This is the third part in a four-part series.
Today, I finish my thoughts on the Totality of Fun by elaborating on Part 1 and Part 3 Fun. I also highlight how all this leads into a particular dilemma with Alzheimer’s, a nascent idea I have been pondering for some time now, given its effects on my father.
As a reminder, the chart below from my last post illustrates how we experience fun for a specific event over time.
Part 1 Fun
Just prior to the fun event, shown in green on the graph, was also fun, as we anticipated the arrival of a near-future event on the train of time. The magnitude is lower, but each moment of anticipation leading up to the event registers as some amount of fun, getting more and more fun as the event gets closer. For some reason, anticipation itself can be fun, perhaps because we project ourselves having fun in the future, which lifts our moods in the now. It’s interesting that
just thinking about a future possibility can influence our current demeanor.
On occasion, the sum of these anticipations (area of green), exceeds the red area of the actual fun itself,1 which can render Part 2 Fun unfortunately below expectations, even disappointing at times. What actually-happens, relative to our expectations of what would-happen, is the key point here (more on this in my next post).
Sometimes there is no Part 1 Fun at all – for example, an unexpected fun event, like a surprise birthday party. This is an interesting, special case, where the surprise-ee is not allowed to participate in the anticipation of fun, because if they did, it wouldn’t really be a surprise, would it?
If surprise parties eliminate Part 1 Fun for the recipient, the logical conclusion here is that it’s possible, by preventing the anticipation, we may essentially rob the individual of some of the total fun of the event. The hope, I suppose, is that the Part 2 Fun is of greater magnitude due to the surprise itself. If the expectations for the day were low, the contrast might be great, leading to a higher magnitude of Part 2 Fun to balance out the loss of Part 1. Speculative. Who knows?2
To what extent a surprise party enhances the Part 2 Fun for the recipient is uncertain to me.3 But my guess is, people like throwing surprise parties because it heightens Part 1 Fun for the planners. That is, surprise parties may be surreptitiously designed to maximize the fun for the planners rather than the recipient. But I digress (again)… so let’s move on to Part 3 Fun.
Part 3 Fun
The blue part of the graph shows how we remember fun that we’ve had in the past. This is Part 3 Fun. Part 3 Fun may not be nearly as fun as Part 2 in magnitude, but every time we relive the memory, we experience some amount of Fun, or at least the pleasures of nostalgia. The interesting point here is that we can relive past Fun for the rest of our lives. Fun events early in life thus have a long shelf-life.
This is one reason why the fun of our youth is perceived as being so abundant and vivacious… because there is more time left to reminisce about it.4 This is also why long-term friends are so beneficial, because we have more cumulative “remember when’s” with them. Replicating lifelong friendships with new acquaintances can take decades, time which some of us (who are Past Midway) no longer have in abundance.
For this reason,
the selection of friends in our youth is perhaps more important than we might imagine when we are still young.
A thought for young people – are the people you hang with now the people you want to be your lifelong friends? This is the way that works – sort of by definition – the people you surround yourself with in your youth will have been around the longest. Choose wisely, early in life. It really does matter.
Part 3 – Fun Enhancement
Some events can become fun through Part 3 memory recall and story-telling, even for incidents which were not remotely fun when they originally happened. Remembering a harrowing experience can be fun later. This is where the third component – remembering the fun – may significantly outshine the actual event.
An illustrative example is in order…
Getting Spanked Is Not Fun, Until It Is
My 1st grade teacher had a rule. Each student was allowed up to five bad “marks” per week. There was a chart on the wall. All marks reset to zero on Monday morning. Seemed reasonable. I don’t recall keeping track of my marks, but there was one week I should have.
I remember yelling something to my friend across the room, trying to be funny no doubt, when I heard my teacher announce,
Mrs. MacEntire held up her right hand toward me with all digits extended. By definition, I was now “in trouble”. What that meant exactly, I was about to learn.
As I approached her desk, she explained my options. Apparently, getting in trouble meant I had a choice. I was new to this, but I like options. Feels like I’m in control. Unfortunately, both options she presented seemed sub-optimal from my perspective.
“You can either choose swats5 or call your parents.”, she said.
No brainer. Call my parents. Who wants to get smacked swiftly on the butt?
We went to lunch in the cafeteria and I largely forgot about the incident. No big deal, right? When I returned to the classroom, Mrs. MacEntire said,
“Andy, can you come here for a minute?”
I walked up to her metal, creamy-fern-colored, 1950’s style desk. Exquisite as it was, I knew I was no match for the authority it conveyed through its prison-style functional design. You know the desk…
I expected her to tell me about her lunchtime conversation with my mom, but I was wrong. Instead, she dropped this bomb…
“I spoke with your dad.”
Wait. What?!? No!
There’s something special about the realization that you are totally screwed.
As an adult, this can be liberating, knowing that it’s only up from here. As a child, you don’t think that way.
I didn’t realize that calling Dad was an option.6 Had I known that…
“Your dad said to give you swats.”
There’s a great lesson here that we (the boys) all managed to learn over time.7 Never, ever, under any circumstances, choose the option to call-your-parents. Ever. It is always worse than swats. Take the swats. Quick and expedient.
Expediency trumps extended dread every time.
Here’s the catch, I immediately remembered what Dad had told my brother and I about six months prior, an edict of sorts:
“If you get spanked at school, you get spanked at home.”
This day was getting worse quickly.
Fast forward a few hours. I remember the spanking line-up. There were four of us getting spanked that day,8 just before we were to walk across the hall and watch a film with the other two first-grade classes (on an old reel-to-reel projector). Suzette Forman was in one of those classes. She was the first girl I ever noticed as being cute. I never spoke to her. But that has nothing to do with this story.
I was in position 3 in the line-up. I don’t recall the name of the kid in line just in front of me, but his pants were always baggy, sagging in the back, and his jeans always rode well-below his white Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear. Somehow, I knew this would be problematic… or at least I was curious how one properly spanks a kid with pants that saggy. Existential thoughts about underwear was good use of my time in that moment.
When it was his turn, I was particularly observant. On que, he walked up, bent over and Thud! (we were just getting one swat).
Whack, Smack, or maybe Thap, but Thud?
He walked away to go see the film (great fun, right?).
Now, this is the worst part. This is the climax of anticipating a negative event. The exact moment before you yourself get spanked. It’s worse than the spanking. I guess you could say this is Part 1 UnFun. I’ve just seen two kids in front of me take their swat to the butt, so I know this is not going to be a fun experience. Just when I thought it was my turn, Mrs. MacEntire said to the kid in front of me,
“Wait. Come back. That wasn’t a good one. Bend over again.”
I knew it. The saggy pants.9
“That one was better.”, she said.
I thought that might be a matter of perspective.
Later that day, the bus ride home was surely longer than normal. Although I don’t remember the commute itself, I do remember thinking, “How do I walk into this situation at home?” At some point, I have to walk through the door and enter the house.
I tried to come in unnoticed, but, as luck would have it, Dad and Grandpa were working on the light fixture in the living room, right by the front door. Dad saw me and asked why I was sneaking in so quietly, under-the-radar. I had hoped this was a rhetorical question. It was not. And thus, began the discussion about a specific phone call he received earlier in the day, around lunch time.
For some reason, Grandpa Dewey seemed to quite enjoy this conversation. I can vividly remember him smiling at me, having a grand time. A 7-year old wonders how this could possibly be funny. To me, this was cataclysmic. For him, it was nostalgic, harking back to his youth (if I am to believe the stories I’ve heard of his schoolroom adventures and run-ins with his teachers. He used to say in his gruff voice, “Me and the teacher didn’t see eye-to-eye.”).
Fortunately, I didn’t get spanked again at home. Instead, Dad made me write the following sentence 50 times:
I WILL TALK IN CLASS AT THE PROPER TIME.
That took me a while.
As part of the arrangement, I also had to submit this to my teacher on Monday. She smiled.
That’s an example of an event that is funny now, but definitely wasn’t at the time. Converted through Part 3 Fun… as was this next event.
Water Initials – A Related Story
A group of 7th grade boys, me included, thought of an inventive game to enhance our middle school experience.
Someone had discovered that plastic nasal spray bottles didn’t only shoot a mist. They misted when directed upward, as intended, but if pointed horizontal or downward, they shot a perfect stream of water, the width of fishing line. Logically, the game became: how many random butts can you write your initials on with a stream of water by the end of the day? Counting was apparently on the honor system.
The next day, all seven of us had our nasal spray bottles in hand and the game was on. Our parents must have thought allergy season was in full swing.
There were ample opportunities for butt-initial-writing in the hallway between classes. This seemed fairly harmless and was great fun – Part 2 Fun – as I recall.
The game continued for several days, until someone spilled a little water on the floor in the hall and a girl slipped on it. And thus, our game was exposed. Whoever was initially caught was sent to the office and then proceeded to rat out the rest of us.
5th period English class. Over the intercom we hear, “Please send Mark Kennon, Todd Hammons, (and a few other names) to the office.” Those guys were busted. But I somehow got lucky.
A few minutes later… “Please send Andy Jones and Terry to the office.”. Dang it. Unlucky.
Somehow, our Vice Principal, Mr. Sanders, had enough plastic chairs for six of us to sit semi-circle around his desk in his office. You know the chairs…
Unlike Mrs. MacEntire, Mr. Sander’s desk was a more imposing wood veneer.
I gained a lot of respect for Mr. Sanders that day for how matter-of-factly he handled the conversation.10
“So, I understand you boys all brought water guns to school today.”
“Oh no. No. Nothing like that.”, we protested. “We only have these little plastic nasal spray bottles. They’re really small.”
“Ahh, so they’re more concealable.”
Mr. Sanders was going to win this one.
“Well boys, I’m trying to keep my sense of humor about this. But the fact is, someone slipped on some water you guys spilled in the hallway and I have to punish you. Besides, I’m pretty sure you all know you shouldn’t have water fights at school.”
No one corrected him on the rules of the game. He had already out-maneuvered us, was in the lead and had put our king in check.
About that time, culprit #7, Jason Louvier, walked in… presumably the last guy to get called into the office through the intercom.
Mr. Sanders, in his Oklahoma accent, said,
“Jason Lou-veer, igh hait to see you in here son. Your grandma nearly razed me. I’d hait ta havta tell ‘er you wer in my office ta’day. Didja have a water boddle too?”
Jason replied, “Yes sir, but I only used it for retaliatory purposes.”
Now, I suspect there were only two people in that room who understood what retaliatory meant. Fortunately, Mr. Sanders clarified for the rest of us,
“So you’re tellin’ me, that you only had yer water boddle to squirt other people in case they squirted you furst?”
“OK, Jason, you can go back to class.”
We didn’t know what retaliatory meant, but that was clearly a word we should learn for these sorts of situations.
Back down to six guys again.
Mr. Sanders continued,
“OK guys, here’s what we are going to do. You each have a choice.”
Here we go with the choices again.
“Swats or call your parents.”
And this is where I discovered that everyone else had also learned the NEVER CALL YOUR PARENTS rule.
Mr. Sanders said to Mark, sitting in the first chair in our semi-circle,
“Swats or call your parents?”
“Swats”. Smart choice Mark, I thought.
“Three.” This seemed a reasonable answer and set the precedent for the rest of us. Well-done Mark. You hit the sweet spot. Not too many, but enough for our penance.
Mr. Sanders talked aloud as he wrote in his notebook…
“OK. Mark. Swats. Three.”
“Todd, swats or parents?”
Mr. Sanders took notes again, (I guess he didn’t want to get this wrong).
“Todd. Swats. Three.”
And so the pattern continued as we each manned-up and owned our punishment.
Sitting next to me was Terry, chair #5. I was last.
“Terry, swats or parents?”
I’ll never know what genius crawled into Terry’s brain to give him the idea of non-conformity in middle school, but I was very thankful for him planting this seed.
“OK. Terry. Swats. Two.”
Now, it might be successfully argued that Terry’s infractions were lesser. It had surfaced in our conversation with Mr. Sanders that Terry had, in fact, not been a participant for the full duration of our game. He had just recently joined the competition that day. So, perhaps two swats seemed equitable to the group. But what I was about to do was not.
Mr. Sanders looked at me.
“Andy, swats or parents?”
“Swats.” Boom. Learned that lesson.
Five pairs of eyes, previously staring mostly at the floor, instantly darted up at me, silently asking, “Wait. Is that possible?” Then all eyes panned in unison to Mr. Sanders, to see how this was going to play out. Andy was playing poker, clearly bluffing, with swats as the stakes. Would Mr. Sanders raise the bluff or just call?
Unphased, Mr. Sanders wrote,
“Andy. Swats. One.”
And thus, it was recorded into law.
The faces of the other five guys was priceless… and I felt like a freaking genius. Thank you, Terry.
Phase one of our office visit was discussion based – discovery of facts and recording of the action plan. Phase two wasn’t discussion based. It involved the propitiation for our water-spraying-initial-writing sins, which we transitioned to next.
Smack… Smack… Smack.
The first guy came out holding his butt with both hands and walking on this tip-toes. He said,
“Man, it burns.”11
But he was kind of smiling at the same time, so I thought, “How bad can it be?”. In retrospect, I think he was already beginning to enjoy what was over for him and what he knew the rest of us would now have to experience. I would have had a good-luck-with-that-boys smile too.
When it was my turn, I walked back into the office from the hallway (the make-shift waiting room for swats). Mr. Sanders had placed one of the plastic chairs next to the wall, under a framed picture of a clown. He said,
“Bend over, put your hands on the chair, look up and smile at the clown.”.12
I looked up as instructed but I don’t remember smiling.
Mr. Sanders had a transparent, plexiglass paddle, in which he had strategically drilled holes in a well-thought-out pattern. He told us this was for aerodynamics, which I believe was meant to be humorous, and true. This design improvement apparently allowed Mr. Sanders to make my one swat count for three. It burned even more than I was expecting. The first guy hadn’t lied. Had I known in advance, I would have worn baggy pants and seven pairs of underwear.
This is the first time I believe my mom will have heard this story. I’m hoping the statute of limitations has long since expired on the indiscretions of my youth after 35 years… and that I do not get spanked… or have to write sentences again next time I visit.13
Back to Part 3 Fun
Looking back now, these episodes are funny. But at the time, they definitely were not fun. So, you get the point. I’ve had many great laughs re-telling these stories over the years. This is the conversion of an unfun event to “fun” through the mechanism of Part 3 Fun. Even bad stuff can become Fun, in the alternate universe of Part 3 Fun recollection.
That was all a fun discourse on Part 3 Fun, but this next part is not fun, at all.
The Problem with Alzheimer’s & Having Fun
Under normal conditions, we experience all three parts of Fun as I have previously outlined. However, one of the saddest parts of Alzheimer’s is that those afflicted, after the opaque fog of uncertainty overcomes them, can only experience the Part 2 component of fun – actually doing fun things in the moment – arguably the shortest lived, least effective contributor to the Totality of Fun.
Part 2 Fun is fleeting. How fun is it to not be able to look forward to something (Part 1 Fun) nor be able to remember fun things you have done in the past (Part 3 Fun)? After some time, Alzheimer’s confines people to live exclusively in the moment… and this one… and this one, but completely voids the interconnectedness between moments.
As part of its cruelty – and there is much cruelty to this disease – Alzheimer’s continually robs people of Part 1 and Part 3 Fun… and eventually Part 2 Fun as well.
At some point, I noticed my father began to experience everything as a surprise. Life was becoming a long string of confusing surprises, as I guess it does with most Alzheimer’s patients. Periodic surprises are fun for most people. But if everything is a surprise, nothing is fun, not even fun. And then they drift off to the next surprise, without recollection of the previous surprise, (except perhaps for a lingering feeling of indeterminate unrest and disconcertedness about some vague, foggy unexpected incident that just happened to them), and no expectation for the next moment. A torturous, endless succession of surprises.
This is not fun. There can be no fun when we lose the continuity of moments in time. In fact, without this connection, we lose ourselves, and with that, all hope as well. For hope cannot exist without an expected future.
Hopelessness is the depth of despair and a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
This is a good place to stop and a reasonable segue to my final post of this series, where I’ll discuss the extreme importance of the interconnectedness of moments, self-congruence and how our memories and hopes serve to bind us to ourselves through time.
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- as it does in the graph (I measured), but it’s difficult to tell.
- When it comes to surprises, I always say, “I’ll be surprised either way, so just surprise me now.”. I know, party pooper, right?
- Because no one throws me surprise parties (at my request). Actually, that’s not completely true. Brad Kallenberger surprised me on my birthday during my senior year in college. It was brilliantly covert, and I didn’t see it coming. The most touching part was that the party planners tried to fly my girlfriend (Sofie) in from Houston to surprise me with her presence. Even that they considered including her was special to me. They implicitly understood this was the most important thing in my life, making this the ultimate gift… to spend more time with Sofie. Twenty-seven years later, spending time with Sofie is still the ultimate gift and my favorite thing to do in the world. Again, I digress… and put Sofie in a footnote (oops).
- And there’s the other reason too… that we actually did things that were more fun. Youth is like that.
- “Getting spanked” for my international readers.
- All these years, I envisioned my teacher calling my Dad at work. But it just occurred to me today that Dad was home when I got home from school. He was standing on a ladder in the living room working on the light fixture with my grandpa. I suppose he took the day off since my grandparents were visiting. This suddenly makes sense why my Dad might have answered the phone that day. How unfortunate for me.
- I would later discover that we had all learned this lesson, because it became (painfully) obvious some years later, in 7th grade… discussed below.
- In retrospect, four kids getting spanked that week from my class of 20 seems a little high in percentage terms.
- Years later, Cameron Carlson (who rode the same school bus as me) would capitalize on this same physics-of-spanking principle. One morning on the bus ride to school, Cameron said to me, “Guess how many pairs of underwear I am wearing.”. This conversation somehow didn’t seem out-of-the-ordinary. Logically, I guessed “One”. “Incorrect. Seven. I’m getting swats today at school.” Cameron had wisdom gained from experience. But why seven pairs? Was this some religious symbolism or was it simply every pair of underwear he owned? Let’s guess B. Clean and dirty.
- Honestly, he truly was a great guy and a fantastic leader who really cared for the kids. He seemed to know us all.
- I later recalled this was Will Muir.
- I bet he thought that was funny.
- For the record, Mom never spanked me… which is why she was my preferred person to answer the original phone call back in first grade.