Secrets for FUN

In our March/April cover story we asked readers to share their tips on how to have a good time, and more than a thousand of you responded with entries full of wisdom and whimsy. We proudly present our two winning essays here, along with a few others that caught our attention.

Winner

Amanda Witherell • Bar Harbor, Maine

Graduate from college one beautiful June day with a degree that qualifies you for a career in nothing. Once again, realize you’ll have to work hard to get anywhere in this world. Wonder if there’s anywhere you really want to go.

Work hard all summer for a trip that doesn’t pan out in September. Get laid off your job in November. Wonder what it would be like to do nothing. To live for the sake of living. To stare each long day in the face and just get from moment to moment to moment.

Set aside enough money to pay the bills. Live off 50 dollars a week. Twenty dollars a week. Ten dollars a week. Pennies take on a whole new meaning.

Get scared because everyone you know has a career or a drinking problem. Or both. Quit booze, butts, and one-night stands. Take up knitting, cooking, and staring out your window at the pigeons that live in the eaves. Scan the classifieds every week, but not too hard. You’re enjoying this.

Hope that your new hobbies have a purpose, a point. Hope they aren’t just fruitless attempts at filling the void. Give away everything you knit. Double your bread pudding recipe and give half to your neighbors downstairs. Feel good about this.

Try to love winter, but sometimes feel like the two of you are in a ring: He’s the veteran prizefighter, but they say you’re a rookie with promise. Hope they’re right.

Wonder if this is like hibernating. . . except you’re not sleeping very well. Wonder if one day you’ll wake up with a new idea in your head and not the same tired movie reel of thought you’ve been re-running since December. Get dressed every morning. It’s something to do.

See an eagle one day from your window. Go out onto the veranda for a better look. It’s the first time you’ve been outside all day. It’s warm. Take off your sweater. The sun hits your bare shoulders. It feels like something. It feels good. Get on your bike and pedal to the beach. You want to walk barefoot in the sand, even if it makes your toes cold. It’s okay–they’ll get warm again. On the way, pass a house you’ve passed a thousand times before. Enough snow has melted and you can read the graffiti printed on the foundation: LIFE IS FUN.

Runner-Up

Debbie Fein-Goldbach • Toronto, Ontario

For a long time, making time for fun was like diet and exercise, ‘I’ll try tomorrow.’ Then I met Jacob who eats with abandon, laughs spontaneously, waves at strangers. And drools.

Fifteen-month-old Jacob taught me about fun again. As long as your life is still calculated in months, you understand fun. At 375 months I didn’t understand much, so I interviewed Jacob, my guru of good nature, regarding the subject. He was happy to share his thoughts, especially since he still can’t speak.

Me: Jacob, tell me about having fun.
Jacob:spontaneous clapping
Me: Spontaneity is the key to fun?
Jacob:finds a Cheerio behind the couch and smiles
Me: Discovery is fun. And the search for what delights you.
Jacob:runs his hand along the rug
Me: Texture. Maintaining texture in your life.
Jacob:holds up a picture book
Me: Knowledge; art; yes that provokes joy. Joy is fun.
Jacob:crawls away and looks at me upside down
Me: Changing your perspective is great.
Jacob:goes to the kitchen and points to the cookies
Me:I hand Jacob a cookie.
Jacob:He devours it messily, rescuing dropped crumbs and stuffing them into his mouth already brimming with cookie. There is cookie on his face, his hands, all over the kitchen floor.
Me:I think, ‘What a mess. Now I’m going to have to clean. . . .’ I stop myself. I sit on the floor. We eat cookies together. And they taste so much better like this.

Debbie Fein-Goldbach, 32, is Jacob’s mother and a writer living in Toronto’s Yonge-Eglinton neighborhood. Her first film, a short humorous story of a frog, premiered recently at Toronto’s Hot Docs documentary film festival.

John Steingraeber • St. Paul, Minnesota

Two of my favorite things are good food and good poetry, so I felt lucky when I was introduced to a Benedictine monk in college who shared my passions. About once a month or so, we’d head to an upscale grocery store or ethnic market and splurge a bit: tiny jars of caviar, hearth-baked bread, imported cheese, fresh organic vegetables, quality meats. After quick phone invitations to two or three friends, we’d take off our watches, forget about time, and upon their arrival at my apartment, we’d begin cooking: we’d begin cooking; everyone was expected to help with preparation, regardless of culinary ability. Meals were slow and each of the three or four courses was savored. At the end, he and I would begin to pass around books of poetry; occasionally friends would bring their own. As we read and drank scotch late into the night, the words, and drink created an absolutely magical, intimate atmosphere that wasn’t duplicated until the next time we gathered. Although I graduated almost three years ago, this tradition continues today: he taught a class in January combining world poetry and gourmet food prepared by students, and I continue to read and cook with friends. The most important things to remember are that you are not allowed to pay attention to time (weekend nights work particularly well, and there is something exquisite about starting dinner preparation at 11pm) and to make sure you have an ample supply of good poems. Somehow, no matter how delicious, the food always becomes secondary to the words.

Hilary Weisman • Cambridge, Massachusetts

You don’t have to be able to sing. You don’t even have to be able to play an instrument. You just need to know an actual band, with gear, who will trust you enough to let you use it. Once they show you how to play three chords on the guitar (all you’ll really ever need) and help you to turn the microphone on, you can call these practiced musicians your ‘roadies,’ and from there, it’s rock and roll, baby. Play badly. Play loudly. Shout, ‘check one, check one’ repeatedly into the microphone.

Bandmates Sue, Sue, and I always had fantasies of being chick-rockets, so we didn’t see the point in letting a little thing like our mutual lack of musical ability stop us. That’s why we started ‘Sandwich’. Sandwich has real fans even though we’ve only played ‘out’ a handful of times at our friend’s parties and we only play one song (also called ‘Sandwich’) and we don’t actually exist. Plus, you can get the satisfaction of playing at a party, and then four years later at work, in front of your boss, a woman you know as the friend of a friend might come up and start singing the chorus of your one and only song and say ‘I love your band, do you guys still play?’

Sundae Horn • Ocracoke, North Carolina

The first present that my husband, Rob, ever gave me was a copy of Rise Up Singing: The Group Singing Handbook by Peter and Annie Blood. That book, and the spirit it embodies, is the best recipe for fun that I know: get several dog-eared copies and a group of friends and family — all the musicians, singers and wanna-bes that you can gather — and sit around somebody’s kitchen and sing.

We get twenty-odd people (from three generations) in our big kitchen with low ceilings and lots of chairs, a table laden with food and drink, a fridge full of beer, six guitars, one fiddle, one banjo, songs to sing. We take turns, we take requests, we attempt four-part harmonies. My husband and his brothers sing their family canon, a group of songs that are loved because of tradition, not quality. Rob treats us to a song he wrote for me, affectionately titled, ‘You’re Just Another Rut Out There On My Road To Ruin,’ which lends itself to some explanation, which leads to story-telling, joke-telling, opining and laughter. And then another song….

Homemade music is a rare thing in a society that aims to make us all a part of the audience. By making our own music we participate in something as old as humankind, and completely out of reach of consumer culture. Our participatory musical gatherings are actually as subversive as they are fun, and you can’t beat that for one hell of a good time.

Jennifer Schulman •Washington, D.C.

When most folks hear ‘play,’ their minds burn a U-turn to sunny summer days in the sandbox and creaks of a swing set chain in the lemonade dusk of childhood. But I say play is grown-up, child. Play is about breaking rules, bending truths, sidling past the iron-vested mores to a place where punishment is held at bay by the mighty Shhh…

My brand of play falls out of its pack and scatters about my feet like tiny mice squealing after fun. The pedal gasses the car faster, faster, and I let my hair whip loose in the thin wind that winds in through the window crack. Music plays louder, its lead singers fatter, sprouting whiskers that curl about their lips, growling naughty words into a microphone with perfect pitch. Fun in my neighborhood involves boys and girls and girls and girls taking strange, itchy peeks at one another’s private playing cards.

There is no innocence in play. That is the misconception. One absentmindedly plunks mere amusement into the play box. Real play is frolicking, rollicking, the same sense that any second the revelry will screech to a stop and a still white silence will shuffle into its place. To play is to defy, to rebel, repel the appropriate, and bare our breasts in the face of other, nunnish pastimes.

That is the play Garth Brooks hasn’t gotten around to singing about.

That is the play that makes our hearts beat faster, our toes squirm inside our shoes.

And then there’s Yahtzee.

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