Welcome to the inner-workings of my brain...
Hello there :)
Welcome to issue thirteen of Manufacturing Serendipity.
Ordinarily this newsletter is a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected and often delightful things I’ve recently encountered.
But this edition is a little different.
I’ve managed to hurt my back, and as a result, both sitting and standing are very uncomfortable. Lying down is marginally better, but I’ve not been able to figure out a way to type whilst supine, and so putting together this missive has been a bit of a challenge.
I still wanted to send you something, and I’m afraid this was the best I could do. Most of the usual sections are missing, but will return next time, I promise.
To tide you over until then, in this edition you’ll find some pretty half-baked thoughts on fun which I wrote last week, and to be honest never thought I’d actually publish. I’ve now edited them lightly whilst slightly high on some spectacular pain relief… Welcome to the inner-workings of my brain! Woop! Or something.
There’s also a handful of links to things that I hope you’ll like, and a few other bits and bobs.
Grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, I hope you still enjoy this one…
Do you know how to have fun?
Over the past fortnight I’ve been thinking a lot about fun. I recognise this is a strange sentence to write but perhaps it will make a little more sense if I confess something to you:
Dear reader, I have a somewhat uneasy relationship with fun.
I have a clear memory of being a child at party (one of those parties you’re dragged to rather than go willingly). I think perhaps it was a party thrown by one of my Dad’s work colleagues. As a result, whilst there were lots of children there, these were not children I’d ever met before.
I was told to join the other children: “Go and have fun.”
I approached the group of children who indeed appeared to be having fun. But lingering on the edge of the group I struggled to understand their particular brand of fun. I wished I had been allowed to bring my book. For me, books were just about the best kind of fun you could have. I think I eventually joined in with whatever they were doing and did my best impression of a child having fun.
But I wasn’t actually having fun, and it troubled me.
Was I not capable of having fun? Was I broken in some way?
Later, either at the same party, or perhaps at another one (there were many of these sorts of parties where I did an impression of a child having fun, and they’ve all merged into one giant endless party in my head); I overheard two men talking. One gestured to one of the women at the party, and said: “She knows how to have fun”.
In my innocence I took this exchange at face value and I remember thinking that I should talk to this woman: she knew how to have fun, so maybe she could teach me how it worked.
But I felt too shy to approach her, which, in retrospect was probably a good thing.
Of course, over time, I came to understand that fun is subjective.
What I find fun, you might find unspeakably dull, and vice versa. And that’s cool. I don’t think it’s possible for humans to come to a universal consensus around what is fun, and what isn’t.
What I find to be fun is necessarily influenced by my own feelings, personal taste and opinions, and they may well be different to yours. Even with our differences there’s likely to be things which both of us find to be fun and so it’s likely we could still have fun together. But even if there’s no overlap between us at all, neither of us should feel bad about the things we find to be fun, or the things which we don’t.
And yet, I feel there’s often a sort of weird societal pressure around fun. There are things that we’re expected to find fun, and if we don’t then we often force ourselves to do these impressions of people having fun (much like I did as a child), which is an exhausting and frankly pretty miserable way to live.
And I think it’s potentially dangerous because sometimes we spend so long doing those impressions of people having fun that we lose ourselves somewhere along the way.
We’re not actually having fun, but we feel like we ought to be having fun, so we try to look like we’re having fun, and others tell us we’re having fun, and so we tell ourselves that this is what fun looks like, and that what we’re having is definitely, absolutely, unequivocally FUN!
But deep down we feel empty, and a little sad, and we wonder - is this really fun?
It occurs to me that perhaps I’ve been thinking about this because as COVID restrictions are beginning to ease in the UK certain types of “fun” are going to be possible again soon, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
So, erm yeah. That’s a long-winded way of saying I’ve been thinking a lot about fun.
Possibly because I’ve been thinking so much about fun, I was primed to spot this little gem in this thoroughly excellent article (which, incidentally, you should definitely read): On sticking with it by @noampomsky:
“Most things for me are Type 2 or Type 3 fun—rewarding, but only fun after the fact or not fun at all. If you expect things to always be Type 1 fun, you’ll keep quitting because you’ll inevitably have moments when you lose faith in what you’re doing.”
On reading this, I was like: wait, what?!
Type 1, type 2, and type 3 fun? What’s that all about?
I disappeared down a rabbit hole to try to find out. As far as I can tell its origins are in outdoor sports. (Given that not only do I not engage in any outdoor pursuits, I don’t even own anything waterproof it’s perhaps not surprising that I’d never encountered this scale before).
The outdoor pursuits scale of fun goes a little something like this:
Type I Fun: This is stuff that you find fun to do at the time that you’re doing it, and fun to remember; but I get the sense that it’s potentially not that challenging - i.e. you don’t often really grow, or learn, or improve as a result of this type of fun.
Type II Fun: This is stuff that hurts a bit to do, so it’s maybe not actually that fun while you’re doing it, but it’s fun to remember. Unlike Type I Fun this stuff is challenging and you do grow, or learn, or improve as a result of this type of fun.
Type III Fun: This is stuff that is not fun at the time, and not fun to remember, but it makes for a great story. I suspect, a bit like Type II Fun you do grow, or learn, or improve as a result of this type of fun; although of course you could make the argument that it’s really not fun at all. For what it’s worth, I think the reason this option exists is because at some level there was an expectation that this thing was going to be fun (I’ll talk a little more about this later).
Here’s a visual:
Discovering this nudged me towards thinking about fun in terms of three key phases: before, during, and after. Which makes sense to me, because I suspect that at some level we measure fun in these three ways: expectation, reality, and retrospective.
In the example above the expectation that these things will be fun is implicit - it’s not directly expressed.
Then the fun is evaluated in terms of reality (i.e. whether or not it was actually fun at the time), and retrospectively (i.e. whether or not you could consider it fun after the fact).
Finally, there’s an additional overlay - growth, learning or improvement, again this is not always explicitly stated, but perhaps inferred.
I really like it as a scale, although I’d acknowledge that calling it a scale is problematic because it’s not a scale at all - perhaps it could more accurately be described as a schema? But I’m not sure if that’s quite right either.
If you’ve got a better way to describe this please let me know :)
Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel there are other types of fun (or perhaps, more accurately, types of experience) which have been omitted. This prompted me to create my own thinger.
After a bunch of back and forth on this I elected to look at experiences purely in terms of expectation, reality, and retrospective; and not to worry too much about growth, learning, and improvement. I did this because it occurs to me that you may or may not learn and grow from an experience regardless of your expectations, the reality of the experience, or your retrospective view of it.
Here’s what I came up with:
Type 0 Experiences - stuff you expected would be fun, was fun at the time, but not so fun to remember. Nights when I had too much to drink and then made bad decisions spring to mind as examples of Type 0 experiences. It’s possible that I’ve perhaps grown, or learned something as a result, but despite saying “never again” countless times I’ll doubtlessly engage in many more of these experiences, so I’m not sure the extent to which I can legitimately claim to have truly learned anything.
Type I Experiences - you expected to have fun, had fun at the time, and have fun remembering. You may or may not have learned something, or grown in some way, but who cares? It was lovely.
Type II Experiences - you expected to have fun, but the reality really wasn’t fun for you. However in retrospect you feel like maybe you did have some fun, or possibly that something good came out of the experience. Maybe you learned something or grew in some way.
Type III Experiences - you expected to have fun, but the reality wasn’t fun, and in retrospect there really wasn’t anything fun (or good?) about the whole experience. Possibly you learned something, but maybe it’s something you kind of wish you didn’t know.
Type IV Experiences - you did not expect to have fun, the reality wasn’t fun, but in retrospect you feel like maybe you did have some fun, or possibly that something good came out of the experience. Again here, maybe you learned something or grew in some way.
Type V Experiences - you did not expect to have fun, the reality wasn’t fun, and in retrospect there really wasn’t anything fun (or good?) about the experience. Possibly satisfying on some level because you can perhaps comfort yourself that your instincts or expectations about the experience were proved to be correct, but at the same time, maybe you feel sad because you were hoping for a better outcome.
Type VI Experiences - you did not expect to have fun, but actually it was fun at the time. Trouble is, later, when you look back you struggle to remember anything that was fun or good about the experience. This is a Type 0 Experience but here you had no expectation of fun in the first place.
Type VII Experiences - you did not expect to have fun, but actually it was fun at the time. Unlike type VI, here, when you look back on the experience you do so fondly - the fun holds up in retrospect, and / or possibly something good came out of the experience.
As a notion, of course, it’s clearly all a bit wrong-headed. We probably can’t ever definitely categorise an experience in this way because our perspectives change vastly through the course of our lives.
It can be hard to remember reality - i.e. whether or not something was actually either fun or good when we were doing it, plus how we view stuff retrospectively will also change over time. There are experiences which I once viewed retrospectively as fun or good, but now I’m not so sure they really were; and the reverse is also true - there are experiences that I once viewed retrospectively as not fun, or not good, but now I see them differently.
As such, I think it’s possible that a single experience could move through various categories as the lens through which we view it shifts and changes.
Additionally, in the course of doing this exercise, I realised something: I’m not sure that fun and good are necessarily synonymous for me.
For me, fun is lightweight, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, whereas good is a little weightier somehow.
It’s possible that when I consider whether or not an experience was “good” what I’m really considering was how worthwhile or valuable it was. When I consider whether or not an experience was “fun”, I’m looking at it slightly differently.
An experience could be fun, but not good; and an experience could be good, but not fun. Some experiences could be both fun and good, but I think they’re maybe rarer, or more unusual.
Maybe I’m more interested in “good” than “fun”? I’m not sure I like the sound of that, but it could be true.
Honestly I’m not sure what the point of this exercise was, but I found it interesting to think about, and so I figured I’d share it with you.
Email me and let me know your thoughts on fun, and/or what you think of this odd little schema idea. I would like that a lot :)
Some serendipitous finds:
Bisa Butler’s incredible quilted artworks:
Butler combines portraiture and quilting, to accord dignity and respect to her Black subjects—those she discovers in historical photographs, as well as members of her own family.
“I’m trying to give my subjects back an identity that’s been lost…
My subjects stand in defiance against racist stereotypes, and my work proclaims that black people should be seen, regarded and treated as equals.”
Butler didn’t set out to be a quilter. She studied painting at Howard University, and then earned a master’s in art education at Montclair State University, where she took a fibre art class. At the time, around 2001, her grandmother was sick, and she wanted to make something for her. So, she made a quilt, based on a vintage photo of her grandparents on their wedding day. That’s when she began developing her process.
She enlarges a photograph to life size, and then sketches over it, isolating areas of light and dark. Then, she begins choosing fabrics, layering them and stitching them together (a process called appliqué). At the end, the stitched portrait is layered on top of soft batting and a backing fabric. A repeated pattern of stitches is applied to all three layers to hold them together—thus completing the quilt.
After six years, Gareth Wild has finally managed to park in every space in his local Sainbury’s in Bromley. This absolutely delights me. Click the tweet to read the entire thread.
Austin Kleon on the joys and benefits of a paper dictionary
As a person who owns not one dictionary, but several, and finds herself forever drawn to them in charity shops (dear reader, one day I hope to live in a space which affords me the luxury of owning many, many, many dictionaries) I strongly concur:
Here he is quoting Alan Jacobs:
'“Surely every user of dictionaries or encyclopedias can recall many serendipitous discoveries: as we flip through pages in search of some particular chunk of information, our eyes are snagged by some oddity, some word or phrase or person or place, unlooked-for but all the more irresistible for that. On my way to “serendipity” I trip over “solleret,” and discover that those weird, broad metal shoes that I’ve seen on the feet of armored knights have a name. But this sort of thing never happens to me when I look up a word in an online dictionary.
The great blessing of Google is its uncanny skill in finding what you’re looking for; the curse is that it so rarely finds any of those lovely odd things you’re not looking for. For that pleasure, it seems, we need books.”
And finally, do not mess with Edward Carey’s midweek monster:
Some things I’ve either done, or am doing which you might be interested in…
I probably should have labelled this section shameless self-promotion given that’s clearly what it is. Here goes nothing my glorious lovelies!
The Truth is Out There
In the last edition of the newsletter (I look back so fondly on those days - my mind was clear, I could sit for hours at my laptop, I think the weather was probably nicer then, grumble, grumble, moan) I said that you could expect X Files recommendations soon. Well my loves, I’m glad to say I’ve delivered on that particular promise.
If you’ve never watched the X Files, but would like to sample the series without committing to the full 163 and a half hours of TV, or perhaps if you previously watched some or all of the episodes of the X Files, and fancy a trip down memory lane; (but again, don’t want to actually watch all 11 seasons) then this post is for you.
The Story Behind the Story
I’m really excited to tell you about a talk and Q&A I’ll be giving in June about my first love: fiction.
Where do stories come from? And why do we write them at all?
In this session, I’ll be sharing some of my own fiction writing, and the story of how that particular story came to be. I’ll also share why I write, what inspires me, plus some things I’ve learned about writing along the way.
If this sounds like your bag you can sign up here.
I’m doing a Podcast thinger!
Tomorrow I’ll be chatting to my lovely friend Mark Johnstone for his Content Hubble podcast.
There are a bunch of fantastic podcasts already live on his site which you should definitely listen to, and in the future they’ll be a distinctly average one featuring me! (Assuming Mark actually publishes it - if I were him I probably wouldn’t, but he is a kind person and so probably will).
What’s next, Hannah?
Probably more painkillers… I’m so sorry about all this.
Thank you for reading my words.
I love you x
I’m sure you’ll agree that’s quite enough from me for now.
If you enjoyed this newsletter, please consider sharing it :)
Also, I’d really love for this to be a conversation as opposed to a broadcast, so please do let me know what you think, you can comment right here, or just hit reply, whatever works for you.
PS Wanna find out more about me and my work? Head over to Worderist.com