humor


I was having a conversation earlier with a close friend about schoolyard trauma—the name-calling and taunting so common in the proto-teen and teenage years—and I explained to her that I learned early on that humor could be my great shield against the worst of it. I was a freak, you see. I had an early growth spurt, so I was 5’3” by the time I was 9, 5’6” by the time I was 11 or so. I topped out at 5’7” in high school but by that time most of my contemporaries had either caught up with me or surpassed me. However, those early growth years—and my red hair—made me stand out. Anyone who stands out in elementary school, who is in any way not average, is going to come in for abuse. Fortunately, my size helped me avoid the physical side of that, but that was not the case with verbal abuse. So I developed a wicked sharp tongue.

I grew up in the Oakwood section of Venice, California. Back in the olden days, it was a poor section of Los Angeles, and quite diverse ethnically. There were some white kids at my school, but mostly not, and I only ever had one close white friend before junior high. Everybody supported each other, though, helped each other out. Oh, I won’t paint a pie in the sky portrait here. It may have been a Rainbow Coalition, but kids being kids, there were fights, and playground posturing. and tough talk. I learned early on the advantages of having a sharp tongue and have spent most of my life trying to overcome those early habits (mostly successfully, but it’s surprising how that schoolyard bad mouth can surface out of nowhere). Even back then I laced the tough talk with humor. If I could make the other kids laugh at my adversary they were more likely to leave me alone. I was raised by a mother with her own wicked sense of humor, so I had a good example set before me.

As I transitioned from the tough neighborhood to the more mixed environment of junior high (ages 12 to 14)—middle class and even some upper middle class mixed with the tough kids—I discovered even more the benefits of humor. I’m an introvert, but I learned to be something of a class clown. If I could fake extroversion and hold up that shield of laughter—laughter not directed at the cost of someone else—they were less likely to pick on me. And if any of the mean girls got catty, others would sometimes counter it with, “She’s funny. Leave her alone.”

I’ve carried that shield with me most of my life. It’s such a fundamental part of my nature I couldn’t let it go even if I wanted to—and I don’t want to. I don’t want to be mean, I don’t want to be sharp-tongued, but I find it infinitely healthier to keep a well-trained eye out for the absurdities of life and of people. Naturally, this creeps into my fiction. I’ve written both comic and serious stories and novels, but even my most serious novels are well-laced with humor. Sometimes it’s character-driven, sometimes it’s, well, frankly bordering on slapstick. I just can’t leave aside those absurdities. They are everywhere I look.

I don’t think they undercut the more serious passages of my writing, but I’m inside my own head and may not have an objective eye there. I cut out some of the humor in rewrites, but not all. The few times I’ve tried to cut it all I’ve wound up eviscerating the life from my stories. It’s my style, you see. It takes a long time for a writer—I guess any artist—to find the style that is uniquely their own.

So it’s best not to look a gift Muse in the mouth. Sharp tongue or not.

 

Random quote of the day:

“There’s a certain humor that is absolutely necessary for our human condition. When we have that sense of humor, things become workable. It’s the part that we put on top of our ordinary human experience—and we all put something on top of it when we started out spiritual search—that creates the problem. You then not only have your own suffering, you have all these ideals and images that you hold up for yourself. That puts a layer of spiritual suffering on top of the basic suffering.”

—Jack Kornfeld, The Lion’s Roar, October 15, 2017

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Last night (this morning) about 1:30 a.m. I was reading quietly in my chair in the living room and heard a loud thumping noise from the side yard, just beside the living room/kitchen. It startled me but I dismissed it, thinking the gardener must have forgotten to latch the side yard gate again. It’s been pretty windy so I figured that was the noise, and decided I wasn’t going out at 1:30 in the morning to re-latch the gate. A little while later I heard the noise again only this time louder and accompanied by a big dragging sound. The gate doesn’t make that noise no matter how windy it is.

So I turned on the kitchen light and I first thought to open the front door because it provides a view of the gate in question. I turned off the alarm and looked out but didn’t see anything. I closed the front door rather loudly hoping that if somebody was lurking they’d get the message. I was pondering what to do next when I heard another thump and drag. I wasn’t at all sure at this point if it was coming from my side yard or the neighbor’s yard (they have a very high fence I can’t see over). I don’t know if adrenaline kicked in or stupidity or what. But I went to the side door off the kitchen and turned on the side yard light. Then I open the door, looked out, didn’t see anything and decided to go down the stairs and check things out. The gate latch was perfectly secure so I looked behind me but the rest of the yard beyond the light was too dark to make anything out.

That’s when I said to myself, “Woman, if somebody is out here they’re going to hit you on the head and it’ll be all over.” So I hurried (as much as my arthritic legs can hurry) back into the house. And I said to myself, “Sometimes you are not very smart.”

But I didn’t hear that noise again. Either there was somebody messing over next door or in my yard and I scared them off, or it was critters and I scared them off. Whatever, I had no business going out there at 2:00 in the morning (by that time) on my own. Maybe next time I’ll just settle for flicking the lights on and yelling out the back door that I’m going to call the cops.

I have to admit, though, that I am my mother’s daughter. Neither one of us ever had enough sense to do the girly thing. We always charged full bore out any existential back door to investigate on our own. It’s a wonder either of us survived until old age. My mother was tall (5’9”) and strong and had grown up tough with a house full of brothers and on cattle ranches. She didn’t think twice about taking on anybody at any time. And yet, she always managed to look glamorous while doing it and she liked girlie things. A glamorous Valkyrie.

There was one memorable instance when I was in high school and some teenaged boys decided to break into the tool shed at our old house in Venice. It was a summer Saturday night and the windows were open. Mom (who had been up late reading, as it happened) heard something going on (she had ears like a terrier) and charged out the back door. She was wearing baby doll pajamas and fuzzy slippers. She bore down on those boys in full Valkyrie mode. One of them managed to get away, but she wrestled the other one to the ground and held him there, yelling at me, “Call the cops! Call the cops!”

Imagine, if you will, in those days before 911 when you actually had to call the police desk to get a squad car to your door, and me, a teenaged girl on the line with a cynical police desk sergeant trying to convince him that my mother had actually wrestled a thief to the ground and was sitting on him until the police could arrive. There were no cell phones in those days so I was in the house and my mother was outside so no sounds of commotion reached his cynical ears to help verify my story, even though I left out the detail of the baby doll pajamas. He eventually, grudgingly agreed to send a car (to get me off the phone, I’m sure), but none ever arrived. (It was Saturday night and Venice was a pretty rowdy place in those days. I mean serious crime and all.)

Meanwhile, some of the den of thieves who lived across the street and were related to the boys heard from the one who got away that my mom was holding the other boy prisoner and came to his rescue. Picture this: my mother in her baby doll pajamas and fuzzy slippers wrestling with not one but two teenaged boys. Going at it pretty heavy. One of their older brothers came running up holding his hands out like a peacemaker at this point, but the teenaged boys managed to get the other one free. My mother was so mad at this point she coldcocked the peacemaker on the chin with her fist and knocked him on his ass. He didn’t retaliate, fortunately, and managed (somehow!) to calm my mother enough that she went back in the house. But she insisted I call the cops again.

For some reason, the cynical desk sergeant was even less inclined to believe my story. Even though Mom got on the line this time and did some yelling. She insisted I write a scathing letter to the Times (“You’re good at that sort of thing”), cc’ing the chief of police and our local councilman about the shocking lack of response to a poor frail lady and her teenaged daughter needing assistance with a gang of teenaged thieves and receiving none. The Times declined to print our missive, and we never got a response from the chief of police or the councilman, either (although I’m pretty positive whoever may have read that letter got a really good laugh out of it).

The den of thieves who lived across the street remained the scourge of the neighborhood and surrounding blocks, but none of them ever again tried to rob our house.

I think, however, that in future I will try turning on the lights and yelling out the door if I hear suspicious sounds. If those Valkyrie genes don’t kick in an rob me of all sense of self-preservation.

A glamorous Valkyrie

Random quote of the day:

“Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age.”

—Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1983

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Common sense and a sense of humour are the same things, moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense, dancing.”

—Clive James, “Exploring the Medium,” The Observer, 4 February 1979

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth.”

—George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

Random quote of the day:

“I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

—E. B. White, The New Yorker, December 8, 1928

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day: 

“Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.”

—Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“The telling of jokes is an art of its own, and it always rises from some emotional threat. The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful.”

—Kurt Vonnegut, interview, “The Best Jokes Are Dangerous,” McSweeny’s, September 2002

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Humorists are very commonly the youngest children in their families. When I was the littlest kid at our supper table, there was only one way I could get anybody’s attention, and that was to be funny. I had to specialize. I used to listen to radio comedians very intently, so I could learn how to make jokes. And that’s what my books are, now that I’m a grownup—mosaics of jokes.

—Kurt Vonnegut, interview, The Paris Review, Issue 69, Spring 1977

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

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