavors he loved, and he ended up in a new place.
    Looks like retirement is in your nearish future. I look forward to seeing where your whimsy leads you. I trust your instincts are wise.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Hillary! How did I miss My Octopus Teacher? Just watched the trailer, and now I must watch this. I don’t really know about retirement yet; it’s a question I’m trying to answer. If money were no object, I would in a heartbeat. I just feel ready for different things. We shall see…

  3. Robin Ruff Leja says:

    I believe that I have included a great deal of whimsy in my life. I can look around the room and see a large birdcage filled with colorful yarn, because I just had to add this to my holiday decor. Out the back door, where I usually see pot of colorful flowers during garden season, I decided that I needed a large colorful rock sitting there through the winter to give a spot of color. So I gathered one of my large beach rocks and covered it in multicolor dots. It makes me smile. There are more of these silly touches in my house, usually done in a whirlwind of inspiration while my husband looks askance. So yes, I know about whimsy!

    • Rita says:

      A person I follow that I almost included in this post is theretrobeehive–I think you two might be kindred spirits. I don’t know if retro is your thing, but she loves color and I definitely feel a strong sense of whimsy there.

  4. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    I love this so much. And it’s timely considering I am working on a chapter in my book about clearing thoughts in your head. One way is “creating”. I feel like it isn’t irrelevant at all. We need these kinds of things in our lives now more than ever. Even if only for a few minutes a day. I love the word “whimsy”. We need to use that more often.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…Blogs That Are Getting Me Through the PandemicMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I can’t wait to read this book of yours. 🙂 Creating is something I crave. I’m happiest in my (day job) work when I’m getting to create something. I think we all need some of that, at least.

  5. Kate says:

    Ooooh!!! Such beautiful eye candy. This seems timely as I was just talking about how I want more play in 2021 (I’m thinking that may be my word of the year). The ideas of whimsy/play conjure the same feelings.

    • Rita says:

      High praise from the Queen of Eye Candy! 🙂 I love looking at beautiful things. I wish my own creations were more that way, but I know the only path to that is to create more. Maybe “create” should be my word of the year? How about a phrase: creative play?

      Wishing you a playful Christmas. So thankful for all the gifts you share with all of us.

  6. Marian says:

    I agree with what Kari said about creating—it’s not irrelevant and we actually do need moments of creativity during difficult times. I grew up in a highly dysfunctional home, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve connected my prolific cross-stitching (yep, sigh) with that trauma. X after X after X after X . . . I honestly believe that all that stitching kept me floating above and beyond some really awful stuff. That being said, I think that when creativity or whimsy equates to self soothing, as it did in my case, there’s a risk it can be done in lieu of real help, and then it can almost become a crutch or an addiction—one that can delay actual problem solving. I also think it can sometimes lead to wider societal problems. For a few months now I’ve had the phrase “lead, follow, or get out of the way” running through my head, and I think this relates to what you’ve said about wondering if this post is “out-of-touch with reality or oblivious to the struggles so many are living with right now.” I have, unfortunately, seen firsthand how damaging it can be when people who are completely immersed in their own comforts (or erroneous beliefs about reality) attempt to lead or refuse to get out of the way. But of course there’s got to be a balance. I don’t think we need to—or even can—be fully engaged with reality all the time; that’s simply not healthy. (This is me saying all the right words while failing to follow my own advice.)

    Lastly: “I’d like to make an argument for following whimsy, for listening to the voice that calls us to those things that absorb us . . . ” This sentence really hit home for me, Rita. I think I know precisely what absorbs me, but soul-crushing fear is keeping me stuck and unable to act.

    I’m so thankful for you and your writings, Rita. Wishing you all the best this holiday season.
    xo Marian

    • Rita says:

      You’re touching on something I’ve long felt to be true–that no part of us is “good” or “bad,” but every part of us has the potential to be either. I have a tendency toward perfectionism, which sometimes leads me to make really nice things, but left unchecked it can keep me from making anything at all. (Or making something and then tossing it in the garbage.) My worst faults are also my best qualities, depending on the day and situation.

      I am sorry that fear is keeping you from the thing that absorbs you. My challenge is that so many things are absorbing, and I can’t give any of them the time I’d like or figure out how to prioritize what time I have (and so I often don’t do any of them). May we both make some progress in this during the coming year.

      I am thankful for you and your writing, too. (You do write, you know–here and on other blogs. It all counts.) I wish you peace as we make our way through this Covid Christmas.

  7. TD says:

    Happy Holidays, Rita. “What is my whimsy?”
    Well, my whimsy certainly goes through phases as my life has been so ever changing! Currently, I would say I am not searching for my whimsy. I’m just in survival mode and doing everything I can to avoid COVID.

    I clicked all your links and it was moments of fun to see what other people are doing. And I could imagine you sitting at your table with Cane playing like two child hearted kids! That gave me a smile. 😊

    As far as leaving your current job that I think you may be eligible for teacher’s retirement pension, it seems to me that it would possibly be healthier for you physically, mentally and emotionally rather than trying to continue in a place for most of your waking hours where you already realize is unhealthy and that is no longer working for you. I have been in “that place” in my life a few times and leaving that job, workload and/or environment was always the best result for me. I value myself over any job. But that’s me!

    It truly is a big decision and very individually personal as no one knows what may happen in our future lives, or even the next day. There’s that anxiety for a lot of people, at least that is what I have heard from other people.

    Our waking hours are precious and our quality of sleep is extremely important for wellness. I’ll be thinking of you…

    • Rita says:

      Happy Holidays to you, too, TD! I hope that you have a peaceful one. I am imagining you snug in your home with your beloved dog, listening to music, doing something that feeds you.

      I appreciate your thoughts on work and retirement. I am eligible quite soon, but it’s a complicated question. I’ve also been in unhealthy places before, and I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been engaged in figuring out options for a while now. Covid has added all new wrinkles, in more ways than one. I’m getting there. 🙂

      I’ll be thinking of you, too, these next few days. Wishing you peace and joy for all of yours.

  8. TD says:

    Your imagination of what I’m doing right now is very accurate, Rita!

    I love the phrase “creative play” for your 2021 word!!

    My 2021 word is “eventually”!!

    Peace, Joy, and Wellness to all this holiday season!!!

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