What's Tony Thinking

Fun Deprivation Disorder?


Here it is the eve of another 4th of July. Given the state of things, the nation in particular, it would seem that a blog that is deeply serious, somber, grim and full of worry is in order. I could write that. I sure could. But I doubt that it would do my soul any good, nor your’s either.

In fact, given the state of things I have been wondering, worried, that I might be suffering a terminal case of seriousness and have entirely lost any capacity for fun.

At least until last night when my grandson Colin was dousing our fire pit and I said, “Let me have sprayer for a minute.” I blasted him with a wild burst. He, of course, wrestled the hose back and came after me. That was fun.

“Fun” is the subject of a, well, fun essay by Walter Kirn that appeared today at the “Common Sense” site. “Fun, says Kirn “is a child of accident and chaos.” It isn’t programmed. Here’s Kern:

“But what do I mean by “fun”? I’m not quite sure. I don’t mean “ pleasure” in the old sense, which usually is associated with eroticism or sensuality, and I don’t mean “play,” which tends to refer to structured games. But fun, as such, is not competitive. No one wins at it. Nor is fun the ‘leisure” of the ancients, which one is supposed to spend in contemplation or civic engagement or other worthy pursuits. I mean something bouncier, simpler, more mundane, a feeling of antic stimulation, the opposite of seriousness. Often there is risk involved in fun. Manageable, perhaps simulated risk. You round a tight curve in a sports car that can handle it. You careen down a snowy hill in a red saucer sled. Sometimes you take a tumble or scrape a knee. Sometimes you scream—a laughing sort of scream.

“One thing I learned early about fun is that having it on command is hard. Fun is a child of accident and chaos, resistant to authority’s guiding hand. In grade school one day, in gym class, an eager teacher directed us to unfold a giant blue parachute obtained though some foundation or organization that wished to shape our childhood development. (These high-minded programs were easy to detect and often involved free movies with corporate sponsors.) After the parachute was all spread out, we stood in a circle and grasped its silky hem. Our teacher said, “Let’s have fun cooperating!”

“On her order, we lifted our little arms in unison and the parachute billowed upward toward the ceiling like some sort of puffed up monster of the deep. Then we were asked to step backwards and stretch it taut. A series of such exercises ensued, each of them supposedly remarkable and meant to prove the virtue of group effort. The teacher kept laughing as though in celebration, inviting us to join in her delight, but only the fearful ones among us obliged her. I felt bored, coerced, and isolated. But that’s not how I felt another time at school, when a classroom hamster escaped its cage and scurried here and there under our desks as we scrambled and sprawled and tried to grab it, afraid it might nip us if we did. Now that was fun! For the hamster too, I hope.”

Kirn’s observations made me think of going to our favorite swimming spot at Wallowa Lake earlier this week. The Lake is high now with recent snow melt, which means the “beach” is small. That afternoon, most of what beach there had been taken up by several families who had a shit-load of stuff under various canopies. In the water three big boats with high-powered motors were tethered. In and around them bobbed other contraptions for playing in and on the water.

I should note the water was pretty damn cold, being late June in a lake fed by the aforementioned melted snow.

Under the canopies, many ice chests, chairs and music sources. Only thing was, no one was in the water. Nor was anyone laughing. Everyone was sitting or standing, eating or drinking, fussing with equipment, putting a tentative toe in occasionally, some of the men engaged in tinkering with boat motors.

Meanwhile, a little ways further on down the beach were two girls, probably about 13, who were both in the cold water having a wild time trying to ride a slippery log and taking turns shaking each other off of it with peals of laughter.

The contrast was hard to miss, and I’m in danger of going moralistic about it. But all the apparatus and equipment, designed for having fun, looked sort of like work. While the two girls on their no-cost log were having the time of their lives.

One of the threats to fun is the idea that it depends on having lots of toys and thus trying to buy or program it. I suppose it works sometimes. When the water is warmer I imagine being zipped around the lake behind a high-speed motorboat on a donut like floating thing would be fun. But still the girls laughing and sliding on the log seemed closer to the real thing,

On this worrisome July 4th, having some genuine — more by accident than plan, and with a touch of chaos — type fun may be the best way to celebrate our independence from “authority’s (grim) and guiding hand.”

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