Author, artist and speaker Jason Kotecki is kind of obsessed with rules. Particularly, the ones that don’t actually exist.
For instance, Rule No. 36: Thou shalt not draw on thy children. Or Rule No. 27: Thou shalt hide thy weirdness.
Kotecki assembles his anti-rules in a fully illustrated book called “Penguins Can’t Fly: + 39 Other Rules That Don’t Exist” (St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.99).
The Madison artist, 39, boldly decorates his three children because, “I think if anyone is a parent who is not taking advantage of the power of parenthood to draw on their children, they’re missing out.”
Kotecki’s book, artwork and speaking engagements are intended to invite people to break rules that may be holding them back for no good reason. His work centers around the concept that people are often afflicted with “adultitis.”
“A friend pointed out that, in medical terms, ‘adultitis’ literally means ‘swelling of the adult,’” Kotecki said. “I kind of loved that. It’s exactly what it is, having too much adult.”
Adultitis is what happens when the real world, with its responsibilities and worries, starts to crowd out our childlike wonder. The stress of adulthood, Kotecki said, “comes from following some rules that we’re told we’re supposed to follow. But those rules are not effective for making our stories as good as they could be.”
Kotecki and his wife, Kim, have been battling adultitis for years through their website escapeadulthood.com. Their comic strip, “Kim & Jason,” was first published online in 2000 and ran for about six years on their site and in a variety of publications. Jason retired the strip in 2007, “but a lot of the lessons I learned and the art that came out of it ended up being in this book,” he said.
“For us it’s always been about the mission. We’ve always wanted to help people be more childlike, have more fun, have more joy in life,” Jason said. But he’s not advocating for absolute chaos.
“Obviously there are rules that do exist,” he said. For instance, he makes it clear that you should pay your taxes and obey the speed limit.
“I’m not suggesting complete anarchy,” he said. What he’s trying to do with his book is give examples of things that people do just because that’s what they’ve been told to do, creating subconscious limitations with little basis in reality.
For example, at a talk Kotecki gave in Fairbanks, Alaska, a woman stood up and voiced a rule that doesn’t exist: “You can’t bring bananas on a fishing boat.”
Apparently, sport fishermen are superstitious about bananas, considering them bad luck to have on a boat. As Kotecki writes in “Penguins Can’t Fly,” the good news is that “this brave woman from Fairbanks confirmed that this rule is completely bogus, which means we can all breathe a sigh of relief.”
His intention, he said, is to get people thinking about why they make the decisions they make.
“I really don’t have an agenda to tell you which rules to break, or how you should live your life,” Kotecki said. “I just want people to be mindful about the decisions they’re making.”
The book’s whimsical cover may fool people into thinking it’s aimed at children, but Kotecki stressed that it’s intended for adults, “to help us create lives that are less stressful and more fun.”
One of the rules that is sticking with him at this moment is Rule No. 40: Thou shalt wait for permission.
“We’re living in such a cool time with technology and the Internet and the opportunities that we have, where a lot of the gatekeepers are crumbling,” Kotecki said. “We’re conditioned in school to be told what to do, but we all have a desire within us, and we don’t necessarily have to wait for someone to give us permission.”
After all, it took the Koteckis 15 years to create this book, one that doesn’t necessarily fit into any publishing mold. As Jason writes near the conclusion of the book, “Adultitis delights in the growing ocean of unfollowed dreams.”
“You do not need permission to become a writer or a teacher or an artist or a musician or a business owner or a world changer. What are you waiting for?”