You wouldn’t believe it, but I was once dumped in a park while a couple stepped around goose poop to have their engagement photos snapped beneath lime-colored leaves.
You wouldn’t believe it, but whenever I get lonelier than I previously thought possible, I just take a walk downtown and surround myself with train car awnings, staged displays, and afternoon drunks. It’s good for mental momentum.
You wouldn’t believe it, but I once fell in love with a guy who called me darlin’ and smoked without stinking.
You wouldn’t believe it, but based on my dating history, if you want to kiss me, you just need to play an instrument, be crippled by depression, have no concept of self, hide behind your empathy, or just have an active Okcupid account.
You wouldn’t believe it, but I’d like to reinvent myself. Go from this melancholy cardigan-wearing blonde to a fiery alpha woman. This transformation is possible. It’s happened after two or three vodka lemonades.
You wouldn’t believe this, but tonight I wrote for two hours by citronella candlelight with the company of the dumbest junebug in the state of Wisconsin.
Whenever I’ve been asked to describe my sense of humor, I begin answering under the assumption that I absolutely know its definition. “I’m kind of silly and self-deprecating,” I start saying. This is about as far as I get before I start to second guess how to continue. My instinct is to continue, “I think it’s a bit smarter than other people’s sense of humor. Not in a referential sort of way, just in a more sensitive and observational way.”
It’s a good thing that’s not a vague description.
I’ve been seeing someone the last few weeks and he’ll often try jokes on me. When I don’t laugh, he seems surprised. At this point, he probably shouldn’t be shocked anymore. We have fairly different styles of humor. His jokes tend to comment more on mental models of societal groups. That’s my polite way of saying he makes jokes about stereotypes. He’s an equal opportunity commenter – Asians, lesbians, Jews, and feminists are all free game in his book.
I recognize that there’s a group of people who enjoys this vein of comedy. “It’s clever & plays on the peculiarities that we avoid articulating,” they probably argue. Maybe there are some comedians out there who do this exceptionally well. To do it successfully, I imagine you’d have to combine stereotypes, social commentary, & wordplay in a fresh way. These are probably the same kinds of comedians who ridicule the audience members who don’t laugh at the jokes. “Ohhhhhhh. Don’t want to laugh at that and get your liberal panties in a bunch, do ya? Come on, we’re all assholes here.”
Until recently, I haven’t been forced to explain why I’m not a fan of this kind of comedy. I think I’ve got it though. The way I see it, this vein of comedy functions primarily by poking at others. Beyond the obvious (making the audience laugh), I can only assume the goal is to portray the comedian as a witty, superior, and crudely charismatic alpha. I’m either too jaded or I’ve read too many books to not see through this. Whenever I hear this stuff, it’s like the comedian is offering the joke up and expecting the audience to award him for being so clever and ballsy to speak so politically incorrect.
The thing about politically offensive jokes is that if they’re not done well, it backfires and makes the comedian look insecure. These jokes aren’t gutsy. They’re simple commentary whose vehicle is previously established phrases and unevolved assumptions. Instead of uniting people in a shared experience, it divides them between those “gutsy enough” to laugh and the “prudes.” Call me idealistic, but I don’t see the humor in an offensive term or quip that reduces a person (or group of people) to single societally-decided negative characteristic.
We’re complex creatures whose narratives continuously overlap, but so much of our lives are spent focusing on obligations and frustrations to see that our insecurities and quiet humiliations are universal. The jokes I appreciate function on good storytelling and the comedian’s willingness to be vulnerable. It’s wry and sensitively self-deprecating. Instead of simply illustrating their own idiocy, the comedian is telling a personal story that resonates with the audience at an individual level.
I’ve said this all without ever having done so much as an open mic, so that might weaken my entire argument. But that standup spotlight and mic has got to be lonely. Nobody wants tell a joke and see offended expressions and obligatory laughter. I’m sure there’s a multitude of reasons a person does standup, but the goal is the same: to feel connected. This isn’t an argument for easy jokes to get the most laughter. But if you’re going to do this at all, what’s the sense in seeking anything other than a genuine connection with the audience?
Because it was on a weekend this year, Valentine’s Day might have passed without me noticing if it weren’t for a few Facebook friends sharing photos of bouquets and festive table settings. Unlike some previous years, I wasn’t bitter or envious of those in a pair. Sure, it would have been nice to have someone be like, “SURPRISE! Here’s a first edition Lolita with a butterfly doodle on the title page. Now let me buy you a steak!” but I wasn’t aimlessly hurling frustration just because I don’t have a guy to buy me flowers and a card.
When I think of Valentine’s, I recall an album I heard a few years ago: Daughter’s “If You Leave.” It was a dark winter morning & I was getting ready for work and I decided to buy the album on Amazon on a whim. I was groggy, craving soft sheets, snuggles, and the adoration of someone else and the lyrics hit me in the gut.
And if you’re in love, then you are the lucky one, ‘Cause most of us are bitter over someone. Setting fire to our insides for fun, To distract our hearts from ever missing them. But I’m forever missing him.
It was a melancholic day in my cubicle. I spent most of the day thinking of loves lost, envious of those lucky ones who took their companionship for granted. I missed the days of democratic valentines when I didn’t understand the holiday, I just knew I was going to get 28 poorly torn and folded cards from my classmates. In middle school when I actually did get the holiday, the first three weeks of February were a slow roasting hell, seeing the halls covered in advertisements for the carnation sale. I think I received two $1 carnations – both were from female friends whose generosity felt cruel because they weren’t boys. High school was where I started seeing that it wasn’t so much about love and affection as it was about the things guys bought girls. Since boys weren’t buying me anything, it was fortunate that it was cool to hate Valentine’s Day.
I had several vaguely memorable gifts Valentine’s Days that I can fondly recall; The lunch, latte, and bouquet from the produce boy. The blood red roses from Jon. My first Kindle & pearl studs from Bill. The Second City tickets from the professor. Last year’s dozen roses delivered at work after a first date.
What I hate most about Valentine’s Day is how reductive it is. That list isn’t representative of those relationships. They ranged from simple blushing and hormone-heavy infatuation to complex and sustained commitments. But somehow, whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around, the first thing that comes to my mind is all the previous February 14ths – not the relationships I was in at the time. It takes a while to recall how the produce boy made me blush every time he delivered a white chocolate raspberry latte from my favorite coffee shop – longer still to remember how badly I craved any sign of love from Jon and how deeply I celebrated any instance of affection. It’s somewhat easier to recall the easy tenderness Bill and I shared, and the thrill of the professor’s support of my hobbies.
I listened to “Youth” again the other day, and it didn’t hold the same sadness it once did. Instead of focusing on the lingering bitterness over someone, I consider myself lucky to have experienced such a range of love and despair. It means I’ve been able share myself with a person and he’s trusted me enough to share himself with me. A successful relationship isn’t necessarily one that ends in marriage and eternal commitment. A successful relationship can also be one of mutual discovery and growth. Even the relationships that ended badly were ones that lead to further self-awareness. It’s cliche, but it really is better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all.
While the ego bruise from Valentine’s Day might still be fresh for some readers, I still want to tell people to treasure wherever they’re at. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t place any importance on this arbitrary day. Just treasure your moments and savor whatever you’re doing.
Vonnegut sums it up better than I can tonight: “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”
If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms – if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body – it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up: all artifacts of ancient gestures. Holding hands, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood.
– Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
This is me, copping out on writing a blog post on a Friday night because I bought myself flowers and I want to read pretty words.