My husband and I just celebrated our two year wedding anniversary. We were pretty giddy and corny about it, so much happier on that day in October than we’d been last year, and we tried to figure out why. First, there’s that fact that everyone says the first year of marriage is very hard. They start telling you that as soon as you arrive home from your honeymoon. It’s a very warm welcome back to reality.
But we also gave some credit to a piece of paper that’s been hanging on our refrigerator since January. It’s written on a piece of Elvis stationary my college roommate brought back from Graceland, and it has a faded tomato sauce stain of on it (a memento of the spaghetti and meatballs we ate as we composed it). On it are more than a dozen things we wanted to do in the new year. Written at the top is, “The 2011 Wish List of Terrificness.” (That was my handiwork.)
We’re kind of big on lists, traditions, and superstitions in our house, so having a list like this was nothing new. There was the year I drew an elaborate picture at the bottom of a list envisioning my look for the new year: I had short curly hair and was wearing cowboy boots. I didn’t cut my hair that year, and I didn’t buy cowboy boots either.
We got serious about our recreating in 2011. And so we went camping––sort of––even when we couldn’t secure a campsite in a state park over a long holiday weekend. We drove right up to my mom and stepdad’s house with a tent, my cast iron pan, a bag of taco Doritos, and made a campfire in the backyard. I’m not going to lie to you: It felt utterly absurd and embarrassing to me at the time. Why can’t we do anything the right way, like, for real? But that feeling passed as soon as we started having fun: cooking the most amazing campfire eggplant, going inside to brush our teeth and waking up to the sound of birds signing. We called it our trial run, and took notes on what we’d need for next time. (Flashlights, bug spray, more Doritos.)
It was also the summer I finally took the swimming lessons I’d been talking about for years. I had taken lessons as a tot years ago, but my skills had dwindled. I wanted to swim in the ocean, strong and unafraid, like Katharine Hepburn out in cold waves of Long Island Sound into her 80s. So on hot muggy nights, after putting in a day of work that left me feeling knotty and spent, I’d walk to the windowless basement pool at the Y and slip into the water. After an hour of paddling around, I’d slip my sundress back over my head and walk home in my wet swimsuit, hungry, exhausted, cooled to my core, and happy.
Then, on a lark, I bought a cheap guitar just so I could sing my favorite country songs. I looked up chords to my favorite Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline songs and slowly strummed through them. I am not very good, but I enjoy it anyway. Sebastian bought a keyboard, and then a ukulele, and before we knew it, we were having evening jam sessions. We carried the ukulele to a dinner party recently where after chicken and waffles another guest brought out a packet of song lyrics and chords, swung a guitar onto his lap, and we all did our part to sing, strum, and harmonize into the wee hours.
I spend my days talking, listening, reading, and writing, and I realized something both of my new past times had in common: they were blessedly nonverbal. Underwater, the volume of the world gets turned way down, and my mind got quiet; struggling to land my fingers on the right spot of the guitar neck took all my concentration.
The difficulty of dipping our toes into new ways of having fun is, of course, the humiliation of being a newbie. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have pinpointed our favorite ways to recreate, and we’re good at them: you’ve got a mental catalog of obscure ’90s rock, a flair for crafting cocktails, the speediest knitting hands, a strong, unstoppable run that can go for miles on country roads. But usually to be new at something is to not be good at it. To fumble with the chords, and gasp for breath in slow lane at the pool doesn’t feel especially cool. But there’s something to be said for that part of the fun, too. We may be hooked on perfectionism in our regular adult lives, but with what’s new we have to practice. It feels awkward at first, and humbling when you’re the type who likes to feel good at things (and who doesn’t?). But isn’t there also something liberating about just giving it a try, shrugging your shoulders, and keeping on, just for the fun of it?
So I’m collecting new ways to have fun: What gives you a thrill and makes you smile? What’s the newest just-for-the-sheer-joy-of-it habit you’ve picked up? What were you doing when you last lost all track of time?