Laugh, dammit!

Once, as I was regaling a friend with the latest tale of my ex-husband’s abhorrent (to me) behavior, she laughed so hard she had to wipe tears and said, “You have to write about this! It’s hysterical.”

I was puzzled.

“What do you mean? This is terrible!” I said.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “But the way you tell it is hysterical. Seriously. You have to write about this some day.”

I have never thought of humor as my thing. I was the kid adults described as “7 going on 37.” When I was a preschooler, my grandmother’s sister called me The Judge. Even now, I almost never LOL.


As I explained on my About page, I once thought I could find my way to lightheartedness and laughter through crafts (hah!), but I’ve recently abandoned that.

Last week I began a class with Kate Carroll De Gutes that promised to teach me how to write about difficult subjects with humor. I signed up not because I feel driven to learn how to write about difficult subjects with humor. I signed up because:

a. I knew I’d need something positive this fall to fill the spaces opening up in my life.
b. I do better creative work with structure. Especially structure I’ve paid money for.
c. I’m still hanging onto the idea that this is the year of Voice.
d. I like Kate, who was in the cast of Portland’s Listen to Your Mother with me earlier this year.

It was really mostly D. For me, whether or not a class is good is almost never about the topic. It’s the teacher–and Kate is a wickedly good writer and a warm, interesting, kind person who does not suffer fools gladly. I knew I would learn stuff from her.

After our first class meeting, I decided that this is probably going to be the best money I’ll spend all fall. (Although I did, this weekend, finally find a pair of jeans that feel good and fit well and that were made in the US and sold in a small, locally owned shop and did not cost more than the hospital bill for my premature twins. That’s right up there, too.)

My biggest take-away so far? Humor doesn’t have to be LOL.

In fact, although I really liked Kate before signing up, I think I might now love her just for saying that she’s not a fan of A Very Popular Humor Essayist because their writing is mean. And that good humor isn’t mean. That being droll is being humorous. That there seems to be, I don’t know, a kind of humor that is serious.  I often find the world (and my walk through it) infinitely amusing, but when I try to share my amusement it seems there are always people telling me to look on the bright side or cheer up or not be so hard on myself or some such thing.

I want to snap at them, “I was being funny, dammit!”

Clearly, there are things I could learn.

Anyway, I’m sharing here a piece of writing I began in our class. Our prompt was something called a list essay (which is, as you’d think by its name, an essay in the form of a list). The topic:  A list of things you won’t do tomorrow.

It took me a bit to get started. My first few attempts were less than riveting:

I won’t wear yoga pants.
I won’t drink a latte.
I won’t wait in the pickup line at school.

Then I started thinking about a concrete tomorrow–the actual tomorrow I was going to be living, which was a Friday on a weekend Cane wouldn’t be home. That sent me down the path of thinking about all the different kinds of Friday nights I’ve lived in my life. The list I wrote (and shared) in class isn’t this one, but it’s what this one started from:

What I Will Not Do This Friday Night

Sit on the couch with my mom and my dog Fritzie, eating popcorn and watching Carol Burnett.

Attend a slumber party.

Lie on the living room floor with Fritzie and not-watch TV while wondering what the tall, skinny boy in the locker next to mine is doing right now.

Go to a high school football game and shake my pom poms in front of the crowd.

Drink a half-rack of Rainer pounders with my boyfriend and eat nachos and call it dinner. Feel rich even though we live in a shitty apartment infested with roaches.

Plan lessons.

Grade papers.

Know, with righteous conviction, that my work matters.

Fall asleep on the couch in front of a movie to avoid sex with my husband, a guy I once ate nachos and drank beer and laughed with on Friday nights.

Go into my babies’ room after they’ve gone to sleep and rest my hands lightly on their chests to make sure they’re still breathing.

Get home from “date night” by 7:00 so our babysitter can make it to the football game.

Snuggle my kids on the couch in front of a Disney movie while their father sleeps in his chair across the room.

Host a slumber party.

Anything with a husband.

Wonder if I should be writing more poems and grading fewer papers.

Make Grandma Spaghetti, which the kids will eat whole platefuls of even though it won’t be as good as Grandma’s.

Swallow hard at a high school football game because the cheerleaders and the jocks and the band nerds and the self-conscious kids shivering in their thin hoodies are so damn tender it makes my throat ache.

Fall in love.

Drive my daughter home from school, wishing I could listen to NPR on the radio but letting her bounce from one synthesized song to another because pretty soon I’ll be able to listen to NPR any time I want to.

Putter contentedly around my home.

Make dinner for my entire family and wish we could get through just one meal together without someone turning silent or mean.

Knock on my daughter’s door and poke my head into her room to tell her goodnight.

Slide between flannel sheets and fall asleep spooned into the body of the man I love.

Know when my daughter slides between her own sheets 3,000 miles away from mine, or what sounds are the last ones he hears before closing his eyes in the apartment that isn’t our home.

Sleep easily.


I know, it’s not funny. But I like to think there are moments of humor in it. Not the LOL kind. But humor the way it so often appears in life:  quietly, on the edges of things, or in the spaces between them.



14 thoughts on “Laugh, dammit!

  1. Jill moss says:

    Love this! You are a very witty, funny person who often makes me LOL. I look forward to more. And if you can make libraries funny, more power to ya!

  2. Marian says:

    Can I start by admitting I have never before wanted to live in the Portland area more than I do right now?

    This is going to come as a real shocker ( 😉 ) but I was a very serious child too. And am a very serious adult. And have raised/am raising three very serious children. (Who are all, nonetheless, capable of a light-heartedness that I was never capable of, which is a huge source of relief to me.) There’s a term that I’ve attached to this type of being, and of which I’ve grown rather fond: earnestness. I have a theory: those of us who are earnest aren’t incapable of humour (as those people who tell us to lighten up seem to believe); rather, our humour is sometimes of the dark variety, the humour that comes from examining life and deciding, Well, I could cry about this or I could laugh about this” and then of course once the laughter starts it’s the uncontrollable falling-out-of-your-chair type laughter that goes on entirely too long and leaves other people shaking their heads and wondering what the hell is wrong with you …

    Do you ever regret using your real name for this blog, Rita? I ask because I too am sometimes capable of turning “serious” stories into humourous tellings. There have been a few occasions when I’ve regaled a friend with something that’s happened and I’ve set her to laughing, and I’ve thought to myself, “I would like to write about this; if only I could!” I feel at times utterly constrained by the fact that I’ve gone and used my real name and if EVER my writing was “outed”, I would have to do some serious damage control. (Not because my humour is “mean”, but because people either *get* the dark/droll/self-deprecating humour, or they don’t.)

    I loved your list, btw. And no, it wasn’t LOL funny, but there were several things that made me smile (including a little-bit-of-a-risque double entendre (witting, or unwitting, I wonder, and if unwitting then shame on me for picking up on some ribald humour where none was intended?). It seems to me this bit of writing is right up there with De Gutes’ Authenticity Experiment — it made me think about all sorts of things this morning, some lovely, some sad, but all part and parcel of what it is to live a real life, and to have the bravery to be honest enough to share it. Thank you, Rita.
    Marian recently posted…My Cookie Baking Days Are NumberedMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Oh, I wish you lived in Portland, too. Everyone move to Portland!

      I’ve often used the word “earnest” to describe myself. It’s not something anyone aspires to be, is it? And I know earnestness is something that often makes us funny to others. Oh well. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It comes from deep caring. And no, I don’t regret using my real name. That does mean I don’t publish everything I write. I do self-censor. But we all do that, all the time. Sometimes I wonder about exposing myself the way I do here, but really–what’s the worst that can happen? I think it’s important that we all tell our truths.

      Finally: Yeah on the pom pom thing. 😉

  3. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    This post….I am all over the place and don’t know which to talk about.
    First, I totally wish there was a class that I could go to around here like that.
    Second, latte’s…..mannnnn I just tried my first one ever this fall and now I can’t stop.
    So I’ve become one of THOSE people.
    I love her, I have FOND ASS memories of watching her show in the 70’s.
    Man, I should have written a blog post of my own, apparently.
    OH YES! And humor that doesn’t make you LOL is some of the best humor.
    That’s all.
    I’m going to get a latte……

    • Rita says:

      You and Marian need to move to Portland. Then we could take classes together and go have lattes after!
      Of course you love Carol Burnett. I think I must have known that. I used to watch her every Friday night. Right after Bob Newhart. The real Bob Newhart show, not the one at that inn.

      I do get lattes sometimes. Tea lattes, though.

  4. Erich says:

    I enjoyed that Sooo much Rita. Thank you for sharing & I have appreciated that side of you for 40+ years. I was often called a lawyer before I was 12 so it makes sense I was friends with the”judge”

  5. Christine says:

    As someone who was also seen as serious with little humor, I have had to find my humorous side and develop it. I love your subtle, make me smile humor that causes me to think of my own what I won’t do in a light manner. Humor comes in many forms and given your continous role as “teacher” I know you have a humorous side. Like the piece and I always find your blog thought provoking.

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Christine. I have always thought of you as being serious, yes, but never as with little humor. I have fond memories of you laughing. And you are right–no one can be a teacher for very long without a sense of humor!

  6. Kate says:

    Oh, I love what Marian said! Because THAT. So, so, so, so much. I’m serious. I mean well. I don’t know how to do lighthearted and frivolous (and honestly, don’t understand why so many people want to!) and I’m certainly not “quick” (I have one friend who regularly leaves me just staring at her open-mouthed she’s so quick-witted and I envy that type of intelligence.) but I do have a dark (usually snarky) and self depreciating sense of humor. It just might be years before someone actually gets to see it. 🙂

    I also laughed at the list of three things you won’t do tomorrow, because I’m doing them today. And tomorrow. And the day after. Then the kids don’t have school Friday and we’re meeting friends for breakfast so I’ll probably just drink a regular coffee and wear the yoga pants. 😉

    • Rita says:

      I hope you’re enjoying your coffee! And the yoga pants. I think that list was coming from a place of envy. I’ve never been a coffee-drinking, yoga pant-wearing, drop-off mom. And it sounds kinda nice. Of course, I don’t like coffee, so there’s that. I’m sure it’s more the idea of all that I am enamored with, not the whole reality.

      And you’re welcome to come to the dark and deprecating side with me. I’m sure it’s why we’re friends. 😉

  7. Lisa Capasso says:

    I love this list. I love reading other people’s writing about their real lives, esp yours. I guess I should start reading the internet again.

    I have been described more than once as a “do-gooder full of righteous indignation” which, although probably true, does not seem like the cuddliest or most people-friendly description. Do-gooders of the world, unite.
    Lisa Capasso recently posted…pink and blue living roomMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      As I heard an introvert say this week, “I love and care deeply about humanity. Actual humans? That’s harder for me.” And I knew just what she meant. Yes, I am often full of righteous indignation. I am earnest. I am not cuddly. The world needs us, too. There are plenty of others who can make everyone feel good. We can just do good, and that’s good enough. Or it should be.

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