The Brood: Brooders Just Wanna Have Fun

Okay, Brooders, we are like half a dozen columns into this project, and I’ll admit that things have been kind of a bummer. 

To be fair to Holly and I… <gestures generally and vaguely at, you know, everything>

In any case, I am bound and determined to deliver you something more fun this week. 

So, let’s talk about what we do for fun. 

Since I left my successful career as a theatre educator to flounder about as a freelancer during a global pandemic, I’ve been very grateful for the addendum “for fun?” to the small-talk question “what do you do?” 

Without the addendum, the answer is pretty awkward. I know people are asking about what I do for work, but it feels disingenuous to talk about my sporadic writing gigs and weekend wedding singing when the real answer to the question of what I do, if we are talking about hours spent, is laundry. Just so much laundry. 

What do you do for fun is a much better question. It’s also a challenging question.

When I posted this question to a couple of Facebook groups for women who, like me, work and parent and angst about working and parenting, I got a variety of answers, a lot of them really relatable. 

And, of course , I got a couple of memes like the one above, claiming sleep as the highest fun an adult can claim.

“I do things I enjoy, but I wouldn’t call them “fun.”

Do I have fun?”

“I run, that’s my version of fun.”

I love that last one…not about running, but about describing something as “my version of fun.” Like, “I can’t afford to have actual fun, but I can create a facsimile of fun. You know, something healthy and adult that contains some fun-adjacent elements.” This shares vibes with the people who eat fruit after dinner and call it their version of dessert. 

High-achieving oldest children like me are big fans of pairing something entertaining with something productive, like listening to audiobooks while grocery shopping or binging “Schitt’s Creek” while cleaning the kitchen. 

Some people describe activities that sound more like basic emotional self-regulation than actual fun. “I play word games! On my phone. Compulsively. Lest the darkness creep in.” And girl, I get it. Who among us hasn’t Candy Crush-ed their own intrusive thoughts? 

Or, if it’s not tiny nibbles of respite, it’s long hours of escapism, “I read five romance novels per week.” “I watch Netflix until I pass out.” Don’t get me wrong, this is all great, but is it fun?  

Finally, since my Facebook groups tend towards the very white, a lot of us craft and scrapbook and cross-stitch and whatever else. Which can be fun, but as far as our grandmothers were concerned, it’s also production. And don’t get me started with the ones who take those crafts and hustle them on Etsy. It’s great to enjoy your work, but that doesn’t make it not work

Oh, and screw that poster or quote or whatever, “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is either a lie or a delusion. 

Work is important. We all need to work. But don’t we all need to play, too? 

Looking for fun in my life, I recalled the work of Dr. Peter Gray of Boston College, who has made a career out of researching play behaviors. 

(What, you don’t go looking for a good time on Google Scholar?)

According to Dr. Gray, while play is defined variably across cultures, there are five fairly well agreed-upon parameters for human play: 

  1. Play is self-chosen and self-directed.
  2. Play is intrinsically motivated—the means are more important than the ends. 
  3. Play is guided by mental rules, but the rules leave room for creativity.
  4. Play is imaginative, in the sense that it happens in some degree of removal from the external world. 
  5. Play is performed in an alert, active, but relatively non-stressed state of mind. 

Measuring activities like the ones listed above against these characteristics, you can see how our “fun” falls on the spectrum of more or less playful. You can also see how conditioned we are to take a playful activity and make it more like work. 

Going for a run can be playful, training for a marathon might be less so. 

Making a scrapbook to put on your own shelf and enjoy can be playful, putting together the memory book for your kid’s graduation party that is TWO WEEKS AWAY and the to-do list keeps getting longer and you put off renting tables and chairs and now there are no tables and chairs left for rent within 50 miles and oh crap are we out of glue sticks?…less playful. 

Me, I’ve managed to come up with a couple of answers to the “What do you do for fun” question, and I am practicing delivering those answers with as little embarrassment or equivocation as possible.

What do I, Theresa Weiler, 40-something suburban mother of four, do for fun? I play the ukulele and I do improv. 

Did you cringe? Did I cringe? 

What do I play on the ukulele? Fantastic question, thank you for asking. I play maudlin singer-songwriter stuff from the nineties. Would you like to hear me rock out on Sarah MacLachlan’s “Angel?” I also specialize in songs that have no business being played on the ukulele, such as Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” and “Shake it Off” by Florence and the Machine. 

Can I play well? Oh no, I certainly cannot. But after dinner, when the kitchen is clean and it is still a little light outside, can I sit on my front porch and find a flow state via Sia’s “Chandelier?” You bet your sweet A minor chord I can. 

Improv is another story. Improv is incredibly silly and incredibly vulnerable and uniquely playful and I love it and it makes me feel like I have no skin on, but in a good way. Usually. 

I’ve never done improv in a place like L.A., where a significant number of your classmates are trying to become famous. I do improv in Detroit, where, like, maybe two of your classmates are trying to become famous, and the rest of us are just trying to feel alive in the hours between work and sleep. We get together and we act out stories like kids, and we clown around and do funny voices, and it is the closest I’ve felt to other human beings since my prayer group broke up. 

(Honestly, what is spontaneous group prayer if not very tightly themed improvisation?)

Turns out play is a practice, like meditation or friendship. The more you do it, the richer it is, and the more it changes you. So I’ve taken it up again. 

It’s getting warm outside. In most of the U.S., things are coming alive again. Even middle-aged bones feel restless in springtime.

For the love of your bones, I challenge you to nourish that spark of playfulness. Indulge it, and if your first attempt doesn’t satisfy, keep going. Practice play like you practice prayer, or parenting, or whatever else. 

And if you need a playmate, stop by. I’ll be on the porch. 

Theresa Weiler is a Detroit-area writer and musician. You can follow her Broodings here and on Twitter @SometimesReese

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