amusement – an activity that is diverting and holds the attention; a-muse, lit. “without thought.”
I used to know how to have fun even if no one else around me did.
I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but I’ve grown up. It became obvious recently and scared me.
We went to a movie Friday night and it felt like I was in one. Two of my favorite people began 5th and 2nd grade this week and had earned free tickets for completing the library’s summer reading program.
So we sent mom shopping with the women and we went to celebrate my kids’ amazingness. We drove to the little retro theater downtown and it was a magical evening. I wanted to remember it forever because I’m a dad of the cutest girls in the world—and they’re exactly the age I imagined when I wrote that screenplay during my semester of film school in college.
I wanted to tell them about this because I thought maybe they’d want to know someday what was going on with their excited dad, and the truth is always stranger than we can know. Because the weird truth is, before they were born, I’d had the picture of them both in my mind. And they were this age when I wrote them into the story about a dad who’d left his big important job to begin an art gallery and worked too hard and had a gorgeous wife who was their mom and the two girls were really them.
Somehow, it was them. And I felt for them the way I remember feeling for Sheri, only purer and somehow, unthinkably stronger.
And I didn’t realize it until we were getting into my car.
But they were excited and tickling each other in the back. So I let them play a while. And then they continued…
I thought about how somewhere along the way, once again I’d gotten too focused on making sure things work. I can get so single-minded, nothing else exists for me. No hobbies, coffee with friends or extra little things like oh, eating, sleeping, and maintaining a life. This dream doesn’t come easy.
“Doo-wee, sha-gooo!” Charlotte was doing her favorite baby sounds and crazy nonsense, which she doesn’t get to do when Sheri’s around because she can’t stand it at all. And normally I don’t mind so much but just now, now that I want to tell them this amazing fact I’m sure will amaze and impress on them all kinds of mystical God-stuff, it’s annoying me. Ellie’s amused and continues tickling, so I just drive and figure it probably doesn’t really matter to them anyway.
I briefly debate with myself whether this is a big deal: can’t I enjoy the silly freedom for what it is—without judgment?
But I had plans. Seems I always do these days. I used to love being wild and goofy. My brother and I used to make each other crack up in that goofball way only siblings can pull off. When had that gotten lost? I used to cut loose as a kid and revel in not having to do anything, no process, no practicing, no pursuing anything. She wasn’t even bothered that I wasn’t laughing (we all tend to observe each others’ subtle emotional cues and inhibit ourselves accordingly). Though would that have been so bad?
She was just having fun.
We get to the theater and get out and time slows down. The air is warm and cool in that way it hints of fall. Why didn’t I open the sunroof? I think. Oregonians are required to use their sun days. I lock the car and follow them in where we stand in line and I hand the woman the tickets and we go in.
Before long we’re back outside and the sun is setting and streaming through the high trees in the parking lot.
I’m a little more relaxed now. I can see a bit better.
Later, I tell Sheri I think I’ve been working too hard, too long. “We were there for entertainment, a-musement and I couldn’t just go with it.”
“Too much purpose is a serious problem,” she says.
I wish I’d gone with the crazy wild Charlotte tried to bring. It’s so easily squelched. But doing it right (and silliness is an art) is so hard. But I won’t work on this.
Working on it is the opposite of pursuing nothing. The point is to throw out the rules and carefulness and just live. Julia Cameron talked about this in The Artist’s Way, and John Ortberg in The Me I Want to Be.
If you’ve forgotten how to play, you need to remember back to when life was fun.
I need to let in a little outside influence, the spirit of the in-spiration—the outside muse who helps us escape our dour, serious selves.
The next night we went swimming at the grandparents’ community pool and this time, and I was far less restrained.
I’ll tell them about their incredible prophetic dad some other day.
I’m thinking of starting a new habit—for all the time I get in “pursuit” mode, I want to seek out at least half as much time to cut loose and laugh.
Sure, amusement can be bad in excess. But if you can’t be amused, i.e. beyond your mind and without thought, can you really feel how alive you are?
Enjoyment, even in the midst of serious work is vital.
I’ve felt most fully alive on roller coasters, skiing, fishing on the river, sailing on a zip-line high above the forest floor, speaking to groups of writers. I believe it’s when body, mind, heart and spirit are engaged in the moment that life is at its amusing best–full of the muse at his most diverting creative self.
Seek out amusement today. And follow where it leads…
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
If you haven’t been by recently, check out yourwritersgroup.com where we amuse ourselves silly writing for a higher purpose.