Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes is a deeply rooted part of our childhood. Richly realized and poignantly written, Watterson’s wistful comic strip always had something to offer: It entertained me on long car rides, expanded my vocabulary (transmogrify, duplicate, intrepid — as in the intrepid Spaceman Spiff), and provided me with comebacks that no one in second grade,including me, understood (“Sinister fiend!”). And unlike other artifacts from my childhood (like my retainers or my misplaced obsession with Lance Bass … boy was I wrong on that one), Calvin and Hobbes has stayed with me through the years, and imparted upon me 10 invaluable life lessons:
1. Make Your Own Rules
Life often doesn’t make sense. Assholes get promoted, the wrong people are pretty, that car never inches far enough into the intersection when making a left, and there’s always that one idiot who hears your hilarious joke and just says it louder. I HATE that guy. But I digress. Life often doesn’t make sense. So whenever life throws you a spitball, just remember Calvinball. Yes, Calvinball, the glorious game with only one rule: You can’t play the same way twice. Much like life, in Calvinball, a lot of things don’t make sense, you have to make up rules as you go, and the score really doesn’t matter (unless you can tell me who’s winning in this Q to 12 scenario). When life is rough – and even when it’s not – remember Calvinball, and don’t be afraid to make up rules and embrace the insanity of it all. It doesn’t always have to make sense, it doesn’t always have to be so serious, and sometimes there’s a sweet relief to that surrender.
Oh man, I wish I could tell my high-school self this one. No one should deny themselves their own weirdness. Calvin is never afraid to boldly declare his weirdness, even when doing so results in his classmates ostracizing him and his teachers and parents disciplining him. To act any other way, to be any other person, is an option that never even enters his head. And in my experience, the people that bring out my weirdness are the ones I hug the hardest.
People debate if Hobbes is actually real — is he Calvin’s conscience? His subconscious? But the only thing we can know for sure is that Hobbes is real to Calvin. And if he’s real to Calvin, then Hobbes is real on some level, even if it’s a level that we can’t access ourselves. Watterson has said that “Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way,” much like how Calvin’s view of the world often differs from everyone else’s. Reality is in the eye of the beholder.
When it comes to dealing with people, everything’s easier when you remember that a person’s entire world is based on their perception of reality. Therefore, their perception is their reality, no matter how objective they try (or don’t try) to be. Whether their perception is that your email was snarky or that a stuffed tiger can come to life, simply acknowledging that their perspective exists can do wonders. You can acknowledge someone’s viewpoint and still disagree with them … and then of course think inside your own reality what an idiot they are for misinterpreting your emails, which are really just concise and don’t contain a million exclamation marks. (Note: The only exception to this “perception is reality” rule is Rihanna, because I will never understand why her reality includes a clause stating that Chris Brown is remotely datable.)
Whether you’re 7 or 27, this is always a good reminder. The boy on the bus who would always wipe his boogers on you was actually struggling to say that he kinda really liked you. He just hadn’t developed the emotional vocabulary and self-awareness to express it. By the time 27 hits, boys have evolved into fully formed adults with an impressive capacity to say what they mean and mean what they say!
No, I’m kidding. Actually not much has changed at all. True, they don’t wipe boogers on you anymore (although it’s possible they’ve just mastered the more subtle art of “The Flick”), but their flirting now consists of hovering their mouse over the “Like” button on your most recent Facebook status before deciding that clicking is way too obvious, or sending confusing texts. Does anyone know what a sad winky face means?
It’s amazing the new appreciation you can bring to these pages once you move out of your parents’ house and start wiping your own ass. While Calvin and Hobbes primarily deals with the adventures of the two title characters, Watterson also offers poignant reflections on parenthood from the perspective of Calvin’s nameless parents. Yes, your parents will always be your parents, and you’ll always be their child, even when you’re no longer a child. But at some point you also realize that your parents are not flawless. They make mistakes, and — spoiler alert! — they made mistakes with you. They’re not infallible, but even through their faults, they’re still teaching you. So now that you’re a little older, give them a break. Maybe give them a call. And as the phone rings and you’re waiting for them to pick up, just remember that you cried nonstop for, like, the first year of your life. That definitely caused some resentment.
Summer is the perfect metaphor for childhood — golden, intangible, fleeting. When I was little, I used to put my hand out the car window and try to “grab air.” I really believed that I could hold onto a piece of air, but inevitably it would always slip through my hands (look, I never said I was smart). Even to this day, I sometimes find myself with my hand out the window, reaching for something but grasping nothing, still believing that I might be able to hold the air, even for just a moment, always forgetting that you can’t hold onto that air any more than you can grab hold of a moment. You just have to be in it, and embrace the only thing you can embrace: that the moment — like summer, like childhood, like the time to do all the nothing you want — will slip right through our hands.
Especially when those problems are things like “My phone is so slow” and “They didn’t have my hummus at the supermarket.”
Easy to say when you live in LA, but seriously. Sunshine is amazing. It’s also amazing how easily we forget that. When my family got digital cable, I didn’t go outside for a year. There were just so many channels. Now that I’m too old, I know better. Plus I have DVR.
It may not always feel like it, and it may not always be easy to believe, but it’s true. There is treasure everywhere and it’s a magical world, so let’s go exploring!