On my refrigerator is a magazine cutout no bigger than a caterpillar reading: Feed your inner leprechaun. It was originally an advertisement for a chain restaurant, but I don’t think of onion rings and burgers when I see it. It’s been there for years, and I smile each time I open my door for a swig of soymilk, handful of blueberries or midnight nibble. This is a classic example of an inside joke—though it’s become less hilarity and more sincerity. Visiting friends are curious when they see it. “What’s that mean?” they ask, only to have my husband and I titter like teenagers, “Oh, nooothing.” Do you have mementos like this? Items that mean absolutely nothing to anybody else but you?
Just today, I was feeling slightly out of sorts. Moody. Tired. Whiney. The writing eking out like maple syrup through frozen bark. After flittering away hours on Twitter, I felt hollow by the lack of collective written evidence. No document to scroll up and down and think, “Words on the page. Good day.” Nothing. Just an empty vacuum of @xxxx tweets. I felt… depressed. Quick fix: A trip to the golden-lit fridge. Something sweet. Something salty. Something gooey. Something spicy. Anything to satiate the hunger left empty on the page. So I ate, refrigerator door wide open the entire time, but at the end of my mass consumption all I felt was coming heartburn.
I closed the door, disappointed that my dopamine levels weren’t spiked by the Kung Pao chicken-chocolate pudding combo, and there it was: Feed your inner leprechaun. I smiled, took a deep breath. “Feed your inner leprechaun,” I read aloud. “I am a leprechaun,” I said in my husband’s affected voice then laughed. Gatsby cocked a floppy ear as if to say, Whatcha laughin’ at? I patted his head, “It’s—oh, nooothing, buddy,” and returned to my writing, spirit lifted with each typed word, inner leprechaun frolicking about.
The Oh Nooothing Story (I’ll let you in on it)
Three years ago, after a particularly long, hard day in both our work worlds, my husband and I met up on the den couch, mindless TV flickering across the screen, feet tangled beneath a blanket. We exchanged exhausted, frustrated looks that said, Warning: Cranky Spouse. Don’t even ask because if you do, I may bite your head off.
We’d just moved to El Paso and were still getting used to things: owning our own house, paying enormous bills, my telecommuting with editors back East, my husband working 48-hour shifts; we were homesick for Virginia, aching for our family and friends and anxious over our individual career futures. Here, we only had each other to high-five and encourage, to vent and console, to take out a hard day on. So there was an air of tension that night. We were two dried up twigs under the blazing desert sun who knew if either one pulled out a magnifying glass, it was all she wrote.
I flipped muted channels. Beside me, my husband rubbed his dark eyes and scratched his five o’clock shadow. Then, out of the blue, he sighed, “I’m a leprechaun.”
My brain was so fried that I stared at the TV and caught myself nodding in passive agreement. Silent minutes ticked by as I rolled his words over and over like Chinese medicine balls. Then my brain and mouth hitched up. I turned, “A leprechaun?”
He shook his head. “Yeah, I’m sorry, I have no idea where that came from.”
“A leprechaun?” I repeated and at the word, the day seemed to slip off like butter on flapjacks. “A leprechaun?”
“I—I have no idea…” He gave a quick snort. The beginning of the giggles, which I quickly caught and soon we were rolling, feeding off each other’s laughter, unable to stop, hysterical to tears. We stayed that way for nearly thirty minutes. Saying it over and over to each other, “I’m a leprechaun.” And in some strange, magical way, it made perfect sense; as though it had transcended its own meaning and become more.
William Butler Yeats was obsessed with fairies, leprechauns, trolls and gnomes—magical beings of Irish lore. According to him, “The name Leprechaun is from the Irish leith brog–i.e., the One-shoemaker, since he is generally seen working at a single shoe.” A tradesman. A working fellow. I like him instantly.
In Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, Yeats categorized leprechauns as one of the solitary fairies. A group of mythical beings that are alone a majority of the time unlike their sociable spirit counterparts the Trooping Fairies. “They dress with all unfairy homeliness,” described Yeats, “and are, indeed, most sluttish, slouching, jeering, mischievous phantoms. They are the great practical jokers among the good people.”
Had there been a candid camera on us that night, “slouching, jeering” would have certainly been apropos. (I’m don’t think “sluttish” applies, however.) We needed a good joke, a laugh, a moment of shenanigans to shake us from our gloom and doom. We needed a little leprechaun.
The lore we are most familiar with is that of the leprechaun’s pot of gold derived from his shoemaking entrepreneurialism. This booty is said to be hidden deep in the countryside and at the end of a whimsical rainbow. Should you catch the leprechaun, he must grant you three wishes in exchange for his freedom and his gold.
But what if you kept your leprechaun? What if this lonesome creature became your friend and willingly took up residence in your keep, sharing jokes and laughter and shining rainbows on your most cloudy days. Wouldn’t that be worth more than gold? Worth more than momentary wish fulfillment?
A couple weeks after that night on the couch, I found the advertisement in a magazine, cut it out, and posted it on our refrigerator as a joke. When my husband got home, we laughed ourselves to tears again. I figured that’d be the end of it but no, three years later it’s still there.
For me, feeding my inner leprechaun means following that distant rainbow, finding the pot of gold, loving and living as best as I know how and not being afraid to laugh so hard I fall off the couch with someone who sees the magic too. It’s a reminder of the transformative power of the imagination.
Yours truly, Sarah
Footnote: I fully recognize that the leprechaun has also been depicted as a beastly, evil, avaricious sprite that tricks and befuddles mankind. (We all remember Jennifer Anniston movie start in 1993’s Leprechaun the horror movie.) But like any cultural mythology, like any story, the reader is free to interpret however she sees fit. Besides, I like a little innocent mischievousness. I don’t know one saint who can tell a good joke.