Still Not Funny – On not giving in to humorlessness

I’ve been moved by a number of things I’ve read in these last few days. Blog posts, Twitter threads, news analysis and more. I’m listening. I’m processing and wondering.

I work with children during the day. I insist that we work to be fair to each other and kind and respectful; that we play our games safely and involve everyone. If I raise my voice, I have told them, it probably is because I have a concern about safety. I’m afraid someone might be hurt. They understand this even if it may surprise them in the moment. We have a relationship and trust each other.

My 9 year old and I were talking at the dinner table. He has a gift for the dramatic and was applying it while assembling his hamburger fixings. When I mentioned his tendency to dramatize, he responded: “You didn’t raise me to be humorless.”

Humorless is a interesting word choice for a 9 year old.

It’s true and he’s right, I haven’t raised him or his older brother to be humorless. On the contrary, humor is central to our relationships. This is good to remember as I feel my humor running low these days.

I’m frustrated by a lot of what I see in mainstream media, particularly in its highly conciliatory coverage of the US President-elect. There is so much focus on what he says when we know after a nearly 2 year campaign that he fabricates, lies and denies on a regular basis. His word is never his bond.

The unbelievable rush to generate clicks overrides every design to report with integrity. The examples are far too many and egregious to list. Painting neo Nazis as young, stylish folks, actually discussing if Jews are human on CNN, raising the question if the Vice President-elect was “harassed” by the cast members of Hamilton…and on and on. I keep shaking my head –  although disbelief is not an option I’ve told myself already.

I cannot laugh. I keep wondering – where are those helpers that Fred Rogers’ mom always told him to look out for? Where are the opposition leaders among our elected representatives? Because the catastrophe is upon us and just getting started.

So I’ve made my peace with the fact that there will be no saviors. I feel like many of us are experiencing a crisis of expectation. We keep believing that things will happen differently: it won’t be so bad, it’s only four years, that he won’t be all bad… Our false and completely inaccurate expectations – based on convention, level of privilege, and/or ignorance are leading us down a path towards our own destruction – and we’re walking it. Perhaps there’s a little apprehension in our step but because so many of us want to believe – That we’ll be alright, that they don’t really mean us any harm – we follow like the children behind the pied piper – oh how we fall in line.

If the New York Times or Washington Post aren’t  bent out of shape at the proposed cabinet members or the recent convention of white nationalists in Washington, DC praising the incoming President complete with Nazi salutes, well then, it can’t be so bad, can it? But precisely this must be our cue. The sign that something is very rotten, not in Denmark but in these divided United States.

Even as I am overwhelmed with anger, disappointment and frustration – my sons have not raised me to be humorless. On the contrary.  As I find my own way to resist the spectacle of the current developments, I will need to hold on to my capacity for humor, laughter and fun. To my sons and my students, I owe them at least that much.

Special thanks to Eric Spreng for his wonderful essay on why we need to write ourselves free from despair which helped me write this post in the midst of my confusion.

 

The Wisdom of Spunky

Spunky Tells All  is a book by Ann Cameron, not a gossip column. Spunky is an articulate, astute and terribly funny dog who lives with his family, the Bates. Spunky has become my new literary hero. If you care nothing about dogs, pets or children’s fiction, please skip this post and go read something more dour. I have nothing but quotes and a strong recommendation that you procure this book and immediately improve your mental-emotional well being. You will thank me.

This is Spunky.  (image: ©Lauren Castillo found here)

Spunky speaks truth to power:

I sat up tall. I gave them a talk – the best talk I ever gave in my life.

I said: “Listen! I am a Dog. I will always be a Dog, so don’t laugh. You, Mr. Bates, Mrs. Bates, Julian, and Huey, you are Humans and will always be who you are, too. Sometimes other Humans will laugh at you. That, I have noticed, is one thing Humans do: they laugh at each other.

“But a Dog will never laugh at a Human for being Human. That is why you love us. That is why you trust us. That is why you call us Man’s Best Friend. Still, when we behave like Dogs because we are Dogs and cannot help being Dogs, you laugh.

“Is that fair???????????”

That was the end of my speech. I put a lot of question marks on the last word, with both my ears and tail.

They only understood the question marks. (p. 6-7)

He shines a light on the irrationality of Human behavior:

    In spring I feel frisky, like a young pup. I want to romp. I want to play with my boy. Often he will not go outside. He won’t throw a ball to me. He won’t throw a stick so I can chase it. He won’t pet me. I lick him. He says, “Spunky, go away. I have homework.”

What is homework? Why is homework? I do not know. For thousands of years, we Dogs have passed on to new generations the knowledge of how to survive and enjoy life. We overcame many difficult times and have populated the entire world with the great race of Dogs.

In all our many thousand years, not one of us have ever needed homework. What use is it? (p.21)

Oh, if only we could see ourselves with Spunky’s clarity.

Julian shrugged. Huey copied him and shrugged, too.

We Dogs don’t shrug. We think it is a big mistake to be a species that shrugs. “Whatever!” is usually what a Human shrug means. A dangerous word. If you want to survive, you must pay attention to what’s coming down the road straight at you and say Yes! to it , or No! to it, but never “Whatever.” (p. 43)

I may never shrug again.

Thanks to Spunky, I dare set aside my serious pedagogical pursuits and pause to appreciate the conundrums of life. He shares,

    I am very sorry for Humans, really. Not only because they cannot speak Dog. Even worse: they have such big noses yet get such little use out of them. Why? What really is the point?

You will say, Who is Spunky to question the way the universe is arranged? Who is Spunky to criticize?

I don’t criticize. I don’t. I just wonder. I humbly contemplate. I reflect. Sometimes I ask my departed ancestors about this, trying to reach their Sky Spirits with these questions:

Why are Humans and Dogs so different? Why are things as they are?

So far, I have received no answers. (p. 56)

Alas, dear Spunky, you are not alone in your quest to comprehend the great mysteries of our planetary existence. I’m right there with you.

 

Spunky Tells All by Ann Cameron, R R Donnelly & Sons Co., Crawfordsville, IN. 2011.