Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Invincible Summer

People seem to question the idea of suffering too much. It doesn’t matter what their beliefs are, what religion or race or gender, people are always asking themselves the reasons for their sufferings. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s a bad thing, and neither am I pointing fingers; I question it too. It’s hard not to, when you’re the one going through the trials and not knowing how you’re ever going to pull through. But at the same time, by paying so much attention to our despair, are we forgetting the good it brings?

Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in quiet and ease. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition aspired, and success achieved.” A blind deaf-mute woman talks to us about our vision clearing. I’m aware that it’s metaphorical vision she’s talking about, but, remarkable, isn’t it? That someone who, it seems, has so many reasons to be miserable can actually have it all figured out. And she’s right, as far as I’m concerned. How mundane would the world and everyone in it be, if everything went perfectly according to plan? Should there even be a plan, a surefire one that’s going to get us through our lives without us having to make one real decision all by ourselves, simply because a Higher Power has already laid it all on the table for us? I don’t think so. I think that as human beings with brains and freewill and goals, we’re permitted and even required to make our own way at times, figure out for ourselves what’s best for us, choose our paths.

If we were never left to struggle, how would we ever discover anything about ourselves or those around us? Because it’s great to know a person when they’re happy and their life is in order, but in my opinion you don’t really know someone until you’ve seen them suffering, and witnessed how they hold up through it. In much the same way, you only know how strong you are when you’ve had to prove it to yourself or to others; people don’t just put on random acts of mental strength unnecessarily. There has to be a reason. And when a reason arises, and you find your inner strength to pull yourself and whoever else is concerned through this particular struggle, then you’ve discovered something about yourself. As French philosopher Albert Camus put it, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer”.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mounting Pressure

Sometimes, things happen in life that leaves us speechless. And sometimes speechless doesn’t mean having absolutely nothing to say, it can just mean that you have so many thoughts and emotions and feelings pressing into your mind that it’s like a hundred little streams of water all rushing really fast toward a great big gushing river that it’s feeding, except that it’s not just water, it’s full of dirt and debris and it clogs up the paths and manages to create dams at the ends of the little streams so that there’s all this pressure just… pressing against your mind, and you can hear it creaking and groaning in protest and it’s just waiting for that one last, final piece of crap to come and break the dam and then all the words just explode out like a waterfall into the great big rushing river, cascading out from behind whatever was stopping it, and then you can’t stop it anymore no matter how hard you try, because you’re not strong enough to force that amount of water or feeling or emotion back into the little streams. And so it just flows.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

What Are You Laughing At?

I was reading a book the other day that mentioned briefly that no matter how funny you are, there will always be situations where you get shut-down because your audience is all wrong. For example, something that makes a group of teenagers laugh will have an old folks’ home keeling over in shock; something that amuses your little group of friends will only draw blank, curious stares from a roomful of businessmen.

So that got me thinking: why do people laugh? What is it that gives us the uncontrollable desire to burst into hysterics when we hear or see something funny?

According to, laughter is a “spontaneous response to humor that has physiological, psychological and physical benefits”. This is true as far as the benefits it has for us, but it doesn’t really explain what makes people laugh. What is humor?

There’s a book called “Comedy Writing Secrets”, written by Mel Hilitzer with Mark Shatz (what a name), that talks about the element of surprise being one key factor to making people laugh. For example, if you are tricked into doing or believing something inane, you laugh to cover up the fact that you’re embarrassed. Another way this works is in a story in which the audience thinks it can correctly interpret the ending, but are then surprised when the story being told takes an unexpected twist. The audience is surprised; they laugh.

So why is it that sometimes we’re so sadistic and laugh at things that are actually really horrible? I mean, it shouldn’t be funny when someone falls off a chair and hurts himself or you read about some poor individual getting kicked in the teeth by an angry animal of some sort, but you’d be a liar if you said you haven’t laughed at something along those lines. So maybe humor is hostility turned into a joke.

You hear it all the time: comedians making fun of something that is actually a serious issue, or else something that just upsets or angers them. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you love or at least have seen the Jay Leno show. Most people have seen at least one episode of it, just because you can’t escape it. Personally, I find Jay Leno one of the funniest people in the world. Now, in relation to hostility masked as humor, one thing Leno does quite a lot is make fun of politicians which is something I thoroughly enjoy - mostly because I don’t understand politics at all and so it’s great to hear somebody slaughter them as entirely as he can. “I looked up the word politics in the dictionary, and it’s actually a combination of two words: poli, which means ‘many’, and tics, which means ‘bloodsuckers’.”

Anyway, my point is that different people laugh at so many different things, for so many varying reasons, that you could be the funniest person in the world and still not make certain kinds of people laugh. Some people laugh at cheap jokes, some people laugh at big, comical gags. Some people are tickled by witty remarks, still others laugh at cruel humor. A few people don’t laugh at anything at all, either because they don’t understand hilarity or they think they’re above it in some way. I feel sad for those people, but that’s another story. But whatever makes you laugh and whatever the reasons are for that, I’ve just decided that I need to stop writing about it. It’s like E.B. White said: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. They both die in the process”.