Have Fun, Lots of It

I love birthdays because they remind us to have fun. For my forty-fourth, I decided to celebrate with four different activities.

The most well-attended was puppet making in the park. To pull this off, it helps to have a mom who makes puppets and has a studio full of colorful supplies, from yarn to fabric to sequins. Awakening people’s liveliness takes little more than setting the plastic bins full of crafty goodness on a picnic table and inviting everyone to begin.

No one hesitated. No one claimed she wasn’t creative. Everyone simply picked up a paper bag or a toilet paper roll and began to construct a being that had never existed before. We had dogs and cats, a mythical rainbow animal and a magician, even a fellow who could raise his bushy purple eyebrows.

When it came time to leave, every guest said, “That was so much fun.”

Our culture often limits fun, both in importance and variety. As adults, we’re told that our responsibilities take priority over our play time and that only a few forms of play are acceptable, some of them more harmful than enjoyable.

But fun is a powerful force. It awakens our souls. It puts us in touch with God’s creativity flowing through us, and so it connects us to our selves, to our divinity.

We are the result of God having a great time. The Big Bang did not arise from a sense of obligation. When divinity decided to have a party about fourteen billion years ago and see what this existence thing was all about, a great outpouring of love and joy set this universe in motion.

That outpouring hasn’t stopped. We are the current manifestation of the divine party that has always been and will always be. Let’s have some fun.

A Dose of Delight

If riding giant, floating, multicolored, illuminated fish sounds like your idea of a good time—and even if it doesn’t—hop on the Sea Glass Carousel in Battery Park, New York City. My sister and I went last week, and we both left with huge grins on our faces.

IMG_0484
Some of the fish on the Sea Glass Carousel in Battery Park, New York City.

In our quest for happiness, especially as adults, we often forget to do those things that simply make us smile. Everyone on our round of the carousel was an adult, and everyone was smiling. Here’s how the Sea Glass Carousel works its magic:

 

It’s beautiful. From the colors to the lights to the shapes of the fish, you feel as if you’re floating in some underwater opalescent pool. Human beings are hard-wired for beauty. We may have different ideas of what that is, but it speaks to our hearts.

It’s whimsical. We need things that appear to be non-essential, that fulfill no practical purpose like food or lodging or contributing to our 401k. We need things that are designed to delight—they awaken our souls.

My sister riding the Sea Glass Carousel
Some of the fish on the Sea Glass Carousel in Battery Park, New York City.

It moves. And not just up and down but in all sorts of circular patterns. You glide up to and away from all the other fish in the sea, and you can’t predict where you’re heading next (Ok, some of your engineers probably can). We are mobile beings, and movement brings us physically into the present moment.

 

Someone posted a picture of a dancing goat on Facebook the other day. The caption read, “When in doubt, frolic.” My go-to position when in doubt tends to be “worry and attempt to figure things out.” But if instead I jumped on the Sea Glass Carousel or its local equivalent instead of worrying, I bet my figurings would be more creative and my solutions more fun.

Word Play

Reading a lot of poetry reminds me how much fun language is.

Words get a bad rap sometimes: unable to express the ineffable, “apple” never quite getting at the crispness and juiciness of the real thing, inconsistent and illogical spellings—at least in English.

On the other hand, just consider how entertaining a thesaurus can be. I recently looked up the adjective “visionary,” and the synonyms ranged from “astral” to “noble.” I got a kick out of inserting some of the synonyms into my sentence: “His astral leadership moved the university in a completely new direction.” I bet it did.

I love how some words can’t be translated, like “douce” in French, which means soft, but also sweet and gentle at the same time. It means both the light after sunset on a perfect day and the way it feels at that moment, and we don’t have a word for that in English.

I love that the structure of a language reflects the way a culture thinks. You really can’t say, “When the rain began falling, Jane had been planning to go to the grocery store” in Chinese because the Chinese don’t see the point of obsessing about time in quite the same way Americans do.

I love that, aside from using it to tell jokes, language can be the joke: A mushroom walks into a bar. The bartender says, “We don’t serve mushrooms here.” The mushroom says, “Why not? I’m a fungi.”

And I love that words can be hung together so beautifully, with such poise and precision, that they can make us weep.

Like most things human, language won’t get us all the way to wherever we’re going, but it’s a wonderful companion along the way.

In keeping with the National Poetry Month theme, here’s one I’m sure the poet enjoyed writing. It is a little less straightforward than the others I’ve posted this month, but just skip the parts you don’t understand and dance with cummings through the rest of it.


i thank You God for most this amazing…
by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)


Warning: There are a couple of poems I’d like to share that I didn’t get posted, so National Poetry Month may extend slightly into May.

I Like It Here

When I was growing up, the promotional video for my hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, featured a bunch of guys sporting Magnum P.I. mustaches sitting in a hot tub singing, “Steamboat, Steamboat, I like it here.” Though the video has been updated several times since then, I still agree with the lyrics.

horse pulling a child on skis down a street in front of a crowd
Ski joring down Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Boeke.

Steamboat recently celebrated its 100th Winter Carnival, and I attended along with my family and a number of friends from high school. Here are a few of the reasons why it was so much fun.

One: carnival buttons, which get you into all the weekend events and are often seen pinned to ski hats, still cost only $10. I bought mine off a woman on the bus who had an extra.

Two: the carnival is a liability nightmare. Put skis on small children, give them a rope to hold, tie the other end of the rope to a horse and tell the rider to go as fast as possible down a street covered in a couple feet of snow. Just for fun, add a jump in the middle. Or start with a 50 meter ski jump. Wait until dark. Add a flaming hoop and have people jump through it. Just for fun, let one of them pull a toboggan that is on fire.

Three: though the population of the town has more than doubled since I was a kid (to a whopping 12,000), everyone still puts on four layers of clothing and stands around in the snow for six hours cheering for the kids and the horses. Occasionally a kid lets go of the rope before she crosses the finish line and then has to ski half a block or so on her own. Everyone cheers the loudest for these kids, and every single kid who let go of the rope crossed the finish line even though she knew she wouldn’t win.

Four: nowhere else in the world will you see a rugby team, a refrigerator, and a running gas grill on skis. There was sauerkraut for the hotdogs.

Five: keeping the local ranchers at the center of the festivities as riders and parade participants somehow ties the different parts of the community together in a way that doesn’t happen in many places.

Six: the lighted man. Yes, he is shooting fireworks out of his backpack. Yes, it is the coolest thing ever.

Plan to buy your buttons for the 101st.

Not to Clean

Labor Day is not usually life-changing for me, but this year, I learned something extremely important: cleaning takes time. Others may have grasped this concept much earlier in life, but I’m pretty excited about it.

Let me unfold the revelation for you. I played soccer all day Saturday. On Sunday, a friend and I went to an art show and then some other friends had me over for dinner. Monday morning I looked disconsolately around my house and wondered how another weekend had gone by without any scrubbing, vacuuming, or mopping taking place. No hope beckoned as most of the coming day was slotted for eating pancakes, giving my dad a birthday call, buying groceries, and hanging out with my mom.

Then, while describing my weekend to my dad, divine inspiration descended: I realized I could have cleaned only if I had done it instead of all those fun things. True, this is a bit like mastering a kindergarten-level mathematical concept while doing your Ph.D., but I had never accepted the either-or idea in this context before.

I always felt as if it should be possible to do it all—the fun stuff and the cleaning—as if everybody else knew some secret technique. But no, they were actually spending time with sponge in hand. That’s the problem with this whole finite thing, every moment can contain only one action, no matter what we like to think about multitasking.

I have a quote from Mastercard above my desk at work. It says, “Not having to choose—priceless.” It’s there to remind me that the people who say I can have it all are selling me something and that the freedom to choose is a great gift.

So if I have to decide between a soccer tournament and a clean bathroom, the bathroom will lose every time. And I’m OK with that now. Mostly.

Getting Ghoulish

Halloween is good for adults, better than vitamins and a full daily allowance of fiber. It gives us an excuse to be silly and creative for no reason—in public!

jack o'lanternOne of the departments in my building transformed its office into The Price Is Right, complete with products and tags that opened to reveal the cost of each item. In practical mode, recreating The Price Is Right logo and printing it on all those tags for one day’s entertainment would be deemed a waste of time, but in Halloween mode, it is awesome.

Halloween mode changes our approach to the day. We appreciate, honor, and enjoy each other’s wackiness. We anticipate and look for fun and unexpected things to appear in ordinary places—at work, at home, on the street.

I think we would all benefit from spending more time in Halloween mode. Too often we feel our actions have to be productive in order to be worthwhile. There’s a great passage in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that explains how the humans think they’re smarter than the dolphins because the dolphins play all day while humans accomplish things, and the dolphins think they’re smarter for the same reason.

Productivity isn’t bad, but its usefulness to our souls is limited. Very few of us light up after completing a task, no matter how useful, the way we do when the International Education office appears dressed as a group of loud, American tourists, complete with fanny packs and Hawaiian shirts.

Halloween gives us some time to enjoy rather than worry, to create rather than produce. We might consider granting ourselves that freedom more than once a year.