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The Fun Guilt Clinic (October 16, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 3:14 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 3:18 PM ]
I guess I'm just fun-impaired.

No, stick with me.  I don't have problems finding things to do that I enjoy. Quite the opposite -- I want to do everything, and I can never find time for it all (much less the energy, which becomes more of a factor every year). So it's not about being bored (although I guess I am, sometimes) or not knowing what to do.

I think it's about knowing why to do it.  If this sounds weird, and it does, even to me, let me take you on a trip through my psyche that might explain it.  Trust me, I'll work comics in eventually.

I'm the kid of a Depression-era Dust Bowl baby, as it were, and I know some of my ways of thinking probably connect to things I picked up from him. I always clean my plate (often to my detriment), I feel guilty whenever I spend money (but I do it anyway), and, I've noticed of late, I expect everything I do to be for a reason.  All input must have associated output. Nobody gets a free lunch when I'm in the kitchen.

Okay, I exaggerate.  And a sensible person might look at the things I do -- writing this column among them -- and point out how much of it doesn't really get me anything.  And to that person I say, "You're right.  And it just eats me up some days."

Wow, that even sounds lame to me.  And I'm not claiming it isn't.  I'm not even claiming it's conscious or voluntary or anything.  I'm just saying that I catch myself, say, working on a story, and I wonder "what's the point?" Sure, I have the same fantasies as every other writer that when I finish my first novel an agent will love it and they'll make a publisher love it and readers will love it and the President will talk about it and everyone will buy it and make me rich.  But that was Tom Clancy, and I'm not all that sure the current President reads a lot of novels, if you know what I'm saying.

The fact is that the unfinished first chapter in front of me is really for intangible purposes.  To grow as a writer -- which goes against the grain, because after all, I'd rather think I was just born with mad writing skills -- and because I enjoy it (and I do, really).  For fun.  Same reason I worked on an ill-fated comic strip and same reason, I guess, that I'm with the Galaxy.

Why is it so hard to do something that's a lot of work because it's also fun? More importantly, why is it difficult to take sufficient pleasure in the fun and not sweat the rest?  I don't expect anyone to pay me when I play Diablo II (although, hey, wouldn't that be cool?)  Then again, I think one of the reasons I only play games in occasionally fits and bursts is this problem.

Basically, I think I have fun guilt.

And I bet, from what I've read lately, that I'm no longer alone, if I ever was.  In the past month, the line to the Fun Guilt Clinic has gotten pretty long.  Tragedy sends us all in search of deep purpose to our actions and contribution to society in our every moment.  And maybe that's not entirely a bad thing, because contribution to society is a fine and noble thing. But I'm not sure feeling guilty for doing something enjoyable benefits society, and I know it kills our spirits.  Trust me; I live here.

It seems to me that the comic industry -- I promised I'd get to this -- has bouts of fun guilt, too.  Part of this comes from being "funny books," I suppose; a historic association with fluff makes the industry (if it has a gestalt consciousness, anyway) resentful and determined to prove it can be serious.  And it can, it can...I could give you a list of examples and you could give me one back.  No need.

But let's face it; the fun should be there, and there's no need to feel guilty about it.  DC thinks that it's no longer good to have fun with the over-the-top explosions of the Authority, and they're wrong.  Some readers now think that it's just wrong to bother with something so trivial as comics, and they're wrong, too.  This is not about aesthetic, mind you, this is about a fundamental element of life, not to mention a core ethic of American culture, at least.

Don't believe me?  What comes after life and liberty in the list of unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence?  What is it we're so worried about losing, if not these?  Life, absolutely.  Liberty, one should think.  Why should we be willing to back down on the pursuit of happiness?

If I have a message here, it's this:  It's okay, healthy, good, proper to have fun.  Body, mind and soul need it, maybe now more than ever.  (But probably not; humanity's been around a while and seem some nasty things, so fun's been vital from the start, I guess.)  I say this for your benefit, for the industry's benefit, and most of all, for my own benefit.

Let's make a pact, shall we?  I'll learn to do things for the heck of it, and the rest of you can relax about the things you used to enjoy -- and still do, if you think about it -- and we'll convince the industry, with our letters, our columns, and our dollars, to keep the fun coming.

No more fun guilt.

-- R. Francis Smith