I thought Karen Karbo’s third chapter of Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life would be amusing. Instead, Karen takes us along Julia’s path of early adulthood, including the death of Julia’s mother, her failed first love, her failed attempts at employment. Along the way, we discover Karbo lost her own mother shortly after her eighteenth birthday. Despite the serious events in both women’s lives, each found ways to wile away their time. “You don’t need to have the life you want to enjoy the life you have,” Karbo writes. Her solution: Learn to be amused. By that, she means engaging in activities or tasks that “can make our otherwise unsatisfactory lives, satisfactory.” You notice, she didn’t say, “Laugh your head off.” She didn’t say, “Have a great time!” She didn’t even admonish us with the platitude, “Do what you love.” Let me quote Karen again: Learn to be amused. Amused? She probably didn’t mean for me to reach for a dictionary, but I did. The definition feels lacking so I search for the etymology of “amuse” online. Etymologyonline.com offers this: amuse (v.)late 15c., “to divert the attention, beguile, delude,” from Middle French amuser “divert, cause to muse,” from a “at, to” (but here probably a causal prefix) + muser “ponder, stare fixedly” (see muse (v.)). Sense of “divert from serious business, tickle the fancy of” is recorded from 1630s, but through 18c. the primary meaning was “deceive, cheat” by first occupying the attention. Bemuse retains more of the original meaning. Related: Amused; amusing. Ohhhh! I get it. UH-MUSED. Doing things that occupy my body with non-productive activity so my mind can swirl around like steam rising from a boiling pot. The steam has nothing to do with what I’m about to cook. It’s a by-product of the process. We give it no attention whatsoever unless, for example, we inadvertently burn ourselves because we forget it’s there. What do I do to be amused? The short answer: nothing. Too many clothes to wash, floors to sweep, bills to pay. There are too many meals to cook, dishes to wash, rugs to Febreze. When I take time to relax, I do (as Karen points out) get a manicure, a pedicure, a massage. I shop for things I’ve been meaning to buy. Do lunch with friends I’ve been meaning to see. Read a book I’ve been meaning to read. Purposeless behavior? Moi? Then I remember, amusing myself used to be my specialty. Only when I think back to it, I hear labels like Irresponsible. Reckless. Immature. (Whose voice is that, anyway?) I bought fake ID and snuck into the Gorilla Room. Violated no trespassing signs. Climbed aboard a foreign ship in the dead of night. Smoked a few cigarettes and more than a few joints. Woke up in closets I didn’t recognize. But I’m looking to go a little deeper. Past the easy distraction of being stoned or drunk. Past the amusement of the come-on, the pick-up, and the uh-oh-morning wave goodbye. How did I used to amuse myself? Reclined on the grass and watched the clouds.Picked a bushy branch from a shrub, held it behind my butt, and cantered like a horse.Climbed a tree and watched people from the V in the branches.Turned up the radio/eight track tape/cassette/CD and drove. Where? Nowhere. Anywhere. Just drove.I sat inside large truck tires on a playground, my finger tracing the line where the pool of water had dried up, leaving the mosquito larvae to die.I whispered. I giggled. I twirled. I learned to square dance. I skipped rocks.I imagined loving boys (and men) who would never love me. I wrote long letters I would never mail. And some I did. I hopped around on a red rubber ball.
Can I reclaim my ability to be amused? Stay tuned.