Love To Laugh

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my bride on our wedding day.

Today marks our one month anniversary. Kerri and I were married one month ago at 11:11am. There are two things that probably best define our wedding: 1) the very first thing we bought for use in our reception was a wiffle ball set and a kickball. It’s taken me a long time to learn that ‘sacred’ and ‘fun’ are essential to each other. Love without laughter is empty, indeed, and I cannot now imagine anything more sacred than love. We wanted to laugh and we wanted our guests to laugh with us.

There is, I’ve learned, a very good reason that the Hopi include tricksters in their important rites. They know that laughter lets the god in. It is a paradox. If you take the god too seriously you will inhibit your relationship with it. You will abstract yourself from it. You will abstract yourself from what is most essential. Laughter is a great facilitator of relationship. Friends laugh together. Kerri often talks about the Amish quiltmakers building a flaw into their quilts. The flaw allows the grace to come in. The laughter, the fun, plunks relationship squarely in the center of the sacred. It makes it real. It makes it relevant. It makes it personal (the three most oft used words to describe our wedding: personal, real, relevant).

To that end, 2) of the wedding week, Jim said it best, “You do know how to throw a great litter of parties.” Truer words were never spoken. We threw 5 consecutive parties in 5 consecutive days, each growing in size and scope. We wanted the people we love to have ample opportunity to meet, talk, and grow to love each other. It took a litter of parties, multiple touches, multiple opportunities, to sow our new garden. More than once Kerri and I watched as the circles of our lives crossed and recrossed, a new tapestry of friendships and stories emerging. Linda taught folks Irish dances on our back patio. Jim and Jim met and played a spontaneous mini-concert. It was gorgeous and spontaneous and rich, rich, rich in laughter (see #1).

This morning Kerri sat with coffee in bed and talked about our wedding (“Can you believe it’s been a month?”). We told stories and compared notes. We laughed. “My one regret,” Kerri said, “was that we never played kickball! I wanted to play kickball!” It’s true. The wiffle ball set and kickball never made it to the beach. There was dancing, so much dancing. The hula hoops even found their way to the dance floor (the bride had four going at one point). So, the kickball remains unrequited. However, the plan for our first anniversary is now set: October 10, 2016, a game of kickball on the beach. An after party of wiffle ball will follow with any and all comers. It will be casual, like the wedding. No need to bring anything. Simply come prepared to laugh.

Laugh More

my idea book for our coming-soon cartoon, Chicken Marsala

my idea book for our coming-soon cartoon, Chicken Marsala

There is laughter coming from the next room. Across the way, a woman bursts into tears and a man with a ponytail leads her away from a group. They whisper. He tries to calm her. He makes her laugh. She wipes her eyes and they walk back to the group and all act as if nothing had happened. And, maybe nothing did happen. I am too far away to know the circumstances of her tears. I know the circumstances of her laughter.

Today it rained. I sat at my drafting table and worked on a cartoon strip. Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog sat at my feet. For the first time in over two years I streamed NPR and listened to the day’s news and some other stories. There was a story of a hunger strike in Chicago over the closure of a school. There was a story on public figures and apologies. There was an age-old story of the division in congress. I felt the same way listening to the news as I just felt watching the woman in tears. I am too far away to know the circumstances. I am too far away to know with certainty the truth of any of it. I’ve developed a healthy distrust of news reports. All I know with certainty is that truth is relative, truth is a point of view. I inked my drawings and listened as I might listen to a book-on-tape.

There is more laughter. It is coming from a meeting. I find comfort knowing that a committee in charge of anything can laugh. I hope that they are laughing at themselves.

Ann once told me that they key to success was to find a need and fill it. This world seems to have no shortage of needs. It does seem to have a shortage of laughter.

Recently, David shared with me his thoughts of Plato’s analogy of the cave. Perception as projection. It’s all shadows. Once I watched a Balinese shadow puppet master perform. The performances always take place in the outer ring of the temple and are meant to remind people that what they see in this life is a shadow, a projection merely. One of the messages: we are too far away to know Truth. Another message: our projections are worthy of our laughter and not much else. The puppet master had us rolling on the ground. His characters were mostly tricksters, stooges, and in their over-serious pursuits they were hysterical in their folly. Another message, perhaps the most important: the quickest route to the divine, to the connective tissue, is through laughter.

 

 

 

Embrace The Bump

photoArt stores are dangerous places. We entered the store with a short list: vine charcoal and titanium white paint. We left with a suspiciously large bag – Kerri found the pen and pencil aisle and got “that look” in her eyes. I found her sitting amidst a vast circle of pen possibilities making marks on a pad of paper. “Ooooooooooo,” she cooed, feeling the latest pen for weight and suitability for her hand. “I looooooove this one,” she said to herself. Her pile of “I love this one” selections was formidable. Art stores are like opium dens.

20 (aka John) was with us. He regularly incites us to riot and misbehavior. He was little help extracting Kerri from her pen-nest. 20 impacts us like a snout-full of laughing gas. He has a way of making the darkest day bright. 20 is, in fact, a bringer of light; he has developed this capacity because, like all bringers of light, he knows well the other side. One day in early summer, we sat on the deck drinking coffee and made our belly buttons talk, giving voice to the things we think but cannot say in polite society. We laughed so hard that I had to run inside the house; I couldn’t breathe. Twenty’s belly button had a lot to say.

After escaping the art store, Kerri hefted her bag of supplies to the car while 20 and I waited on the corner. That’s when we saw the sign. It was something Sartre might have provided had he been a traffic engineer. It was existential. 20 and I jumped at the chance to make a selfie with the sign-philosophical. It simply read, BUMP.

photo-1As we snapped our selfies, laughing all the way, I couldn’t help but recognize that life – a good life – is riddled with bumps. In my consulting days I used to work with people to embrace the bumps rather than try to remove them. There is a pervasive notion that smooth sailing makes a good life. A bump-free life is a recipe for disaster. All of life’s lessons are found within the bumps. A life without bumps is a life without challenges is a life that is boring. And, in truth, people create bumps if they don’t already exist. They’re called a hobby or gossip or a complaint or drama. In story language, bumps (called ‘conflict’) drive the story; without bumps there is no movement. Yearning is a bump. So is desire. Unrequited love is a bump. Loss is a bump. Wondering what is beyond the horizon is a great bump.

20 is a great teacher of how to address bumps: Laugh. Make a selfie. Alter the word to something even more outrageously appropriate. Look for the next opportunity. Let your belly button talk.

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Bumble

photo-1I’m sitting on the deck sipping red wine. It is twilight. Jim is playing the mandolin (he is an extraordinary musician) and Kerri is playing her keyboard. They are rehearsing outside because it is too hot in the house. The breeze off the lake is a godsend. Dog-Dog does not know what to do with all the activity. He is running around and around; there is no sense to his crazy figure-eight patterns. I’ve learned his looping is actually Dog-Dog glee. He likes their music, too.

The fireflies are sparking. Kerri and Jim are working through a series of slow tunes for a performance this weekend and I am falling into their playing. I routinely tell them that they need to make an album together and they routinely smile and laugh at me. It is their laughter that comes through their playing and I love it. This world, I believe, like me, needs more laughter.

There is magic in a mandolin and I am suddenly reminded of my conversation with Arnie earlier today. We had a much needed phone conversation. Over the many years of our friendship Arnie has walked me through multiple mazes of my own construction. He has listened to more than one of my epic rants. He has a gentle way of asking just the right question to stop my rant in its tracks. I seek his counsel when I am lost. He somehow knows when I need an ear to bend or just a walk with a friend. His superhero name might be The Velvet Dope-Slap. I am grateful to be the dope to his slap.

During our conversation we bumbled into the topic of wisdom. I am now old enough to understand that bumbling is the only path to wisdom. No one seeking wisdom will ever find it. Seekers are notoriously serious. I have always been suspect of the dour saints that pock western sacred spaces. The Buddha laughs. Shiva dances amidst the destruction. There is wisdom in dancing, too.

Arnie and I agreed that wisdom only comes from repeated and dedicated folly. Sooner or later, if we are lucky, the mask of comedy breaks through the sad mask of tragedy; we learn to laugh at ourselves and our dedication to drama. It is through the laughter that wisdom finally reveals itself.

Kerri just gasped and stopped playing, “Oh my god! Look at the moon!”

Jim laughed at the interruption, and, pulling his glasses off his forehead, said, “Wait, I have to put my far-eyes on.”

 

Give Joy

This is an illustration from my as yet unpublished children's book, Play To Play.

This is an illustration from my as yet unpublished children’s book, Play To Play.

The question was, “What gives you joy?” People responded with things like, “family,” “the sunrise,” and “community.” Someone offered, “Other people’s laughter gives me joy.” There were nods of agreement all around.

It is hard for me to hear a question like, “What gives you joy?” and not think of Viktor Frankel. As a young Jewish man in Nazi Germany, he somehow survived years in a concentration camp. He emerged believing that, other than sheer chance, the line that divided the survivors from those who perished was a capacity to give meaning to life – as opposed to seeking meaning from life. He noted that the prisoners who sought meaning from the experience perished. Those who made meaning from the experience were more apt to live another day; they storied hope instead of looked for it.

Viktor Frankel famously wrote that, “Happiness ensues.” Happiness follows. It is not something sought. It is not found on the outside. Happiness is a response. It comes from within. We bring happiness to a moment. We do not get happiness from the moment.

Joy is like happiness. As I listened to the responses to the question about joy, I thought about the language of “seeking” and “ensuing.” In the English language it is hard not to create a paradigm of separation. We rely heavily on our nouns. Things are distinct. Dissimilar. “It” is found outside; “it” is located inside. “I give meaning” versus “I get meaning.” Give. Get. Either way, within or without, there is a line of division; “it” cannot be in both places. I wondered if the experience of joy and happiness (or sadness and grief, for that matter) are co-creations. I wondered if the language of us/them, within/without actually obscured the other option: we seek it and it ensues because we engage life. We open and life opens. Joy, like happiness, is generated in the relationship space, the space between, and in the relationship space there is no separation. Your actions and my responses are intimately connected. Where is the line between my action and the impact it creates?

After the conversation about joy, Kristi talked about being empathic. She said, “I can feel other people’s pain and then I carry it.” Earlier in the week, Kerri and I had the same conversation. She told me that she wanted to learn how not to take on other people’s stuff. I told her about the time I sought a teacher named Anna Christensen who showed me how to feel but not take on other people’s pain. “We are all empathic to various degrees,” Anna said. “Most people, to survive, need to numb their capacity for feeling. It’s necessary for most people because they need to know where they end and other people begin. They need the illusion of the individual. But, that comes with a cost; it creates the terrible experience of aloneness,” she added.

If other people’s laughter gives joy, and we can universally agree that is true, then my laughter and your laughter give joy to others. Isn’t it really just that simple?

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Learn To Laugh

Comedy is about other people’s pain. Wiley Coyote going off the cliff one more time is funny. The guy slipping on the banana peel is hysterical as long as you are not that guy. Humor is mostly a status drop for someone.

I’ve been writing and drawing a cartoon called FL!P for almost half a year now so I’m inadvertently making a study of what’s funny and what is not. Recently some acquaintances that know me from my coaching life took me to task because my comic strip seemed out of character. “It’s mean,” they said. “Yes.” I said. That is precisely why it is funny.

The strip is aimed at entrepreneurs and there is a need for a bit of levity in a world so steeped in self-interest and confusing agendas. In many traditions around the world the trickster is an integral part of worship. We are not meant to take our gods so seriously. The reverence is always found in the relationship and the realization that the godhead is in all of us. It is our flaws that take us closer to the creative. Worship is a relationship and a full relationship includes laughter, joy, play, as well as inner quiet and awe. Tricksters break rules and pull the blanket off of societies inequities. Tricksters help us see what we pretend not to see. The Emperor would still be strutting around naked if the trickster boy hadn’t spoken a truth that the rest of the village denied. Truth comes easier with laughter. I can tell you that there is much public prancing in the world of accelerators and incubators but very little real apparel. Humor is necessary in a landscape so rife with pretending.

Artists are often of necessity the tricksters of their culture. It is the artists’ job to open eyes to what is there (versus what we think is there). It is the artists’ job to bring the communal attention into the present, to slap-stop the puffed up importance of things that do not matter so that the things of real importance can be seen. With a 24 hour news cycle and a congress ruled by corporate dollars it is hard for us to sort out what is valuable and what is not. The narrative in the commons rarely reaches the level of significance. It is no wonder that many people confess to getting their news from John Stewart and Stephen Colbert (both heroes of mine).

The greatest lessons of my life did not come gently and I am all the more grateful for the force behind the learning. My lessons came with status drops and like Wiley Coyote I have gone more than once over the cliff with an anvil close behind. Comedy is mean. Learning requires falling down. Stepping into the unknown is potent because of the myriad of things to trip over. If you can’t laugh at the bungle you’ll miss the lesson.

897. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out my new comic strip Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.