Thursday, April 9, 2009

Trapeze Artistry and Humor

I think it was Mark Twain who said that behind all humor is sorrow.

I believe that.

I have a good sense of humor, actually, a superb sense of humor. An old boyfriend once told me that I was the person for whom humorists wrote. I liked that comment, felt flattered by it. I guess that means that I appreciate a good humorous anything, although I admit to wanting it tinged with a bit of intelligence (I do hate those gross-out movies and slapstick was never much for me). I giggle like a girl at a couple of my friends' incessant silly jokes (they both write for television), and I don't think sorrow is behind their humor.

My sense of humor can be as dark as it gets and is often the only thing that sustains me. I would add faith in there as well, but I think it's more a faith that God provides something for me to laugh at or see the absurdity of, just when I need it.

I laugh, therefore I am.

That was a riff, I think, on Voltaire, but it's Pascal that I really love. I studied Pascal as an undergraduate when I worked on an arduous double degree in English and French literature. I despised French, except for some medieval stuff and, particularly, Pascal.

If I saw no signs of a divinity, I would fix myself in denial. If I saw everywhere the marks of a Creator, I would repose peacefully in faith. But seeing too much to deny Him, and too little to assure me, I am in a pitiful state, and I would wish a hundred times that if a God sustains nature it would reveal Him without ambiguity.
pensee no. 229

And what is all this about? I watched Sophie have what seemed like hundreds of seizures today -- the small ones, the big ones, the drooling kinds, the physical jerking. Etc. I heard the voice of my Chinese doctor in my head along with all the mindfulness training advice and I tried, I really did, to remain calm and mindful, to go with the flow, to not be "attached" in that desperate sort of way. I can do these things, often in a powerful way, but I'm also aware of the thin, thin rope upon which I walk and sometimes hang like a trapeze artist, the rope that threatens to buckle then come loose, then probably snap if I let


it only takes one


and then

that's it.

I'm a wreck, instead of a balancing act.

Humor is peeled back and only sorrow shows.

Trapeze artists are in the circus, after all.

***CORRECTION: Thanks to Steve, one of my visitors, and another good friend who always wants to be anonymous, I "remembered" that "I think, therefore I am" is Cartesian or from Descartes. Thanks!


  1. You always give me so much to think about. All humor is really a defense mechanism isn't it? At least I've been told more than once (and by at least one therapist) that's how I use it...go figure.

  2. I am thinking about your comment about mindfulness and settling the self by pushing back attachment. I'm thinking about the ironies of the vogue for "attachment" parenting--remember that in the 1990s (and earlier, I guess)--and parenting a child with disabilities, which does require some detachment, if only for the sake of sanity.

    I think that's why the other parents at my kid's school don't understand me, maybe. No one really understands that delicate dance between attachment and detachment. They're all about attachment.

  3. CARTESIAN, adj. Relating to Descartes, a famous philosopher, author of the celebrated dictum, Cogito ergo sum--whereby he was pleased to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human existence. The dictum might be improved, however, thus: Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum--"I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;" as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.”

    --Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

    It's your humor that has made your blog so wonderful. A humorless blog by the parent of a child with a severe medical condition might be informative and useful, but I doubt people like me would continue reading it.

  4. Thanks for the wise and wonderful words, Lisa and Jeneva.

    Steve, thank YOU for correcting my "Voltaire" mistake -- I knew something wasn't right but didn't feel like checking at the time. And thank you for reading my blog and always commenting and keeping me on my toes. It helps to make my life more bearable, actually because it pulls me out of The Troubles into the real life of the mind.

  5. Thank you for writing all of this, and more.
    Perhaps humor is less a defense than a lens through which to view the world? I don't think it protects us, but it can lighten a very heavy load, or moment, give us space to breathe fresh, new air, and begin again. Thank God for humor!

  6. Aww hon, what a rough time!!! I was told recently by someone who loves me that I use "LOL" to cover pain - I fixed that - but she was right. I often cover pain with humor. Hang in there hon!!! Sarah

  7. my god. where would i be without humor? i NEED it. i think it's many things, not just one. many. and i love yours!

    welcome home and here's to the circus!

  8. Deep post.

    I can't imagine. And then again maybe I can a little bit.

    My oldest daughter Angelique was diagnosed with Lupus nephritis at 21 and had to undergo 3 years of chemo and her kidneys now work at 40%.

    They are totally different I know but it is the fear for our children.

    I am not trying to make this comment about my life, I am just trying to reach out to say I understand in a way.

    Love Renee xoxo

  9. I wish there were more to say to you than "I can understand." That tightrope image is one I will never forget. Thinking of you and Sophie.

  10. This is my first of many visits to your beautiful blog. Im already hooked. What can I say first?

    I relate to the typerope analogy with all my soul. My daughter suffers rather serious seizures as well. It's amazing how calm and chaotic you can feel when watching a child in such a state, isn't it? My heart and thoughts go out to you.

    Humor IS one of many defensive mechanisms, according to psychoanalytic theory. It is actually one of the most 'sophisticated' one (along with intellectualization) and one of the most healthy (unlike a garden variety Denial or Projection, etc). Defense mechanisms are not bad... only if they prevent one from obtaining insight or if they injure relationships. Humor really is a way for us to share, channel, hide our pain or sadness sometimes. Othertimes, we just appreciate funny because hey - its funny!

    I need to wrap up this comment to read more....

  11. Don't let go of the rope, whatever you do. Hang on with detachment. You do have a sense of humor.

  12. I've noticed a pattern in my closest friends, they tend to be people who have overcome challenging circumstances in life. Of course, I don't know that about them when we meet, I just know they make me laugh.

  13. From one trapeze artist to another, thanks for re-posting this, as I'd never read it before. Amen to the godsend of humor, dark or otherwise, to the paradoxes and the mysteries of faith in the midst of a beautiful, terrible world, to the days when we feel like a wreck instead of a balancing act. My own tightrope act is a bit shaky lately... I think the rope has gotten thinner or something. Maybe I need better shoes?



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