Monday, July 10, 2017

"Have Fun!"

When my wife or daughter leave to head off to work or school or whatever, I habitually say, "Have fun!" From a strictly denotative standpoint I guess I'm wishing them enjoyable, light-hearted experiences, my version, I guess of "Have a nice day!" But I also mean it more as a reminder because they, like me, like most of us, can become so absorbed in the challenges of the day that we forget about the joy that is possible, even if we are struggling, stressing, or sad. I guess I'm offering it as an alternative to despair: a short-hand for, Don't give up, there will also be fun.

Years ago my wife Jennifer's employer took the entire management team and their significant others on a retreat to a British Columbia ski resort during the summer. Instead of skiing, they had converted the lifts to carry bicycles and the runs into rugged downhill tracks complete with steep inclines, jumps, obstacles, and precarious corners. Jennifer had opted out well in advance, leaving me to represent her. I had never done anything so physically grueling in my life, nor have I since: when I arrived at the bottom after our second run, every muscle in my body was screaming, especially those in my forearms, what with all the braking. Sweat flowed freely from every pore, dust covered my skin, and I had acquired an untold number of scrapes and bruises. Indeed, I was experiencing what cyclists often call "bonking," which is the sudden, extreme fatigue that comes from having depleted every last bit of glycogen (carbohydrates) from my muscles. I went straight to the lodge and downed three huge tubs of full-sugar cola in a matter of minutes.

By then I had lost my "team." Some had called it a day, while others had gone back to the mountain for more. In other words, I was not subject to any social pressure to do it again and my body was clearly telling me that I'd had enough, but I remounted anyway, finishing my day with a solo run. When I finally arrived back in our hotel room, Jennifer asked, "Did you have fun?" I was exhausted, sore, limp, and filthy, the natural state of someone who has just had fun, so I replied, "Yes!" before stopping myself, realizing that I was also experiencing the natural state of someone who has just suffered. I corrected my response, "Actually, I don't know if I can call it fun. It was really hard and painful. I guess it would be more accurate to say, I'm happy I did it." And she deadpanned, "You mean, you're happy it's over."

Joking aside, my big take-away from the weekend, which had been billed as a "team-building get away," was that often the only difference between fun and suffering is the element of choice. Had some slave-master (real or metaphorical) driven me to it, what I'd just gone through would have been the kind of hell one wouldn't wish on one's worst enemies. Because I had chosen it, however, because I had opted in and was free to opt out at any moment, I could legitimately call it fun.

When I think of all those children hunched over desks in schools, being forced to learn specific trivia on a specific timetable, I see mostly suffering. Sure, there are moments of levity, of enjoyment, of reprieve, but it shouldn't be surprising when kids come to hate school: they are being compelled, day after day, by the state, teachers, and parents, to mount that bike and even if they have the courage to opt out, they're labeled failures and subjected to shame or even punishment. Is it any wonder that kids goof around, behave as bullies, do the minimum necessary, and yearn for weekends and holidays?

In contrast, every day, I watch the children at the Woodland Park Cooperative School opt, as they play, to learn what they want to learn, what they most need to learn, on their own schedule: asking and answering their own questions, rather than the always irrelevant ones imposed by command-and-control adults. It is often really hard and painful, but also, often simultaneously, pleasurable and light-hearted. They go home exhausted, sore, limp, and filthy. Yet when their parents arrive to take them home and ask, "Did you have fun?" the answer is always and legitimately, "Yes."

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1 comment:

Jrothh said...

Hey Teacher Tom, have you heard of Type 2 fun? It's fun because you did it. It was introduced to me by a climbing magazine. When I worked at Tinkering School Gever worked with the kids to create all kinds of fun types of "fun." I don't remember them all, but it was something like this

Type 1 fun - Just plain fun. Fun at the time, fun after the fact.
Type 2 - Hard at the time fun after the fact (hiking up a steep hill, climbing, any strenuous activity you're glad you did)
Type 3 - Fun you regret. Fun at the time, but has consequences (eating a tub of ice cream)
Type 4 - Fun that might kill you (adrenalin seekers)
Type 5 - Fun you didn't think would be fun. Begrudging fun.
Type 6 - I forget type 6 fun...
Type 7 - Fun because it is hard and you are good at it (surfing, jazz improv, problem-solving, focused application of a skill you are proud of)

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