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Posts Tagged ‘sense of humor’

I have a new favorite Facebook personage whose page I have liked. He’s a writer named Jonathan Carroll, and he posts all of these amazing quotations and excerpts from his work that tend to be quite insightful and make me happy.

Here’s a quote he shared earlier this week: “It is a great art to laugh at your own misfortune.” – Danish proverb

Photo by Manosij Mukherjee

Remember how I said one mark of emotional resiliency is developing a sense of humor? (I know, I know, I keep going back to that, but I’m just so excited to have a name for one of my interests.) I suspect that an especially helpful part of humor is the ability to laugh at yourself, your life, your world. And when I can’t do that, when I can’t find anything remotely funny, even the tiniest bit that is only tangentially related, well, that’s when I know I’m in for a real emotional wringer.

I was talking to someone about absurdity, and how a sense of absurdity in life can result in a loss of meaning. But I don’t think this has to be the case. Sometimes finding that hint of the absurd is the only way I can find humor in a given situation. Absurdity also makes it easier for me to laugh at myself, as I notice my own foibles and eccentricities. The trick, then, is to notice the absurdity around yourself while not allowing it to erode those ideas, relationships, or things through which you find meaning.

Perhaps we can do this by realizing that so much of everything is absurd if you’re looking at it from a certain perspective, and accepting the absurdity while still seeing the beauty and meaning shining through. (Is this a type of idealism, perhaps? Or optimism?) Look at writing, for example. So many things about writing are absurd. The cultural norms reflected both in and around writing, the prescribed structures of fiction, the putting down words and then deleting them and then putting down more words and then deleting them ad nauseam. The basic idea of fiction, of writing down a story that never happened and never will happen, has an element of absurdity in it–enough, in fact, that some people cannot enjoy fiction because of this (although I do wonder if this reflects on their ability to deal with absurdity in other realms of life as well). What about the idea of becoming immortal through your words, an absurd idea if I ever heard one given the low chances of being one of the few writers whose works are still being read two hundred years later. And don’t even get me started on the absurdities inherent in the business aspects of being a writer, because they are legion.

And yet, writing still has deep meaning for me. I can laugh at it (and I do), and then I sit down and write some more. Absurdity doesn’t erase the importance of writing for me; it is a part of writing, and then there are other aspects of writing that call to me and make the time and energy spent on it seem deeply worthwhile. It’s a similar strangeness to that of concurrently laughing at yourself and taking yourself very seriously.

I wish I had something sage but pithy to say about how to develop the art of laughing at oneself. But the truth is, sometimes it comes easily to me and sometimes it doesn’t. I do find that the more I can gain a wider perspective and the less caught up in perfectionism I am, the easier it gets. So I suppose that’s my insight for today: Look outside of yourself. Allow yourself imperfections. Go ahead and hold yourself to a high standard to begin with, but be gentle when you fall down. Cultivate laughter. And spend time around people who do the same.

What are you laughing about today?

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I have spent much of my life insisting that I am not funny.

Which, it turns out, is all a big joke. But one that most people aren’t going to get at all. Because I actually think I’m quite funny. I amuse the hell out of myself on a daily basis.

In contrast, I don’t think a lot of traditionally funny people are very funny at all. You know how people feel this need to tell jokes? As in, they recite a pre-canned joke complete with punch line? I’ll laugh to be polite, but I rarely find them very funny. I can’t tell them myself to save my life. And I won’t remember them at all after a day. Same with sitcoms in which the main source of the funny seems to be people being dumb and getting themselves into big, stressful messes. Although there are exceptions, I mostly feel sad when I watch people being dumb. And I worry about them when things start to go really wrong. Or I just don’t care. But what I don’t do is find it very funny.

Very occasionally, I will find someone who thinks I am completely hilarious. My husband is one of these rare people. I met another one at Taos, a colleague of mine who “doesn’t understand humor.” For someone who doesn’t understand humor, she makes me laugh a whole lot more than almost anybody else I know. I have another local friend who will suddenly bust up laughing at something I said, while the rest of the room looks on in bafflement or doesn’t even notice.
I recently decided to investigate this strange phenomenon, and I reached a startling (for me, anyway) and exciting conclusion. It turns out that I have been practicing the art of dry or deadpan humor for most of my life. Yes, without even knowing it. Another fact I find terribly amusing.

The interesting thing about dry humor is that it takes a certain amount of attention to catch it. If, for example, you’re only half listening to what someone is saying, there’s very little chance of you noticing the little joke they drop in halfway through a conversation. Dry humor is subtle and purposefully lacking in cues. And it happens really fast, which means your wit has to be turned up to full in order to appreciate it before the moment has passed. It also tends to lose its comic value if it has to be explained.

When I deliver one of my little jokes, my vocal inflection often doesn’t change much if at all. Sometimes I myself am unaware that I’m making a joke until it’s already out of my mouth. I have trouble believing, knowing myself as I do, that I keep a completely straight expression. But on the other hand, I spend a lot of time smiling, so how is one to tell the difference between my habitual smile and my sly “I just committed some humor” smile? So again, not a huge red flag. The entire sense of the humor lies in the words I’ve spoken and their context.

The best part of dry humor? I can easily entertain myself. The worst part? When I laugh at other people’s unintentional dry humor, or the absurdity of a situation, and people become worried or offended because they don’t get the joke. Which is why most of the time, I’m laughing on the inside while keeping my deadpan smile firmly in place.

How about you? What do you find funny? Any fellow dry humor aficionados out there?

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