Saturday, May 14, 2005

What do you do for fun?

I was sort of taken aback the other day when a friend whom I haven't seen for some time asked: Leny, what do you do for fun? It took me a few long seconds to say, "we go to Rialto a lot for indie films." But as I ruminated on this question and why it gave me pause to say something that sounded like "fun" it occured to me that I normally don't think of my life in terms of fun/not-fun dichotomy. The spouse reminded me that I wouldn't be teaching if I didn't have fun doing it. My fun is cooking my son's favorite dishes and taking it over to his house on weekends when we are invited to visit. My fun is reading from midnight to 1am after watching The Daily Show and Charlie Rose. My fun is pulling weeds in the garden and talking to the plants.

Now -- what would really be fun!tastic is to visit this nursery in western Sonoma County before it closes and is sold by Maggie W because she can no longer hold onto it. I fun!tasize that I would buy it from her and then have my son, who is a professional nurseryman, tend to it as he loves rare and unusual plants especially the carnivorous variety. But I know that on an academic salary this is only a dream. My fun is dreaming.

When someone asks: what do you do for fun? the assumption is that Life is not fun and one must carve out "fun" time in order to make it worth all the "not fun" times. I was never taught or socialized to think of Life in this way; in fact, I was already a working adult when I learned that vacation (fun!) is something you earn as you work (not fun!) 8 to 5, 52 weeks a year, give or take a few holidays. My father never took us on "vacation" -- if by that is meant taking the family to the beach or to the mountains for a week or so of nothing but fun. We always just went places where we had relatives and friends to visit but no one said "we are on vacation."When my Lola came to visit and stayed for weeks, no one said "she's on vacation with us."

What I've observed is that Filipinos (generalizing here, but tell me if it resonates with you!) live their lives in a sort of seamless way. When I was working in the Philippines, we took our merienda-lunch- siesta-merienda routines seriously. Work,tsismis,work. Or when we went out after work to a jazz bar, for example, we continued talking about work even then. My brother, while playing golf with his buddy who is a doctor, consults him about his diabetes and gets medical advice outside of the doctor's office. Or at a cocktail party one is introduced to a lawyer who happens to do immigration law and suddenly finds himself being asked for legal advice for a relative who is t-n-t and wants to change status.

This kind of seamlessness is not unproblematic within a culture that maintains a sealed (no leaks!) wall between the two compartments. Fun. Not Fun. Vacation. Work. Perhaps it is this kind of rigidity that is so unnatural to the body's own rhythms (and the soul's need for wholeness unmarred by linear time) that makes so many sick -- judged by the number of books being sold on how to be happy, or more research findings that say Americans are more affluent now yet are still unhappy...or judging from the profits of pharmeceuticals. Well, this might sound like a long shot...but you get my drift.

[Which reminds me: Here's a professor, Julian Boyd, who broke this rule (via Jean).]

What do you do for fun, Leny? I should have asked in return: You mean, when I'm awake or when I'm asleep?

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