When I was young, I dreamt of writing like the “greats”: The Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, Johnson, Pope, Swift, Austin, Shelley…
I wanted to write the world’s next Lord of the Rings!
And I write stories like that – rife with mystical commentary and poetic nuance. I can wax Irish with the best of them. Polished pieces that carry people to places far away; where they may drift in an ethereal magic created by a word—a moment. Breathtaking prose that leaves the reader spiritually transformed in some way. Writing that pulls the reader out of the life of man[kind] [that is], solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.
It wasn’t until later, after I’d lived some, that I began to appreciate The Humorists. Twain, Wilde, Bombeck, Sedaris, Pratchett…
It was later still when I discovered that my natural voice carried that sort of edge. It’s all well and good to wander to magic places, to capture moments, that seem to defy definition, with words; but there will still be dishes to be done when you get home. Fences needin’ whitewash. And it’s very likely someone forgot to do them. It’s likely that children, parents, partners, and even total strangers will drive you to distraction; cause you to stop waxing and look up to say, “Really?”
When I began to record these moments, much to my surprise, people began reading and responding to what I write.
I don’t usually see myself as a particularly funny person. But in most of life’s situations we have two choices; we can laugh or cry. Crying causes my mascara to run, so none of that here. I’ve seen people laugh reading stories about tension in a mother/daughter relationship, the desecration of sacred religious rituals, alcoholism, incompatible politics in the same household, children being attacked by vicious (albeit it small) animals, traumatic brain injury!
The best academic paper I ever wrote started, “My critical paper, this critical, academic paper, is an obstreperous, amorphous, catastrophic mess. The thesis, in general terms, is that I really have no solid thesis. It is, at best, tenuous…”
The same paper ends with, “Good writing asks you to see your reflection in me.” And there’s the trick.
How would you react here?
There’s a little Tom Sawyer in all of us, we’d all rather be sittin’ under the tree while others work, and we respect Tom for his—conniving human nature—charm, his wit. Yup, he’s just like us. I don’t know who paints the fence, because everyone sees themselves in Tom.
Every parent and spouse on the planet understands what Bombeck is talking about in her books. We’ve all wondered what we see in a partner, or if our children weren’t exchanged at the hospital – for some alien being that cannot comprehend anything we say. We’ve all opened the refrigerator and seen science experiments. And if you haven’t, well, there’s something wrong with you.
Like Sedaris, we’ve all walked out of family situations saying, wow, really? And then acknowledging…damn it, I’m related to those people!
I used to think I was writing to transport people to someplace sane away from the maddening din. But, no, I write to remind people that we’re here, in the midst of it, now, let’s make the best of it! It’s in the pandemonium that we muck around being human. Humorists make rational the lunacy of the human condition and experience. Like them, I write to remind myself, and you, that surviving the din is what makes us human and allows us to both see the magic in someone’s eyes and laugh at our own reflection.