Some skills don’t even sound like skills. I’m thinking about the having of fun.
Above is how I think sometimes. This was a three-minute process. About two minutes in, the term “fun muscle” occurred to me. Exercise it or risk atrophy.
This is what I mean:
For most of my adult life, I rationed fun. Too much fun can lead a serious self-employed person like me astray, possibly at great cost, from the businesses of raising a family and making a living. Plenty of people balance it all. But as a freelance writer coming from a family that was financially bankrupted by the alcoholic patriarch, I wasn’t one of those people. So I rationed fun and favored work. Picture an overly devoted composer sitting at a piano, brow furrowed, shoulders hunched, eyes fixed on the keyboard, scribbling notations. That was me with a different sort of keyboard. For 40 years.
Of course, there was fun. But because I viewed it as the antithesis of productivity, it tended to come in intense bouts, often catalyzed by alcohol, music, and a kind of unnatural letting loose, like steam from a safety valve. Remorse could follow. Remorse taints future fun. Fun is also tainted by overdoing it. Fun-gluttons, as we all know, can become dissolute, which is fun’s opposite.
What is fun?
• Losing ourselves in something thrilling. A movie. A novel. Sailing. Cycling. Bungee jumping. Nature walking. (I would say golf, but “fun” and “misery” are seldom conjoined.) Fun is almost anything thrilling and enjoyable that releases us by absorbing us.
• An interest, other than those we are forced to have because we are raising a family and making a living. Something that engages play, discovery, fancy, novelty, fantasy, or fabulousness. Family life can be that, yes, but often it’s just work. Work can be fun, but more often it’s just work.
• Desire satisfied. The animal side. Could be sexual, sure. ( It eventually had to go there with “fun muscle,” right?) But also the less carnal yearnings for adventure and self-testing. Healthy want fulfilled. Eating is that. Feeding the senses is fun.
I’m missing categories, I know. Thrilling, fulfilling absorption seems to be the overall idea. Letting go.
For me, freedom itself is fun, even if it’s an abstraction until utilized, because I restricted mine for so long. It’s a small thrill for me to behold an empty agenda, because it opens the gate to all those forms of fun listed above. They just aren’t planned, which is fun.
So what is the fun muscle? The ability to have fun.
That probably sounds crazy to most people. Fun comes naturally, right?
I don’t think so. Maybe to Labrador retrievers and lucky people. I think that if you spend 40 years rationing fun, mostly having it in intense bursts that are often ignited fuse-like, the muscle can wither. You can become largely fun-less. Unpracticed at fun. A low-grade practitioner. Maybe even a bit of a poser.
Fun-less-ness is a form of poverty in the privileged. A poverty of spirit. If we have been fortunate enough to build some financial independence through our working lives, there comes a time to exercise the fun muscle at last, because fun is a miracle of human existence, and it’s a damn shame to waste the opportunity.
(Fun is also a privilege not easy to achieve if one is underprivileged or in some other way suffering. So it’s even more of a privilege for the privileged. Not everybody gets to have it. To actually be positioned for fun and not have it, well, Scrooge comes to mind.)
Retirement fits in nicely at this point of the discourse.
If someone says, as they often do, that “my work is my fun,” all power to them.
But if I measure what I worked at for 40 years against the fun gauges listed above (losing ourselves in something thrilling, interests other than those we are obliged to do, and desires satisfied, many of them sensual), work leaves an awful lot out of the basket.
Retirement is an empty basket until you fill it up. Yet without a developed fun muscle, the basket might not be as… fun. It might be an arid basket rather than a juicy one. A Scrooge basket.
Those who know how to have fun, please model for the rest of us. We need your fine example. We always have. Show the way. Pull the fun-challenged among us into your fizzy orbit.
The rest of us need to exercise the muscle, if only to avoid the humiliation of working that hard for that long without the miraculous payoff.