I have an amazing ability to entertain myself. I believe it comes from being raised as an only child in a very small town before daycare, pre-school and kindergarten. My first organized social group was the first grade, so I had years of toddling around by myself followed by standing alone during recess for the better part of my first grade year, according to my mother who never lied about things like that… plus she had a bird’s-eye view of the school playground from her kitchen window so why would anyone doubt her.
One of the tools I learned to use to connect to other kids was humor. When I was growing up in the 1950s in the somewhat unorthodox household of my maternal grandmother, her two adult sons who were 20th. century pioneers in the 21st. century phenomenon of grown children who refuse to allow their parents to become empty-nesters; my mother and dad, my dog Rex and me, laughter was the sound heard most often at any time of the day or night in the little Sears Catalog kit house we called home in Richards, Texas.
My daddy was funny. My grandmother was a practical joker and always had a scheme that was designed to end in a good laugh at somebody’s expense. One of my uncles owned a metal detector and spent every day looking for General Santa Ana’s buried gold bullion in Grimes County and the surrounding Texas countryside because he had bought infallible maps that were better than a modern-day GPS for locating them. Needless to say, he was a daily inspiration for comedy.
My paternal grandmother, who lived just down a small hill from where I lived with my other grandmother, was a true Texas storyteller with an amazing gift for mimicry. She could mock anyone in town – or really anywhere – if she knew them or was kin to them. She loved to laugh at her own jokes and improvisations. Sitting with her and my grandfather at the little round table in her kitchen was a recipe for laughing so hard tears rolled down our cheeks.
With such a heritage it’s no wonder I became a storyteller myself and slowly recognized the transformative power of humor. As a young teenager, I couldn’t articulate what the gift was, but I had an inkling of how the ability to make someone laugh was a universal connection for me to them. People liked me when I told stories that made them smile, and I also laughed at my own jokes with them…just like my grandmother had done.
Fifty years later I began to write and incorporated humor in my writing. It wasn’t an effort to be funny – I never took classes to be funny. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know until recently that there were classes to teach techniques for comedy in writing. However, on my Facebook profile I listed my job as “essayist with humorist tendencies.” Since I’m a lesbian, I thought that was a witty play on words.
Two months ago I had an interesting voicemail from a woman who publishes trade magazines here in Columbia. She was looking for a “local humorist” to write something funny for an upcoming new publication she planned to launch this summer, and someone had given her my name. She researched my Facebook page and my blogs and determined I was funny so would I write something for her new publication. She would pay me for my contribution. I called her back, and we struck a deal for a short short of 500 words. I had an April 30th. deadline.
This became an important learning exercise for me. For starters, I had never been paid to be amusing, and I found I couldn’t think of one funny thing to write about. I panicked. I talked to Teresa who gave me several ideas which I tried to use – but failed to be able to make them work. I stared at my blank computer screen for several days and totally understood for the first time what writer’s block was all about. I freaked out.
Finally, FINALLY I wrote not one, but two, new pieces within her word count and sent them off with my permission to use either one or neither and I would try again. Luckily, she liked both pieces and picked one for the upcoming issue. She and her staff thought both of them were funny. Thank God. Turns out humor can be a serious business.
I continue to be the only child who has the ability to entertain herself. Blogging gives me instant gratification for my storytelling humorist tendencies, and I love sending my words into cyberspace with the hope someone will identify with them and connect to me.