Last summer, writer Jessica Bennett interrogated the idea of fun in the New York Times. Why, she asked, is it so impossible to quantify fun, or to pin down exactly what it is? The answer, she found, was ironically straightforward: because trying to define what makes something fun is, well, not fun.
We rarely take time to consider fun—joy for joy’s sake—at such a molecular level. So much so that, when Bennett’s story was published, the Chatelaine team were faced with a question many of us had failed to answer in a long while (and certainly not in the last three years): When was the last time we each had complete, unbridled fun? (For one editor, it involved watching a raunchy music video; for another, it was being hoisted in a chair during the hora at her wedding.)
We posed that same question to some of our favourite writers. Their seven responses range from the mundane (riding a bike down a big hill) to the extraordinary (sheltering from a lakeside storm), from special events (an Imagine Dragons concert) to small at-home joys (watching horror films). Each essay shares a common thread: a letting-go of sorts, the freedom to enjoy the moment. These vignettes can’t precisely quantify fun, but they can encourage us to think about joy in a more intentional way.
Karaoke Is Stupid, But I Liked It (Once)
We sang breakup anthems and drank soju and I cried so much my nose swelled to twice its size.
Karaoke is a hobby designed for and by people who are simultaneously proficient singers and are also too cowardly to just stand in the middle of a crowded street and scream, “Please look at me, I am dying for attention.” I get my attention through other methods (sex, arguing, crime), and I’m also a terrible singer, so I have historically hated karaoke. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to listen to my friend’s friend’s girlfriend belt out KT Tunstall songs while standing on the table (rude). I do not want to listen to my friend, Matthew Braga, prove to me that he knows all the words to “Numb.” I know you know the words, Matthew. We all know. Please stop inviting me to your talent show, one that costs me $30 to attend and then another $130 just to get drunk enough to muscle through the two-hour reservation. (Karaoke bars should give you an Ativan when you enter, like a hot towel on an airplane.)
When I visited Toronto last spring after several months away, my body was heavy with grief. My mother had just had an exhausting surgery. I tenderly helped her in and out of the shower and pleaded with her to just drink some broth. She was still in pain and I couldn’t help. My ex-husband and I had broken up a few months earlier, and by the spring, I had moved into my own place in Brooklyn—a hollow apartment in a new neighbourhood that felt like a hotel I was trapped in. I had lost more friends than I thought I even had.
But when I came home to Toronto, my community of dorks and freaks dragged me to karaoke in Koreatown. It had been years since they convinced me to sing but will was weak; had my friends said anything like, “Let’s do a murder, it’ll be fun and you’ll be distracted,” I would have simply packed my knives and asked who would be driving.
And yet, I’m so glad we did it. We sang breakup anthems and drank soju and I cried so much my nose swelled to twice its size. I forced three of my completely separate friend groups together for my benefit, all of whom hugged each other freely and enveloped me in volume. Singing Olivia Rodrigo and Alanis Morissette and Beastie Boys was the most fun I had all year, which I know is like saying “this stale bread really hit the spot” after fasting for a week. But look: it worked. I felt so much joy, and so much safety, like falling into a foam pit.
Karaoke requires a sincerity buy-in, one that I can rarely make. I still don’t like karaoke. I still think public singing is for losers. But it did prove that there is a cure to feeling unheard and unloved, to feeling swallowed up and rejected. The cure is making Matthew Braga listen to you sing “Butterfly” by Crazy Town, proving that yes, I do still know all the words, then spilling a drink in his lap. Your voices carry each other, your voice carries you and hopefully, it takes you somewhere better. —Scaachi Koul
My Kids Dragged Me To An Imagine Dragons Concert—And I Loved It
For a second, I think about the (short!) lifespan of my plastic wristband and wonder how the batteries in them will be disposed of after the show. Then I give up and give in, and join the kids screaming.
To make up for being a mom who spent nearly two years in lockdown losing my shit, I’m giving my two kids a summer to remember. So here we are: me freshly on anti-anxiety medication and the kids on $16 popcorn and $10 Twizzlers, at their first rock concert, seeing their favourite band, Imagine Dragons.
They are eight and 10 years old, hopped up on sugar and ready to rock (though a muggy, August-in-Toronto day meant prying my daughter out of her new pleather jacket).
We have excellent, mom-feels-really-guilty seats in the 100s section of the Rogers Centre, Toronto’s arena for some of its biggest visiting acts. There are more golf shirts and more kids than I have ever seen at a show before. At 45, I am still, shamefully, self-conscious and—extra shamefully!—would like to be cool. This concert is not cool. There are also a lot of single-use plastic cups.
And, I can already tell as the lights go down, there’s going to be audience participation. My people—aging hipsters, elderly WASPs—are not a demonstrative bunch. But I want to set my kids free to have fun, without self-consciousness. I’m determined to put on a good show.
The opener, the sweet-voiced pop singer Kings Elliot, urges the crowd to turn on their phone flashlights and hoist them. The kids grab my cell and hold it aloft, and the arena fills with points of light. My son and daughter gasp. It’s… beautiful? (Am I basic!? Is my medication too strong?)
Seattle rapper Macklemore is up next, clad in a glowing white headband and a bedazzled track jacket. He encourages the crowd to stand, to clap along, to jump. I am not a clapping person, but I try. My kids clap arhythmically but with zest. We jump, sweaty, in front of our blue flip-down arena seats for the entire set. Macklemore changes into a Blue Jays jersey and shamelessly butters up the crowd: “I want to say the people of Toronto were number one!” It works. The kids, who recognized a few of the songs from YouTube hockey highlights videos, are dazzled by the recognition. “He seems nice! And he likes Toronto!”
By the time the Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds walks onto a dark stage, we are primed to “wooooo!” at pretty much anything. Mid-song, the stage lights come up just as the wristbands every audience member got at the door illuminate in unison, filling the stadium with colour-coordinated blinking lights. Confetti and fireworks shoot from the stage. For a second, I think about the (short!) lifespan of the plastic wristband and wonder how the batteries in them will be disposed of after the show. Then I give up and give in, and join the kids screaming.
Imagine Dragons launch into perhaps their biggest hit, “Believer,” soundtrack to a Nintendo Super Bowl commercial, a Riverdale season finale and a zillion TV and movie trailers. My daughter turns to me and her brother, her mouth wide with delight and recognition, then taps the woman in front of us. “I know this song! I love this song!”
Later, the lead singer tells the crowd: “If the question is—and this is for everyone!—should I or should I not go to therapy, the answer is always yes.” I am touched—these are, truly, words of wisdom. Fix that brain! Do, as the Dragons sing, “whatever it takes.”
There is an audio visual interlude, a voice intoning snippets of Byron: “she walks in beauty, like the night.” It is a beautiful poem! I remember my English degree! I tear up a little. (What is wrong with me!?)
Later, the singer—who, a friend whose kids also went through “an Imagine Dragons phase,” warned me clearly spends all his time either playing music or working out—emerges shirtless, torso gleaming. Beside me, a man says to his wife “the tarp has been removed.” I cannot stop laughing.
It’s way past our bedtimes, but we make it to the last song. Two smaller children in front of us fall asleep mid-set, defying the noise and Imagine Dragons’ status as, according to their mom, their favourite band, and are apologetically carried out.
We leave beaming, our plastic wristbands blinking.
It’s a parenting cliché that children show you the world anew. But my sweet kids’ pre-tween world is too glowing with newness to allow for clichés, or to care too much about what strange adults think of their rhythm. After the pandemic, after my own personal slightly broken brain, and amid and despite a broken world and a broken environment, my son and daughter invariably remind me of how much happiness is still possible. I am here for it. Why hold yourself back from joy? —Gillian Grace
My Exhilarating, Mad Fun Ride Down The Hill
I love the feeling of going as fast as I can, as fast as this bike and this body will go.
On the way to Haslam Lake, in what is currently known as Powell River, B.C., I ride my bike close behind my partner, who is towing our four-year-old on a trail-a-bike. We take a busy road that has a painted bike lane. Giant pickup trucks—the kind you see in urbanists’ cautionary tales about decreasing truck-pedestrian visibility—breeze by. My kid kicks her feet out from the side of her pedals and I holler at her: “Sinc! Hands on the handlebars, feet on the pedals!” The distance I keep between myself and my kid on her trail-a-bike is highly calculated. I’m close enough so that a car coming from behind us would hit me first, but if it did hit me, it wouldn’t necessarily cause a pileup with her.
My father has a saying about me: I could find the cloud in a silver lining. Not so secretly, this is a symptom of my generalized anxiety disorder. I am constantly thinking seven steps ahead of any potential problem that might arise. I am not, at heart, a “fun” person. My target state is, instead, calmness. And sometimes, like on this breezy summer day, I do get to feel calm, swimming in the lake with my kid while she’s safely in her life jacket. The summer water is cool and refreshing, but not cold; I’m wearing sunglasses to avoid getting a migraine; and the lake is so clear I can see the sandy, rocky bottom. We start calling my kid, Sinclair, by her swimming nickname: usually she’s Sinc or Sinky, but in the water, Swimmy for good luck.
There is one deeply uncharacteristic moment on our bike ride home—and in my life—when all my usual caution goes out the window. When we turn right off the road with the painted bike lane and onto the road that abuts the southern side of our town’s main shopping plaza, we are faced with a 700-metre downhill stretch that has no stop signs or traffic lights. My partner, Will, who will brake cautiously going down the hill, knows what’s about to come, the way it always does on this hill: I am going to pass him mercilessly and whip down the hill as fast as I can.
First, I switch into a higher gear and pedal hard for a minute. Soon, I am crouching over my handlebars as if I have pretensions to the Tour de France. I love the feeling of going as fast as I can, as fast as this bike and this body will go. “Terminal velocity,” I think to myself, embarrassingly. But I’m not embarrassed when I’m biking. For fewer than five minutes, I am simply living life.
At the bottom of the hill, my momentum flagging, the outflow of shopping plaza traffic starting up, I drift back behind Will and Sinclair and resume my regular place in our family—at the back of the pack, watching, shoulder-checking, doing my best to make sure we all stay safe. —andrea bennett
How Escape Rooms Became My Own Joyful Escape
It was earnestly fun entering a new world filled with interactive characters, bonding over the frustration of a hard-to-solve puzzle and the euphoria of winning the game.
I’ve always thought of escape rooms as spaces for corporate-mandated fun time—places that CEOs brought their employees to boost team morale, bond over the shared experience of escaping a confined space and solve puzzles with co-workers. But as it turns out, escape rooms are actually fun—the perfect place for a group of friends looking for something different to do on a Friday night.
In 2019, my friends and I were in a fun rut. All we did was watch movies, play board games and gossip (which, don’t get me wrong, is a lot of fun, but we were itching for something new). So when we all started getting targeted ads on Instagram for an escape room at Toronto’s Black Creek Pioneer Village, we were keen to try it out. After that first foray into escape rooms—where we were transported back in time to the turn of the 19th century—we were hooked.
For the uninitiated, escape rooms plop a group of players into a space that they must get out of by solving puzzles—decrypting codes, searching for keys or combinations, or word games—for clues. The best kind of escape rooms have some sort of roleplaying element, with actors you can interact with as you play. The escape room at Pioneer Village was the perfect entry into this world of collaborative games: We were a group of travellers who came to the village of Black Creek right as it was being seized by cultists. Our mission was to chase away the cult and free the village. We ran around the recreated 1860s village in the dark, chased by actors in flowing black robes and solving word puzzles. We loved the witchy vibes, revelled in solving the puzzles and had a blast pretending we were travellers trying to save the village.
Escape rooms became our go-to whenever we tired of board game nights and movie marathons. We started seeking out other escape rooms in the city—the more elaborately themed, the better. It was earnestly joyful entering a new world filled with fun interactive characters, bonding over the frustration of a hard-to-solve puzzle and (not to brag) the euphoria of winning the game.
Then the pandemic hit. Escape rooms closed down and our hangouts moved online along with everything else. While we still had fun watching movies and playing games over Zoom, we all missed the camaraderie and campy fun that came from solving an escape room.
So, earlier this year, when one of my friends announced that he was moving to England with his partner, there was only one way we could all say goodbye. We visited Toronto’s Casa Loma on an unseasonably chilly fall evening and played through a World War II-themed escape room. In this one, we were workers in a lab that had to get the coordinates of enemy U-Boats to our allies on the frontlines. Like before, we worked together to solve the puzzles, chatted to the incredibly dedicated actors (who seemed to be taking their scene work a lot more seriously than was required of them) and marvelled at nooks and crannies of the historic Toronto castle that we were granted access to. In the end, we managed to send the crucial coordinates out, snapped a few pictures in the reconstructed WWII bunker and said goodbye to our friend, whose flight was leaving the next day. But before he left, he gave us a gift: an escape room in a box, a board game filled with the word puzzles and world-building elements we were so fond of, that we could open up whenever we needed a fun fix. —Rebecca Gao
After A Long Period Of Grief, My Queer Choir Brought Me Joy
I was yearning for something that would get me out of my ruminating head and into my body. Singing Out gave me just that.
At first, I wasn’t sure what was happening. I knew a single tear was rolling down my cheek. Alongside 120 other people, I was getting a standing ovation. Six months prior, I didn’t know any of them. But here we were, taking a bow after we’d triumphantly sung the words “This is me” from the song by the same name from the musical The Greatest Showman. This is me. My whole queer self felt it. After a long period of grief, this was joy. This was belonging. This was Singing Out, Toronto’s largest 2SLGTBQQIA+ choir.
Now in its 30th year, Singing Out first formed in 1992. Starting a queer choir at the time was an act of resistance. It had been merely one year since the city had endorsed Pride and yet there they were, creating space for queer politics, community and fun.
When I first joined in January 2019, I was yearning for something that would get me out of my ruminating head and into my body. Singing Out gave me just that. I couldn’t let my mind wander because if I did, I’d mess up an alto line. I also began to make friends from whom I didn’t have to hide my identity. When a few people broke into singing the theme song from Growing Pains, I didn’t have to hide that I knew every word. I laughed with other choir members when we could quickly identify that our accompanist was playing the theme from Mr. Dressup in between songs. But mostly, my fellow choir members looked at me with a kindness and acceptance that made me feel like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
In December 2019, I told the choir I was moving to St. John’s, N.L. for a new job. I thanked them; they didn’t know how much they’d given me. What none of us knew was that a pandemic was coming, and Singing Out would again become a lifeline.
Being in a city where I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t go anywhere made me feel intensely lonely. But the Singing Out community kept me going. Now online, people across Canada and beyond joined in weekly rehearsals on Zoom, learned dance choreo at home, and performed in three digital shows. It wasn’t always perfect—like the time we all tried to sing simultaneously on Zoom and realized it was a cacophonous mess—but it was exactly what I needed.
I moved back to Toronto after 15 months in Newfoundland and started attending in-person rehearsals last January. It wasn’t as it’d been at the beginning since we’d shrunk in size and needed to wear masks. And like most non-profits, we took a financial hit because of the pandemic. Between our membership registration being half of what it used to be, the effect this had on ticket sales and the cost of editors for our online shows, the choir had fewer options of venues we could afford. Not to mention that we lost all the bookings we had for smaller gigs. The choir had to think of new ways to rebuild itself to remain sustainable for another 30 years and I’m happy to say, it’s working.
While we were down to about 50 members at one point, pandemic be darned, we are now back to 100. New people are joining, wanting to return to fun, return to joy, and we are growing—in size and also in heart. We are welcoming new ideas, new voices, new opportunities for people to find different versions of themselves—to look the world in the eye and say, “This is me.” —Erica Ruth Kelly
In The Wake Of A Sudden Storm In The Yukon, I Found Peace
Wet to the bone, hungry and shivering in the shadow of the mountains and this impossible rainbow, is the happiest I’ve ever been.
The storm roared down into the bowl of the valley like a pot boiling over: a moment of calm, a simmer of rain and then a sudden, hissing deluge turning the lake upside down.
In September 2021 at Quiet Lake, some two and half hours North of Whitehorse on the rag-tag dirt road a southerner would barely recognize as an ATV-trail but in the Yukon we call the Robert Campbell Highway, I was hunting and fishing with a friend. When I’d put the red canoe in the lake an hour earlier, the sun had been shining and the water smooth as polished metal, but I wasn’t fooled–I knew a storm was coming, because nothing in nature stays that still for long. When, several kilometers down the lake, I felt the pressure drop with a sudden lurch like falling in a dream, I knew it was going to be a hell of a thing. I managed to haul the heavy voyageur out of the water, flip it over and scurry beneath the boughs of a white spruce just as the rain came on.
There was thunder; the sky cracked with lightning. There was wind; the lake whipped into a meringue of white froth. It hailed; birdshot-sized stones peppered the hull of the upturned canoe.
Ten minutes. Then it was gone. The rain stopped. The wind died. I came out from beneath the tree, righted the canoe and put in. The red blade of the bow cut across the impossible blue of Quiet Lake.
Seated in the stern, I didn’t move. I lay the paddle across the hull, both my hands resting on the warm, familiar wood. Farther down the lake the storm was speeding along, moving dark and steady as the underbelly of some great undulating fish. It left a trail of gentle rain in its wake, and as the sun came back it cast a rainbow, mirrored again in perfect double on the freshly smoothed surface of the lake.
I was wet and chilled, but it didn’t matter. My hunting partner was back at camp; she’d have the kettle on, we’d have hot cowboy coffee laced with whiskey. There were dry clothes, fresh boots and a heavy down comforter waiting for me in the tent. Beneath my soaked plaid coat my lover’s necklace was warm against my breastbone, a talisman of protection she’d laid there to remind me to be careful—I had someone waiting for me at home.
This is it, this moment. Wet to the bone, hungry and shivering in the wake of this sudden storm, in the shadow of the mountains and this impossible rainbow, is the happiest I’ve ever been.
It’s also the last time I ever remember feeling happiness.
In the few short months that came after this, something terrible would happen. I would lose so much: money and friends, my self-respect and sanity, the woman I loved and my faith in the inherent goodness of the world. So, so much, more than I ever thought it was possible to lose all at one time, until it was gone.
But in that moment on Quiet Lake, I was safe. I was lucky. I was loved. I was happy.
I hold that memory like a photograph, creased and folded in the empty wallet of my life, some tangible piece of hope I can take out and hold. I was happy. Maybe I can be again. That memory is the most precious thing I have. —L.E. Fox
I Scared Myself Silly With Horror Movies
A past version of me would have wanted to spare you the experience by telling you the ending; today’s version of me wants you to see what I did.
Last year, my friends Dan and Alex invited me over for chips, dip and a horror movie. When I arrived at their home, Alex cracked the door open just slightly and stuck his face out. “Are you ready to be possessed?”
I wasn’t. Up until then I hadn’t cared much for horror movies—the first one I remember watching was the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It, featuring Tim Curry as a terrifyingly chaotic, violent, child-eating clown. I was five at the time, and my older cousins were watching it on a home-taped VHS. To say I screamed isn’t sufficient. Based on that memory alone I avoided horror movies for the next 30 years, and once it became possible for me to look up the ending to films I thought might veer into horrorland, I’d usually do so before watching. Our lives are often scary enough, I figured (hello, anxiety disorder here!), and poking the bear through entertainment just seemed like a waste of time.
It wasn’t until my friends convinced me to face the animal of fear through the feeling itself—on the heels of a frightening time, no less—that my mind changed. Dan asked me during a chips-and-dip hangout last spring what the scariest moment I’d ever seen on film was, and I answered with that It memory; Alex suggested we watch a movie called Malignant that he promised I would love. We’d known each other for years, and I’d long known about their penchant for horror. Both can discuss at length the merits of every entry in the Halloween franchise, their opinions on every Hellraiser, and Alex is completing a PhD in narrative devices in the genre. They know their stuff, and they know me, too. I said yes.
I didn’t know what to expect with Malignant, and I don’t know how to tell you what happened next without spoiling the movie. A past version of me would have wanted to spare you the experience by telling you the ending; today’s version of me wants you to see what I did.
What I will tell you is that we sat down with our chips and dip, then Dan and Alex pressed play on a movie that begins with a woman haunted by something her body has always known existed, but her brain has long forgotten. One day, a traumatic experience wakes up this invasive presence, which results in 120 minutes of over-the-top scenes of creepy phone calls, stabbings, prison fights and more, until the protagonist realizes she’s been in control of the situation the entire time.
I’m told there are references to eras across film history with this movie, that it digs deep into ’70s, ’80s classic horror tropes for material, and—depending on your opinion about the genre—is either irredeemably bonkers or transcendent to critics. I don’t care: I’d have loved it anyway. I think it has something to do with the fact that its every unlikely twist (there’s an evil twin involved), jump scare (one involving the body of a missing person crashing through the roof in the middle of a police interrogation about said disappearance) or gory scene (I’ll spare you details about those) make the fact of artificial fear seem, itself, funny—and almost fun. Not every horror movie seeks to do this, but for someone like me it was the perfect invitation to simply sit with an experience and let go of the idea that fear is a feeling that is possible to control, or at times even worth controlling.
I’ve scared myself silly with horror movies since because of it. I’m a convert now, and I’m happy to share this version of fear with others. It was, in fact, one of the last best things I did last winter: I introduced two new friends to DASHCAM, a jump-scare movie that kept them on the edge of their seats the entire time. It starts in early 2020, with an anti-masking COVID-denier as a protagonist who accepts a deeply cursed ride-share request as a driver. Whether that concept is scarier than what happens next is for you to decide. —Chantal Braganza