Edition #114: When Did We Stop Having Fun?
Plus, the two choices that keep a midlife crisis at bay, films from Cannes, and an awkwardly hypnotizing dance
A Note From the Editor
At dinner with a lifelong friend a few months back, I discovered I never had fun anymore. Or I should say we discovered it together, for she wasn’t having fun, either. We were telling each other long-winded stories of years past, recounting each of the pre-COVID “before” years in the superfluous amount of detail that only your best friend could have the stamina to actively listen to, filling in each other’s stories with our own memories of the same time as if to prove to ourselves, and to each other, that we were always fixtures in one another’s life. During one of these stories, her face lit up. She became an animated cartoon, putting on a silly little voice for the old version of her she was playing, all pep and hope. We laughed until tears streamed down our faces, for it was a ridiculous story. When the wave of contagious hysterics died down, my jubilation was immediately replaced by a stark sense of melancholy. I couldn’t recall when we’d last laughed that way, or when I’d seen her face light up like that in our present lives. She felt it, too, and we wondered, when had we stopped having fun?
We talked about it like scientists—hypothesizing, experimenting, trying to pinpoint the precise moment when we went from girls in our early 20’s exploring a city we’d both wanted to live in since we were children together to women in our late 20’s, simply counting down the years until the looming decade that was supposed to signify Serious Adulthood, questioning whether we were in the right place, whether we were dreaming realistic enough dreams, whether we even wanted to participate in all of these domestic and childbearing activities in the years to come. We agreed 2020 had much to do with our faltering, but I had to take some accountability, too, for I know I can so easily slide into a militant, joyless state of living in which I refuse plans, eat only the food I prepare, and get lost in the gloomy maze of my overactive mind. During these joyless phases, doing something as simple as getting myself a coffee out seems overly indulgent. I go to bed and wake up with Post-it notes of to-do lists swarming my desk and my brain. When such a state arises in me—less often these days, but it still happens—I do not love being alive. It isn’t the same as not wanting to be alive, but there is an obvious lack of luster within me. Living feels like another chore on my to-do list. When I get too far gone, not even the imagined highlights of my dreamed-up future—falling in love, getting a script optioned, starting a commune—are enough to placate the nothingness of the now.
Another friend of mine is nothing like this. He has a true zest for life; a hunger for it. I’ve always admired how he and his partner go about living—they’ll get home late from a trip on a Sunday evening and go straight to a bustling restaurant for dinner, they’ll take long bike rides on a hot summer day, just to explore the city, they’ll organize elaborate group trips with day-by-day itineraries, inviting a handful of friends to come along. His energy level baffles me, for he is a successful New York City business owner, busier with work than most claim to be, and yet it never stops him. He has every reason to slow down, stop traveling, turn down plans and stay in and recharge, but he also has an unbridled thirst for life. If I could bottle that up and keep a bit for myself, a reserve for those times when the nothingness takes over, I think I’d be much better off. But sometimes just being around his enthusiasm works in the same way—I think, life isn’t so bad. It’s actually pretty wonderful. It can be.
Recently, it was, one of those days you don’t know you so badly need. I was at the beach with a group of old friends and new ones, some of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. It felt like a true early summer day, not too hot, freezing water, just the right amount of sun. Families and groups of young adults surrounded us; a chubby baby in front of us stuck a bucket over his entire head, delighting his family. When he noticed their reactions, he did it again and again; a waddling bucket head. I peeled the tough, scraggly skin off a lychee and plopped its bulbous white body into my mouth, pressuring everyone in the group to try one for themselves—and we experienced something new together. The reviews were positive; it tasted like a grape’s more interesting cousin. I ate a salty bodega sub, turkey, and veggies, and watched people dance on the boardwalk to club hits from the early 2000s. I slathered on SPF 50; half of us hid behind hats and shawls, the other half baked and bronzed. We laughed a lot, we talked about how this time last year we were in Puerto Rico together. I was happier, I realized, being on the beach in the Rockaways. You don’t always need to be away to feel alive. Later, we feasted on an obscene amount of barbeque. I biked over the Williamsburg Bridge as the sun set, lighting up the sky with a fiery orange glow. I was only 10% sunburnt—my inner calf, of all places—and the freckles on my nose had started to peek out. Life was easy again. Fun.
I’ve been thinking about other things I love about being alive, some if which are fun but most of which are entirely ordinary, like when my crappy little blender is struggling to mash up frozen spinach and, finally, the tornado inside the plastic container gives in to itself and begins to spin. The way my body fits together during yoga, proving that it was perfectly made—palms under soles of feet in Padahastasana, knees in eye sockets when I’m lying on my back, hips hoisted overhead. The pigeons that have a sunset party every evening in the small valley between my building and a neighboring building, crooning and flying just outside my kitchen window, landing on my AC unit with such a graceless plop that I can’t help but laugh. Seeing someone on the subway read a book I’ve recently finished, imagining what part they’re reading by the expression on their face. Seeing someone save a voice memo I sent them, especially if that someone is a crush and they’re saving it for the first time. Those rare moments when I’m so moved to write that I stop everything I’m doing—errands or cooking or scrolling—and open my laptop, or my notebook and get to it. Those moments when I don’t realize how badly I need to write, when an idea or an unresolved thought is lodged in my brain and I’m resisting it, and when I decide to drink a glass of wine to loosen it up, and when it comes out in one long, powerful stream (like when I wrote this) and I think: Damn. This is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
Cheers, my dears, and as always, thank you for reading. Next week kicks off my summer travels, during which time I’ll be writing and researching and learning to surf and (hopefully!) not being glued to my laptop for all hours of the day. If you like this newsletter, please consider supporting it with a paid subscription. Paid subscribers keep this thing going. I appreciate you!
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
The Two Choices That Keep a Midlife Crisis At Bay. When you think of midlife, what age comes to mind? One of my favorite parts of this article was reading the author's approach to calculating what age constitutes midlife, starting at adulthood. The two, simple choices presented here make a lot of intuitive sense, and I plan to start implementing them now instead of waiting until later. A reminder: birthdays can, and should, be joyous celebrations of life lived, not dreaded timestamps of what has and has not yet happened within the span of an arbitrary number of years.
Two Mothers Confront the Unimaginable in Uvalde. There is, understandably, a lot of fatigue around Uvalde news, but here are a few reasons you should read this piece. For one, the intimate retelling of a local mother’s life—working as a waitress at a local BBQ restaurant, being alerted via phone from a teacher on campus that there was an active shooter situation at her son’s school, and the added context of historical tensions between Uvalde residents and the police force—paint a clearer picture of what life in Uvalde is like, which makes the tragedy feel more real; closer to home for many Americans whose ordinary lives might resemble those lives of Uvalde residents. Short, poignant, informative, and well worth a read. Also, remembering the victims.
Slow Down, It’s What Your Brain Has Been Begging For. When the world grows increasingly hectic, as it has continued to do in recent times, my old anxieties flare up with vengeance. I find myself trapped in my mind, unable to detach from my screens, entirely losing control of the thought patterns that held me hostage. This gorgeously descriptive piece reminds us of the necessity of cultivating mindfulness in a world that is designed to distract and frighten; by using our five senses to notice what is going on around us. One of my favorite ways to do this is by praying for every person I encountered that day that I can recall—the woman on the crosswalk, the barista with the cute smile, the construction worker across the street—an exercise inspired by this essay.
Perhaps You Should… Catch a Film From Cannes
Going to the movies is one of my life’s greatest pleasures. The darkness, the popcorn, I’m here for all of it. Recently, I’ve been taking advantage of the handful of small, indie theaters in my neighborhood, all of which screen films I wouldn’t have caught otherwise. I’m looking forward to watching a handful of the standout films that premiered at Cannes last week, especially this one and this one.
**Bonus Content** (Slave 4 U This Aint)
I cannot stop watching this video, wh\ch sort of feels like watching someone attempting to record an awkward TikTok dance in a very public place. Should we use this video to hypnotize legislators into listening to their constituents, á la Mugatu/the prime minister of Malaysia?
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.