Northcraft: Defining the value of entertainment in a busy schedule

April 11, 2019

There are three weeks left. For many of us, we’ve arrived at a place where we don’t really want to be; a sort of overwhelming, liminal purgatory of essays and exams on the (grey) horizon. Assignments that we really should get a jump on, but –– piled atop our already daily, mundane exhaustions –– seem absolutely insurmountable.  


This theme, then, feels ludicrous: Entertain. To be entertained, a verb. The entertainment, a noun. As a senior preparing to graduate, I pause for a while before trying to answer questions like “What do you do for fun?” or “Do you have any hobbies?”  


I work, I go to class, I prepare for class.


I do have an out, though. Because I am lucky enough to love my major (English, if you’re wondering), I’ve learned to spin my “for fun” and “hobbies” response into something vague about the joys of reading or writing. I can claim to love my work so much that I don’t actually need a “for fun.”


But this, I posit to you, is a lie.


It’s Sunday. I’ve blocked off the entire day to read 80 pages of one novel, 40 pages of another, draft a 10-page essay and study my German notes. My plan is to ignore my friends, hole up inside and workhorse my way through the pain. 


I finish one novel’s worth of work and become so crabby — the sun is gold and ripe against the window, which I’ve opened, and I can hear an actual ice-cream truck (in April?) singing its way down Bancroft — that a migraine sets in.  


This is the Moment when we need to make a choice. This is the Moment, I argue, that we need to know ourselves well enough to pick a form of entertainment that rejuvenates, but doesn’t overwhelm. Engages us with very little effort, but also feels healthy and wholesome.


This is the Moment that is hard, and that I always mess up.


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) locates “entertainment,” a noun, in J. Stevenson’s "Lett. & Papers," and indicates that the term was used as early as 1440 to denote maintenance or support.  In Stevenson’s case, the King of England’s wealth was moving out of England for the entertainment of “that lande of Fraunce and of Normandie.”  France and Normandy needed to be maintained. They needed support.


Several definitions later, the OED also catalogues “entertain,” a verb, and defines it as (the perhaps more familiar) idea of activities that occupy or amuse us. In R. Robinson’s 1551 translation of Thomas More’s "Utopia," he writes, “What familiar occupieng & enterteynement there is emong ye people.”  But to be easily entertained, or overwhelmed, by the familiar, to be occupied collectively and mindlessly (“emong ye people”), is not our goal.  


I suggest that we view entertainment in its noun-form, as a tool to maintain our work, as support to help us keep on keeping on.  


I usually mess up my important Moment by either 1) forcing myself to ignore the migraine, and plowing forward with less-than-stellar work; or 2) indulging in simple, unhealthy gestures of entertainment, entertain in its verb-form, finding an easy-out (of Netflix or some other stupid thing).


And it’s really, really hard. To know yourself well enough to have that perfect fix.  


I suspect that some of the challenge is that feelings (like everything) are fluid. The entertainment that maintains and supports you might change year to year, or even hour to hour.  But I think we need to experiment to try and figure it out.


We’ve got three weeks left. I mean, it matters now. And we can use it.  


Teresa Northcraft is a fourth-year English major. 


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