From the archives
Adapted from A Complete Guide to Writing for Publication.
day we're going to laugh at this!" is the unofficial Watkins Family
motto. We refer to it often!
my son and daughter decided to create a new Olympic event-- the human shot
put. The winners: Faith, 11 at the time, our doctor and, his stock broker.
The losers: Paul, 7, with a broken collar bone, our insurance company, and of course us paying the $100 deductable.
Moments before the, the word
processing software went to where all good software goes when an electrical
storm knocks out the power.
That was followed
on Monday by a visit to the dental hygienist who obviously attended the
"marquis de Sade School of Dentistry." Tuesday, we sent our tearful
daughter off to her first day of school in this new town. And then Thursday,
the bank called to say our checking account was overdrawn.
It's hard to
laugh when you feel like a deflated whoopie cushion. The writer of Ecclesiastes
claims there's a "time to weep and a time to laugh." But sometimes,
it's awfully hard for us to tell the difference.
in junior high (a universal time of comic-tragedy), I tried to ride my
unicycle with Kim Williams on my shoulders. (We did very well until both
of us suddenly wondered, How do we get off!? The answer: With a
lot of pain!)
Or the time I
visited a young person in the maximum security section of a psychiatric
hospital. I wasn't allowed to leave until the supervisor could confirm
I wasn't a patient. (Can you imagine that?!)
Then there was
the comedy-drama in the bathroom of a Florida tour bus. It made a sharp
right turn and due to a defective lock, one of Newton's law of motion,
and several of Murphy's laws--the bathroom door flew open. I wasn't about
to stand up and create an additional sight on the tour, so I stayed seated
until the next left turn when the door closed and I could securely lock
One trick to
keep from being locked up the maximum security section of a psychiatric
hospital is to laugh at ourselves. And once we've learned to do that, we've
plenty to laugh about. King Solomon was right: "A cheerful heart is
a good medicine."
Don't take your situation too seriously
I don't believe in paying a repair person $50 per hour when I can fix it
myself. What do I have to lose? It's already broken, so I really can't
do too much more damage.
Such was the
case with the "simple"--watch out for that word--task of removing
the bathroom stool so the tile crew could install new floor covering. And
I'd save $50 by doing it myself!
First, I managed
to break the main shut off valve to the house.
I told myself. I'll just call the water department to come out and shut
off the water for an hour or two. But then the thirty-year-old bolts
magically transformed into little piles of rust when I tried to remove
them from the base of the stool.
I'll just drill them out and run quarter-inch bolts straight through the
bathroom floor. This would have worked fine if there had been
a bathroom floor. A slow leak under the stool had reduced the subflooring
to the consistency of wet cardboard.
Faith and Paul
seemed to find much about my plumbing predicament to laugh about. "Tim
Taylor didn't mess up his bathroom this badly, Dad!" my eight- and
twelve-years roared. I had to laugh, too.
are serious such as the time Lois and I flew into a remote Native
village with an Alaskan bush pilot. During the take-off he casually remarked,
"We're about fifty pounds over take-off weight, but I thinkwe
can clear the trees at the end of the runway." (We obviously did or
someone else's name would be at the top of this article.)
divided plays into two categories: "tragedies" and "comedies."
Tragic tales had dire endings--such as the bountiful body counts at the
end of many of Shakespeare's play. In comedies, however, the hero and heroine
always lived "happily ever-after" or at least had a pulse at
the curtain call.
St. Paul provides
the ultimate punch line: "And we know that in all things God works
for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his
purpose." It's sort of a "good news-bad news" joke. For
instance, the bad news: the post office lost my airline tickets recently.
But the good news: due to a price war, the replacement tickets were $150
cheaper. God is able to take tragedy and turn it into a "comedy"
in the Greek sense of the word. His powerful control of life provides the
So, we can learn
to see the lighter side of most situations--or at least be consoled that
someday they will make great stories for family reunions or anecdotes for
a book. (Nothing terrible happens to writers. Just terrific illustrations!)
So, don't take your situation too seriously. And . . .
Don't take your senses too seriously
How we look
at things determines our attitudes and actions. Some people simply refuse
to see the humor in situations. Their life is filled with a dark seriousness.
Humor lets us see beyond sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell to detect
all the interesting surprises, inconsistencies and contradictions to which
many people are blind and deaf.
while in a desperate struggle with an "easy to install"--watch
out for that phrase, too--shelving unit, I asked my then five-year-old
son for a yard stick. Five minutes--and one migraine headache later--Paul
arrived lugging half a tree!
you doing, Paul!? I need a yard stick!"
He looked at
me innocently. "But, Dad, it is a stick from the yard."
minutes of laughing and hugging, my headache was gone, and I was able to
conquer the shelves with new enthusiasm. (According to William Frye at
Stanford University, laughter actually causes our bodies to produce endorphins
which are natural stimulants and pain killers which benefit circulation,
respiration, the central nervous system, and our immunity system. Norman
Cousins, past editor of The Saturday Evening Post, actually laughed
himself well from a near fatal illness by watching "Candid Camera"
A large part
of humor is looking at things from a slightly different perspective, so
be sensitive to the funny things around you. For instance, Lois recently
came home from shopping with toilet paper that claims to be "100%
recycled." (Think about it!)
Don't take yourself too seriously
For six years
I worked as an editor at a very refined and dignified publishing house.
(Can you imagine that?!) During that time I saw the emotional and spiritual
damage that occurs when people take themselves too seriously. The incredible
amount of time and energy to keep up a "dignified" front and
the unbearable pressure to perform perfectly squeezes the life--and humor--out
of a person.
the editorial department seemed to attract the "crazies." And
with that label came wonderful freedom. If deadline pressure became too
great, one editor would dance through the office blowing soap bubbles.
Others released their tension with rubber band wars or by calling out for
One really stressful
afternoon, four of us decorated black plastic garbage bags with posterboard
eyes and mouths and paraded through the executive floor as those dancing,
singing "California Raisins." Most accepted it as perfectly normal
behavior from the "crazy editors."
that is hurtful or at the expense of others has no place. But humor and
laughter born out of the joy of living is a healing and uplifting gift.
We have no better
example in none other than Jesus Christ. (Yep, Jesus was actually a first
century stand-up comedian!) "Hyperbole" or intentional exaggeration
was the hip humor in that time. Jesus would have had them rolling on the
hillsides with his comments about looking for a "speck of sawdust
in a brother's eye" while having a "plank" in our own. The
audience must have howled when he told the Pharisees they would "strain
out a gnat but swallow a camel." Or how 'bout camels squeezing through
the "eye of a needle?" Or putting a lamp (an open flame then)
under a bed (a flat, flammable mat at the time). Jesus told stories that
could only happen in cartoons--or, at least, with a great deal of computer
technology! ("Thank thee, thank thee. Thou hast been a great audience!")
The famous Christian journalist
G. K. Chesterton wrote "I am all in favor of laughing. Laughing has
something in it in common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration;
it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes men forget themselves
in the presence of something greater than themselves."
So do something
unexpected today. I'm not suggesting anything that involves sharp edges,
flammable liquids, high insurance premiums, property damage, or hurt feelings.
But someone, who takes him- or herself too seriously, is waiting for your
gift of joyful laughter!
Copyright © 1988 James N. Watkins
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