This is one of Mary’s favorite paintings. I painted it from memory years after I saw a little girl having fun at night all by herself in the dilapidated area around the old Kansas City Public Library on Ninth Street.
Two readers responded to an earlier post by saying they write poems for fun. So do I, and so did W. H. Auden and Osip Mandelstam. But “fun” is hard to define. Somebody running a marathon is, strangely enough, having fun. And I have a son-in-law who has fun cooking dinner! “Fun” is simply what is not work. Work bores us. It wears us out. We need the money it brings in, but unless our work happens to be something we would do for nothing, it is a waste of good play time.
You may have fun while being instructed, but only if you consent to being instructed. Generally speaking, fun is something you choose to do, not something you are coerced into doing. Auden died before political correctness became “a thing,” but it was what he had in mind when he said that making a poem was in itself a way of defying The Management: “So long as artists exist, making what they please and think they ought to make, even when it’s not terribly good, even if it appeals to only a handful of people, they remind the Management of something managers need to be reminded of, namely that the managed are people with faces, not anonymous members, that Homo Luborans [“working man”] is also Homo Ludens [“playing man”]. Among the half dozen or so things a man of honor should be prepared, if necessary, to die for, the right to play, the right to frivolity, is not the least.”
Ossip Mandelstam did die for it. He wrote a funny, sarcastic poem about an unnamed Manager (Stalin) who recognized himself. Mandelstam was seriously playful. He said he thought of art as a “joyous communion with God, like some game played by the Father with his children, some blind man’s bluff or hide and seek of the spirit.”
Almost 50 years ago, Mary and I wrote a book about the importance of children’s traditional fun—i.e. free play—which is still in print (see sidebar). Today, the importance of free play is recognized by child psychologists and many educators. See Peter Gray, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.