The Art Of Self-Entertaining

By Thursday, September 20, 2012 2 0

Happy autumn equinox! The equinox actually falls two days from now on Saturday, but since I post on Thursdays and Sundays, here a few ideas now on how to celebrate the autumn equinox. This post also sparks further ideas.

What is your favorite source of entertainment? Is it watching TV, or catching the new movies that hit the theaters, or going to pricey big-name concerts like the Peter Gabriel show I found myself at here in Montreal the night before last? Or is it actively doing something you love and are probably good at, like sailing or singing or storytelling?

You may be familiar enough with the diamond-cut life to know I’m going to encourage you in that last path, in self-entertaining. Here is one reason why: while I enjoyed the big, fancy show last night, my ticket cost all of $109 – yet I didn’t enjoy it 109 times more than when I actively do something, myself, like dancing, singing, writing and running. Moreover, most of the world can’t afford a $109 entertainment ticket, and for the first four-fifths of my life, I generally couldn’t either.

A middle-aged man was sitting to my left at the concert. I noticed he was singing along with Peter on “Shock The Monkey”, impressively on key, with lots of inflection, using both chest voice and falsetto, and in general sounding like he could be in Peter’s band, or at least in some band somewhere.

When the song ended, I asked him “Are you a singer?” He spoke French only, and needed to enlist his daughter next to him to translate. I learned through her he was not a singer, and that he was surprised by the question.

“You sing really well!” I said. He seemed a little embarrassed, and I didn’t hear him singing after that, which made me sad, because I could tell that singing made him happy. And I got to wondering: how many good singers were lurking there in this audience of 20,000, many of whom were clearly hero-worshipping fans of Peter Gabriel? How much did their hero-worship get in the way of accessing their own talent? Here are some ideas for cultivating the art of self-entertainment.

Sing in a local group. I have found that singing in church choirs can be very rewarding, for example. Many churches are inclusive, i.e. you don’t need to subscribe to its particular religion in order to attend and participate. You may also find that you love church on its own merits, as I do.

Have a photo-sharing and storytelling night with friends or family. Most people are storytellers in their everyday lives, to some degree, without even realizing they’re doing it, i.e., “You won’t believe what happened when I was shopping at the grocery store today”. Last month I asked my quiet coworker Jack about his vacation in Colorado. He showed me a video on his phone of what he dryly termed “the kitty”, which turned out to be a young mountain lion who had lounged for two days in the backyard of the friend’s home he had stayed at in Boulder. Moreover, Jack explained it had interacted with a male deer who had definitely not seen itself as the mountain lion’s next meal, and in fact sometimes charged it, wanting to claim the backyard for itself. I told Jack I’d never heard a more interesting response to the question “What did you do with your summer vacation?”

Photos and videos tend to prompt a story, sometimes a funny or surprising one. Other people may prefer to show photos while saying little, which is fine, too.

Create and use dance, singing or art-making space in your own home or garage. Since we hang out in our house in the family room, we keep no furniture in the living room. I periodically use it for dancing, especially when dance-loving friends come over, and neighborhood children use it to play in when they come over.

Practice your art in a way that contributes to or involves others. This can also be called creative volunteering. My own blogging, for example, has happily occupied many hundreds of hours since autumn 2007 when I started. I’ve used WordPress as my platform, which is free, and I highly recommend it. I could have watched TV for those hundreds of hours of non-work time, outsourcing my need to be entertained instead of entertaining myself by sharing my gift of writing. You have gifts to share with the world, too. Quite possibly you’re already doing that in a small way, and you could do it in a bigger, bolder way. My carpool partner Cory loves skateboarding, and loves to help others either learn how, and to learn the legal rights of skateboarders, which (I’ve learned from him) are similar to those of pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Host a potluck dinner gathering. This could be as simple as one person, couple or family besides yourself bringing food over to share, or it could be larger. Scale it to your own energy level and comfort zone. My husband Thor and I have hosted many dozens of dinner parties in the almost ten years we’ve been together, some potluck and some not. When a friend said, “You entertain more than anyone I know. How do you do it?” I replied, “We’re not perfectionistic about it.” For example, we pick up  and vacuum before people arrive, but our house is never spick-and-span clean. That would be way too exhausting, and guests don’t need that anyway. They need our free attention. They need our smiles, our interest in them. As I wrote this paragraph, Thor told me, “We just got an invitation to a potluck on Saturday night.” “Let’s go!” I replied. Our hosts Mike and MaryBeth even live within walking distance, which helps us to practice the very best diet.

What’s your own favorite way to self-entertain here? Comment here.

Coming up: on Sunday I’m inviting readers to register for a review and free giveaway of my latest favorite book: Wild: Lost And Found On The Pacific Crest Trail by fellow Portlander Cheryl Strayed.

  • Erin
    September 20, 2012

    I like to discover new routes to get somewhere. If I have some spare time, I like to take a roundabout way of getting from point A to point B. There are so many fun things to discover that never would have been found if I’d taken the main artery. It’s at its most effective and entertaining via bicycle.

    Embarrassingly, I enjoy tidying and organizing and making space have better flow.

    I am starting as a Global Envision intern writing on the energy poverty beat. Really excited! Michael Andersen at GE, who I met through networking, reposted your “why public transit is like a condom” post. You guys know each other. Such a wonderful circle.

  • Alison
    September 21, 2012

    Oh my heavens, don’t be embarrassed that you enjoy tidying and organizing. It’s a Goddess-given gift!
    I agree it’s great fun to explore alternate routes on a bicycle.
    Congratulations on your Global Envision internship writing on the energy poverty beat. Sounds wonderful. And I’m tickled you’ve met Michael Andersen. Good writer, great person.

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