Hera Lindsay Bird on the two distinct kinds of fun, and how to have them.
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Help me Hera!!!!!
I am in my early 20s and for the majority of my sentient life I have considered myself a relatively stagnant person.
When I was a teenager I decided that, since I held a healthy disdain for the majority of my peers, I would adopt academia as my primary personality trait. This worked for a while (justifying singledom by saying you are “focusing on your studies” is generally well received). HOWEVER I am now on the other side of the university journey and have realised that validation through work doesn’t really align with my values. I think I would rather be a nice person that has fun!
In pursuit of fun I have embarked on my first intimate/romantic-ish relationships of my life this year (you could call me a late bloomer). I would like to have the crazy, fun, messy, irresponsible early 20s experience that Bridget Jones/every autobiography I’ve ever read has told me to go after. I worry that I am too measured and calculated (which you may have gleaned from this email) about my life to have any crazy stories to tell the grandkids… do you have any advice on how to live my 20s to the fullest when chaos doesn’t come naturally?
Reading your letter, I felt like a sentimental French man, eating a small but potent biscuit.
I had almost forgotten the horror of being in your twenties – the relentless, teeth-grinding, chore-like imperative to enjoy oneself and create indelible memories and friendships you’ll always treasure.
As a teenager, it’s easy to bask in misplaced feelings of superiority. But we must look back with fresh reverence at the simple joie de vivre and innate wisdom of the boys who spent high school setting fire to various rubbish bins and collectively buying and then eating a whole rotisserie chicken with their bare hands in the parking lot each day. May god bless and protect them. Some people are born knowing how to live, and the rest of us have to figure it out the hard way.
You frame your question as being about identity, and what sort of person you ultimately want to be. But forget being a type of person! Forget having traits! You’ve studied hard and now you want to make some mistakes you can brag about in old age. You want to put down the Euclid and drink fermented grains in the village gazebo. You want to have fun!
In my experience, there are two distinct kinds of fun.
There is the simple, hedonistic, soul-enlivening pleasure of picking your scabs during a thunderstorm, doing laps at the local swimming pool, or writing down the numbers of beautiful trains in a special notebook.
This is the easiest kind of fun to have. It’s the sort of fun that uplifts the spirit and fills life with an enduring sense of joy and accomplishment. I have recently become obsessed with Diamond Art Painting, a relaxing pastime enjoyed by menopausal American women who find pleasure in painstakingly rendering photorealistic scenes of firefighting professionals in miniature rhinestones. But I would highly recommend trying any hobbies or taking any classes you find interesting. You can meet a wide variety of fascinating individuals for the price of learning to reupholster a vintage chair.
The second, more insidious kind of fun, is the kind of fun that’s mostly fun in retrospect and uncomfortable in practice, like stealing a priceless antique cow creamer from your uncle’s rival or taking psychedelics at the petting zoo then running into a former sports coach by the tarantula cage.
In high school, my friends and I had a lot of the first kind of fun. I won’t bore you with the details, but it broadly involved knowing a lot of things about German actor Klaus Kinski and coming up with anagrams.
Looking back, this was a perfect and beautiful use of my time. But when it came to the second type of fun, I had to start from scratch. I spent a lot of my twenties forcing myself to go to parties and events I was terrified of, out of some vague sense it was character-building. Were the vast majority of these experiences fun? Probably not. But they brought me deeper into the world, and so I can only wholeheartedly recommend them.
The best advice I have if chaos doesn’t come naturally, is to seek out people that are more fun than you. Some people have freakishly vast natural reserves of charisma, like my dentist. I always look forward to getting a filling because I get to hear some frankly insane story about the time he got sanctioned by PETA for parachuting into a school fair dressed as Santa with a live monkey strapped to his chest. I honestly don’t know whether people like this are born or made. In the spirit of investigative journalism, I asked my most constitutionally fun friend, Mitch Marks, what her secret is. She said there were two vital components to having fun, the first of which is: “having a complete disregard for consequences” and the second is saying yes to things “without being thespian about it.”
I think ultimately, this spirit of reckless optimism is key.
I recently read a beautiful article by Helen Garner about happiness. She says in her old age, she has come to understand happiness as one of these fleeting, paradoxical, uncooperative things which is futile to strive towards. Instead, she has chosen to focus her remaining attention on “small, random stabs of extreme interestingness.”
O Helen Garner lock me in an antique rabbit hutch and rattle the cage. How right and true. Happiness is fleeting. But there are interesting things everywhere.
I love that you chose Bridget Jones as your figurehead. As far as I can recall, not a single fun thing has ever happened to her. She’s a tragic Don Quixote, tilting at handsome windmills, and constantly undergoing a barrage of mundane and self-inflicted humiliations. But what transforms and uplifts this Knausgaardian litany of suffering into a joyful romp is Bridget’s character. In short: Bridget Jones is what makes Bridget Jones fun.
So my advice is to go forth in the spirit of Bridget. With misplaced optimism, morbid curiosity and a robust sense of humour.
Say yes to things, in a non-thespian way.
Go where you’re invited, unless it’s to Hell.
Accept and reciprocate invitations.
Try as many new things as possible (unless likely to result in psychological or bodily harm).
And above all, when joy isn’t possible, take refuge in what is interesting.
Wishing you the very best of luck!
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