There Is Humor In Grief

Humor in grief or when facing a serious situation isn’t uncommon or out of place – it’s how people cope, it’s how people face what may normally be absurd, but it’s also just how the world works. Emotions don’t live in a silo. We don’t live in a silo.

Over at Karigee is an interesting highlight from a Q&A of Sarah Anne Johnson interviewing Amy Bloom in Conversations with American Women Writers (how’s that for old school blogging link credit!):

Q: You often use humor to diffuse an emotionally intense situation, and at the same time to create pathos, or a sense of the real sadness underlying the attempt at humor and the need for humor in a given situation. For instance, in “Silver Water,” the scenes with the therapists, especially Big Nut, are funny in spite of the gravity of the situation. Are you aware of this as you work, or does it just come out at certain times? How does humor work in your fiction?

A: I don’t see that much as diffusing the sadness of the situation. There is humor in grief. Funny things happen in hospitals. That’s just how it is. I don’t think that life is composed of sad moments, which are sad, in which bad things have happened to good people, and happy moments, in which good things have happened to good people. So for me, there being humor in the midst of difficulty and pain is not an attempt to either lighten the pain, or change the focus, or make a comment on it. It’s the way it is. To me it’s no different than the idea that there are both flowers and weeds in the garden. I don’t feel like if I see weeds in the garden, I think, That’s an interesting comment on the flowers. I think, That’d be because it’s a garden.

I appreciate this take from both a storytelling and real world perspective.

Humor in grief or when facing a serious situation isn’t uncommon or out of place – it’s how people cope, it’s how people face what may normally be absurd, but it’s also just how the world works. Emotions don’t live in a silo. We don’t live in a silo.

Somewhat related (apologies to Amy Bloom if she’s offended I’m about to compare her statement on her literary work to superhero films) is a debate among people who need to lighten up about the major differences or flaws between the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes. Marvel uses humor to drive the plot, develop a character, or just to lighten up a scene. DC, in the other hand, fills in the gaps with grunts and punches.

There are some who argue that Marvel’s approach is unrealistic and that may be true to its degree, but the DC approach isn’t how human nature works either. As serious as the world is around us, there’s something absurd, someone to say something out of place, someone to ease the tension.

When I see people argue against any humor in a tense situation, I’m reminded of a bit in Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down which chronicles the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu after the downing of two US Black Hawk helicopters.

Fire was coming from all directions, but mostly straight up and down the alley. They were still expecting the arrival of the ground convoy at any moment. They had no way of knowing that the convoy was lost and taking heavy casualties.

Fales was too busy shooting from his position out by the tail to take notice of the placement of the floor panels. He had a pressure dressing on his calf and an IV tube in his arm.

“Scott, why don’t you get behind the Kevlar [floor panels]?” Wilkinson asked. Fales looked startled. Only now did he notice the barricade.

“Good idea,” he said.

Crouched down behind the panels, Wilkinson and Fales watched as the intense gunfire ripped first one hole through the tail boom, then another. Then another.

Wilkinson was reminded of the Steve Martin movie The Jerk, where Martin’s moronic character, unaware that villains are shooting at him, watches with surprise as bullet holes begin popping open a row of oil cans. Wilkinson shouted Martin’s line from the movie.

“They hate the cans! Stay away from the cans!”

Both men laughed.

The world going to hell around them and they laughed. It doesn’t belittle or negate the chaos they’re in. It’s just the way it is.

I Think I Thought I Saw You Try

I was twelve when the musical world expanded for me. It came during a day at a friend’s house that involved destroying cans with a BB gun, riding a bike into a tree, and listening to music I’d never heard before.

There is a time in each of our lives when we finally realize there is good music beyond the tastes of our parents. Or that our parents’ taste in music isn’t much to our liking.

I was twelve when the musical world expanded for me. It came during a day at a friend’s house that involved destroying cans with a BB gun, riding a bike into a tree, and listening to music I’d never heard before on three tapes:

1. Dr. Demento’s 20th Anniversary Collection – It was absurd and stupid and crazy and exactly what a 12-year-old boy would enjoy. Some of it I’d heard before, Weird Al’s “Eat It”, Steve Martin’s “King Tut”, but songs/skits like “Star Trekkin'” and “Ti Kwan Leap/Boot To The Head” (now “Nah nahhhh” is ringing in my head) were brilliant comedy to a young Jason.

2. They Might Be Giants Flood – I mean, c’mon. This album was written for the young and the young at heart. By this time TMBG weren’t entirely new to me – the Tiny Tunes Music Television episode featuring “Particle Man” and “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” had aired earlier that year – but to hear the entire album, start to finish, was an eye opening experience. Flood continues to be one of my top 20 albums and is something I’m excited to play for my boys.

3. REM Out Of Time – It’s not REM’s best album, but at the time and in my world it was their only album and it was amazing. “Losing My Religion” was a song Casey Casem talked about every weekend as it worked its way around the Top 40 but wasn’t something I’d given a serious listen to before being able to hear it again and again. This was my first favorite song independent of the tastes of my mom or my brothers. This was when I fully realized there was a whole world of music out there beyond light hits of the 70s and 80s and Michael Jackson.

The thing about “Losing My Religion” is the song didn’t have much meaning for me for many years. The music video was to me a work of art full of religious iconography. Michael Stipe’s jerky motions were about how I imagine I looked dancing (to this day). The song was sad. And not in a George Jones country music kinda sad, but in a way that didn’t directly tell a story that a 12 year old fully got. But I knew it was sad.

It was one of the first songs I tried learning on the guitar when I first picked one up at 16 (that and Oasis’s “Wonderwall” which has always been one of my go-tos when playing the guitar but now it’s an “Anyway, here’s Wonderwall” meme that makes me feel like a chump, thank you very much, internet). Simple but building and still sad but I was 16 and naive and hadn’t really experienced anything to make it click.

And then, nearly a decade later, I had my heart truly broken and it clicked.

The title phrase of “Losing My Religion,” a song about romantic expression, Mr. Stipe said, is a common Southern expression that means being at the end of one’s rope.

The Pop Life – New York Times March, 1991

Of course 12-year-old Jason didn’t get it. 16-year-old Jason wasn’t nearly as deep as he believed he was (like all teenagers) and while he’d fallen for girls he hadn’t really been hurt by any. Not yet.

The emotion in the song rings most true when you can put yourself there, when you feel that pain, that loss, that wit’s end leading into anger and a jumble of feelings.

Where you say too much, but you haven’t said enough.

Where all these fantasies come flailing around.

I think I thought I saw you try.

But that was just a dream.

Just a dream.

Dream.

I’m better now, of course.

But it’s a song that’s stuck with me and evolved over the last twenty seven years. A song like this couldn’t Top 40 these days (though a song like this wasn’t likely to Top 40 those days either). It’s an art form that’s been kinda lost lately, a song that takes on a meaning far beyond its literal lyrics and can stand the test of time and evoke emotions decades later.

It’s still among my favorites, still something I’ll play a bit on the guitar when I’ve got the time, something I’ll share with my boys when they’re a bit older but not too old to think their dad’s musical tastes are lame. Hpefully they’ll never truly feel the meaning behind the song the way their dad did, though I know they probably will. And it’ll click.

Jif and Dukes on White

A Forgotten Southern Sandwich – Garden & Gun

Through the hardships of the Great Depression and the lean years that followed, peanut butter and mayonnaise kept many struggling households afloat. They were also the ingredients in a sandwich that was once as popular as peanut butter and jelly in parts of the South.

I remember being introduced to peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches by my grandfather. At home, sometimes the mayo would be Miracle Whip, giving the sandwich a bit of a sweetness. I haven’t introduced the delicacy to my boys yet, but it’s about time.

Facebook Is a Terrible Gatekeeper

Stop Reading What Facebook Tells You To Read – Mashable

By going to websites as a deliberate reader, you’re making a conscious choice about what you want a media outlet to be—as opposed to letting an algorithm choose the thing you’re most likely to click on. Or! As opposed to encouraging a world in which everyone is suckered into reading something with a headline optimized by a social media strategist armed with nothing more than “best practices” for conning you into a click.

There was a time when prevailing minds on the Internet debated about “The Cult of the Amateur” and how any Tom, Dick, and Harry having a website or publishing an ebook or posting a song on MySpace was going to be the end of culture as we knew it. Facebook has made all of that seem quaint.

Before publishing houses, record labels, newspaper editors filtered the noise, acting as gatekeepers and sorting the good from the bad, the legitimate from the meh, the real from the fake. Now culture is driven by data and algorithms spurred by sensational headlines.

In 2001’s Republic.com, Cass Sunstein feared the creation of a Daily Me as the result of a democratic Internet. The concern was that the online world promoted isolation into tribes, choirs, and echo chambers insulated from competing thought. Facebook is a result of that – it’s a way for users to digest the firehose that is the World Wide Web through a one-stop-shop, often in a way tailored to fit however we have defined ourselves through our friendships, our likes, our comments, our shares. For many it is a primary means of getting news (67% of Americans somewhat relied on social media for news last year). And when Facebook identifies you as a thirty something white guy with right leaning political views, guess what angle it’s going to feed you? Or who they’re going to sell access to your feed to?

Breaking free of that requires work. It requires manual typing and visiting sites that look different from one another or update at random times throughout the week. Or using an RSS reader like Feedly. Yeah, you’re probably still going to stick with what you know and like, but you’ll at least challenge yourself to go beyond a format that rewards sensationalism and outrage to reach the lowest common denominator in as few words as possible.

Actually browsing the web doesn’t just allow you to be a better reader, it asks authors to be better writers. Clickbait headlines and regurgitated Reddit thread listicles are lazy writing, but profitable. If you put your time toward quality work you reward quality effort.

[Y]ou’ll give them a reason to be different, and interesting, and independent, and to carry out some kind of mission that isn’t aping what everyone else does just to stay alive in the 2018 media climate. You’ll make everything just a wee bit better. You’ll incentivize them to keep you coming back for more. And you’ll be taking more control, and opting less for the control Facebook takes from you, and everyone else.

UPDATE: Old favorite Kottke.org had a great post back in April about how “Blogging is most certainly not dead” and had a great quote from Kari at karigee.com:

I also keep it out of spite, because I refuse to let social media take everything. Those shapeless, formless platforms haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. I’ve blogged about this many times, but I still believe it: When I log into Facebook, I see Facebook. When I visit your blog, I see you.

Hello?

Why No One Answers Their Phone Anymore – The Atlantic

Not picking up the phone would be like someone knocking at your door and you standing behind it not answering. It was, at the very least, rude, and quite possibly sneaky or creepy or something. Besides, as the phone rang, there were always so many questions, so many things to sort out. Who was it? What did they want? Was it for … me?

Technology is much to blame. As the author points out, there are just so many easier ways to reach someone today – text, email, Facebook, Twitter. Honestly, a lot of that has eroded many old customs from phone calls to chance catchups with old friends to high school reunions – my 20th was supposed to happen last year, it passed with barely a shrug while all my old classmates liked the latest photo of my newborn son on Facebook.

Spam calls are of course a problem too. But more because the infrequent ringing of my phone has picked up thanks to any number of recorded voices over spoofed numbers trying to sell me extended warranties, timeshares, new lines of credit, and who knows what else.

Ultimately, we already hold conversations every day at our own pace and time instead of having to commit a half hour block to actually talking. Phone calls are tedious by comparison, you actually have to focus on the person on the other end of the line, heaven forbid!

Everything Old Is New Again

I haven’t written in a while. Yes, it’s part of my day job, but I haven’t written for me in a long while.

I could blame social media – the ease of delivering thoughts in a sentence or two when sharing an article that no one clicks through to anyway really has changed what it means to have an opinion on things these days. But that’d be too easy.

I’ve just gotten out of the habit and grown a little rusty.

Not that I was a spectacular writer in the first place. But there’s no time like the present to get back on the horse.

So another reset is in order because I don’t even remember what I’ve written over the last 17 on-and-off years that’s worth keeping. I’ll revisit and reshare, but for now let’s give this another go.