How are you going to make the next thing fun?
We had been sitting still for way too long. The air was stuffy and we were crammed in our seats and the two young boys, who were sitting in the row behind me, began to squabble. They were antsy. I was antsy. And in my antsiness, I began to question the whole plan. Why, on this first weekend in June, was I buckled into this too-small-seat, on this too-small-plane, waiting, still waiting an hour and a half later, on the Detroit Airport’s runway to see if we, a full-load of passengers, indeed, would be heading anywhere?
I always have had a purpose in my travels to Maine. And, as I squirmed a bit on our over-heated still-not-moving aircraft, I realized that that was what was missing. I had no excuse to be flying east for this particular weekend in early June. I could say that I was traveling to Maine to tend to tasks related to my mother’s July-held Memorial Service. I could say that I’m visiting with family and friends, or gathering materials for an article, or bringing my cousin a belated birthday gift. And all of these things seemed sort of true. I was the bearer of gifts for my cousin, I did want to visit with my brother and friends, and I suppose that there were things to discuss for my mother’s service. And, of course, I’m always gathering material for an article or poem or story; that’s what writers do. But, in that hour and a half of waiting for the mechanical problem to be fixed, in that time of feeling squished and squelched, I had a moment of foot-skipping liberation.
I realized that I didn’t need an excuse, that we never need an excuse, that we truly can allow what feels good to be our road map or air map or life map. And who was I thinking I needed to explain myself to, anyway? It was me, my inner voice, that was demanding an explanation, that was saying, “You need a purpose, Helen, something loftier than fun, to guide your way.” And what was the belief under this demand, I wondered? That I’m going to look like a light-weight, that I’m not taking life seriously enough, that I’m spoiled and coddled and lazy? That no one deserves quite this much fun? Who cares?!? I realized, stuck on that plane, with the boys behind me, kicking my seat as they poked each other and my backside, as they wiggled their way into a better-feeling place, that finding our way to fun trumps it all. At least in my story.
My father taught me about fun early on. He wore it on a regular basis, in his light-hearted gait, in the mischief in his eyes, in the stories that he told and the words he made up; he sang it in the whistle-tune that couldn’t help but pour out of his pursed lips. And, as a child, I walked beside him, held his hand, and breathed it in with that salty Maine air. I learned from him that fun wasn’t just a Saturday boat ride – although what could be better than plopping yourself down on the bow of your father’s lobsterboat, your feet dangling over the side and into the water, and your father steering and you knowing that he wouldn’t let you fall off and you laughing as the waves splashed high and the salt stuck to your face?!? A Saturday boat ride was always fun. But it also was fun to research a report when you loved the topic or to help your father hang an art exhibit at the local library or to know that at the end of the day – a school day, a work day – there your father would be, walking to the car and whistling and carrying a milk shake for you made with the best-tasting homemade ice cream from Hallet’s Drug Store because eating ice cream is always fun.
We finally aborted our mission on that June morning-now-tipping-into- afternoon. All fifty of us passengers unstuffed ourselves from our too-small seats, stood up and piled out of our ailing aircraft and over to a new gate and a new plane and a fresh outlook that we would indeed make our way to our destination after all. And take off we did. And as we flew through the air, over Lake Eerie and Ontario and into New York State and New England, I felt purposeful in my lack of purpose. Fun has been my bandleader since the beginning and often I have had an easy go of it, marching to its tune. There have been times, however, that I’ve disguised the fun I’m having under a more serious cloak, a loftier purpose. And I have to admit that there have been other moments, many other moments, that I’ve squelched it altogether and it has never been fun to put a damper on fun. It wasn’t even a resolution that I made on the plane two weeks ago. It was more of a feeling, a feeling of freedom. No more hiding it. No more dampening it down. Not on this trip. Not in this life.
And so, all weekend, I checked in with myself, asked, “What do you want to do next, Helen? What feels like fun?” And so what if it rained all day on Saturday? So what if it didn’t just rain; it poured, really poured. It felt wonderful to me, the rain that blew against my motel window, that pattered on my umbrella as I raced to my car after shopping at a store called Bliss, that dripped down my face as I walked on the beach at Popham, that drenched my clothes. And when people asked, “What brings you to Maine?” My response was quick and easy. “I’m here for the fun of it!”