I Think Everything Is Funny and A Little Bit Sad
Author Ann Garvin on finding humor in any situation.
Last week, I met one of the students my daughter tutors as part of her high school volunteer experience. We were in the produce section in the grocery store. Our conversation went like this.
Girl: “Hey are you Meghan’s Mom?”
Me with a playful grin: “Yes, how did you know?
Girl: You look like her but wayyyyy older.
Me: *grin fades. “Yes, I am older. So very much older. Yes. Old.”
Girl: “Meg says you write funny books.” (But she says it like I’m lying and I need to prove it.)
Me: “I do write books,” I insist. Then with more confidence than I feel I say, “My books are kind of funny and sad.”
Girl: “Sad isn’t funny.”
Me: “Sometimes sad things are funny.”
Me: “Haven’t you ever laughed when someone falls over?”
Girl: “That’s not very nice.”
And there you have it. I have a lot of these conversations when I explain what my books are about.
Me: “It’s about a woman who takes care of everyone but herself. Tig Monohan’s mother deteriorates with Alzheimer’s and her sister leaves a colicky baby in her care, she moves into the nursing home room because she can’t really manage her life.”
Reader: *disturbed look “Oh, that sounds so sad.”
Me rushing in: “But, it’s funny.”
Reader: *confused look, nods, tries to be supportive.
Here’s the thing. Humor is always tied to complexity, emotion, and at times, discomfort and embarrassment. When my friend ate too much sugar-free ice-cream sweetened with Lactulose (side effect: loose stools) and then lived to tell the tale, I burst out laughing. The thought of my extremely dignified friend staggering to the bathroom in the middle of a first date made me howl with sympathetic embarrassment. I immediately pictured myself in the same situation. I couldn’t stop laughing.
When my mom, who has Alzheimer’s, decided to call me Blossom, her favorite childhood cat’s name instead of my birth name, I just had to laugh. Sure it’s sad, I’m crushed that she doesn’t remember me. I’m desperate to keep my beloved mother in my own memory; the mom before Alzheimer’s. But, then I look deeper at the complexity and emotion of the situation and I see the love. She loved Blossom. My mom doesn’t remember me but she remembers that she loves me. And, there’s nothing sad about that.
Ann Garvin is the author of The Dog Year and On Maggie’s Watch. She lives in Stoughton, WI, and is a professor of sports psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and a MFA teacher in New Hampshire. Learn more about her latest novel, I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around, here.
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