Susan's Blog

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Fun is a Superpower

Magic isn’t real in the sense that someone can *poof* disappear or have three wishes or suddenly be “beautiful” as in magazine-pretty (Ned’s term). But real magic is about spinning straw into gold, by which I mean creating something fascinating and special out of the ordinary.

On my bike rides I go to tiny spots in ordinary neighborhoods where I am entering whole worlds. I imagine and crave to be at these places, and that makes me want to get on my bike. So it’s not exercise, it’s play. I look to my right, on Old Orchard Road, and I squint a little, and that lawn there becomes like a meadow, a pasture. For that split second I can’t see the houses, cars, fences, people. Just the rolling grass lit up to young green by the sun. There’s another spot called “Cape Cod,” named thus by Max, my middle son, who felt that something about it was like our rides on the Cape. I look forward to that bit of road because suddenly I’m in Cape Cod and it’s summer and free and hot.

Max told me about a word, “Kayfabe” which he learned in a philosophy class while at NYU, which he recalls is about play and pretend. Google finds it from perhaps carnival culture, some kind of reforming of the words “be fake.”

Kayfabe is the willingness to pretend. To me, this is an essential part of a happy life. So: do you play at all? What is your kind of fun? Where do you find magic? The magic that Max creates is in his everyday life, the way he gently laughs at just about everything and everyone around him. His Instagram posts are always funny even if you don’t understand them. He always says he gets a lot of fun playing online (he says that it’s one of the best sites to play) slot machine games from ABC Win. He’s a cameraman and fascinated with cameras, cables, lenses, focus aids, and assisting in the creation of worlds in films and commercials. But it’s not his actual work that I’m talking about, it’s the sense of amusement he shows in his posts and the way he talks about his day. You want to join in, you want to be young again, and approach the world without worry. Not that he doesn’t worry; he’s human, after all. But when you are with him there is a sense of play, like any kind of experience you want, he can take you there. The restaurant he took me to, Butter and Scotch, we actually ordered a piece of birthday cake for dessert. Birthday cake! Pink and yellow. Brilliant. He showed me a ghost subway stop underground in New York. We went past it, and saw it, but you can never get off at it. It’s no longer used. It was a little world we were visiting for a moment.

All three of my sons are magical in different ways. Ben, my youngest, has shown me the world of elves and forests, ever since he was a little guy. He draws them even now as part of art school assignments, and infuses them with his own attitudes of toughness and vulnerability combined. His elves or faeries can be found on the doorsteps of old Victorian mansions, expelled from their community for an undisclosed reason. These paintings make you yearn for more, and join in the story. They make you want to dive into the painting a la Mary Poppins and Bert and their sidewalk chalk scenes. You wish with all your heart that you were part of this tableau. Ben has always done this, created beings and their worlds, with names that really made sense for them, and they were so consistently and poignantly drawn your heart would twist with a million different feelings. The craving when Ben interacts with you is a feeling of being at the doorstep of a world both terrible and gorgeous, you hope so badly that he will choose to be your guide there.

Autism parents have often been told that their children are special, particularly beautiful and captivating. There’s a “magical autistic” character in literature, media, that many in the community do not appreciate: the autist with special powers, the SuperSavant. This is not what I mean at all. Nat’s magic is not in some kind of powerful recall or math or obsession with presidents or train schedules. If we look carefully and quietly at our children — autistic or not — we can find that magic. What I see in Nat is this ability to catch people’s eye. For the longest time I was worried and upset about that. Were they staring, making fun? His arm movements and self-talk can seem so weird.

But lately it occurs to me that they are intrigued by his free spirit. He’s not burdened by a problem to work out, he’s not looking at you and wondering how he looks to you. You don’t know what he’s thinking about, what his thoughts are like. He’s so within himself that you realize you are seeing a genuine person stripped of artifice. So when Nat smiles, you smile. He’s not doing it for you or because of you, he’s being hit by joy and you get to witness that, unadulterated by anything else. You feel tickled by him, you want it to go on and on. The magic with Nat is when he does consent to interact with you, his responses are so genuine and sweet. You feel like, “how can a person like this exist?” Innocent because he simply does not understand neuro-typical rules and interactions, all those crossed signals over and over until everything is just black with communicating/misunderstanding. He doesn’t do that — well, when he does it’s so hard for him. But when he’s just being himself he’s just like flower petals on the wind, you want them to stay on the tree or at least remain this achingly beautiful and fresh.

Being able to enjoy some of your moments, in your own way, childlike and even silly — this is how we create magic in the real world. You’re creating a reality for that pocket of time, falling into it, believing in it. Fun is our superpower.

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