On My Toes Like a Ballerina

15405226187_f227179a6f_zAs I sit and write today’s blog post, I am near tears. I am at work on a Tuesday afternoon, waiting for student conferences, so I cannot cry. I must hold “it” together.

Whatever “it” is. In addition, I promised a post on the value of humor according to Matthew Quick, Elizabeth McCracken, and Rob Delaney–part of Mary Laura Phillpot’s “What I’ve Learned From 28 Brilliant Creators.” Let me tell you. Nothing about today seems funny. Sitting and writing in the adjunct lounge cussing in two languages, and I apologized for that to the math instructor who sits across from me and glared me down as I read my email.
Tweet: Cussing in two languages, and I apologized for that to the math instructor... http://ctt.ec/9I41a+ via @SteveBargdill


I must remember to breathe. It is important to breathe.

Quick says, “Humor can acknowledge tragedy and comedy simultaneously.” I am reminded of Peanuts’ creator Charles M. Schulz and what he said, “Happiness does not create humor. There’s nothing funny about being happy. Sadness creates humor.” I’m not sure how any of that works in real life right now.

Years ago me, several of my guy friends, my brother, and his fiance went to the Ohio Renaissance Faire. We stood on top a dry bridge that crossed a drainage ditch. I leaned against the railing and along came the professional insulter. He dressed in purple, had a long goatee, and always a gregarious grin. If you paid him a dollar, he’d hurl an insult at the person of your choice. All seven of us guys, my brother included, handed him a crisp twenty and pointed at my brother’s fiance.

“Your mother was a hamster.”
“Daughter of an impotent boil-popper.”
“Festering heap of yak dung.”
“Flesh-monger, fool. Coward.”

Yeah. He was good. And she was mad, and she pushed me, and I fell, landed on my toes like a ballerina without training. Broke my leg in seven places.

Lying in the soft grass, very calmly telling everyone I had broken my leg, she was in complete denial. “No, you didn’t. You didn’t break your leg.” The professional insulter helped load me into the golf cart, and before I left for the hospital, he said if I ever came back, all the beer was on him. I went back for five years. Got drunk every time. That is a funny story.

Being turned down for yet another PhD program–from my safety school at that–I am not amused.It is, at the most, a bad joke, and Elizabeth McCracken says, “Life is full of bad jokes.”

When I am in class, in front of my students, trying to share with them, trying to connect on a deeper, more personal level, I tell a lot of bad jokes.

“Don’t abbreviate ‘analysis’ on the board.”
“Your essays should all be like crumpets with good, strong TEA. You know, TEA for Topic sentence, Evidence, Analysis.”

I’ll admit, that last one about crumpets doesn’t really work. They all groan. But no one’s thrown anything at me yet. No one’s stopped showing up to class. And no one really wants to be in the classes I teach–they’re all required, all another box to check off the list. If they want to graduate, they have to take the class. All the bad puns, hopefully, ease the pain. I am like Mary Poppins with medicine and sugar.

For the last two years, getting accepted into a PhD program is what I had centered my identity on. How I hoped. After so many years stringing together low-paying, dead end, miserable jobs, the PhD was the escape. Or at least the only escape I could think of. At least, now, I am doing what I love–teaching, working with students, writing. 

But I can’t really think of any bad jokes or bad puns about not getting into a PhD program. I am certain though, right now, I need them.

“Humor can be a fearsome weapon.” –Rob Delaney


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