Category Archives: humor

Aphorisms Anonymous: It’s a One-Step Process

William Hogarth from his series Marriage a la Mode 1743-1745

It’s no secret that my husband and I have been examining ourselves deeply in order to understand our inner, core persons better. In doing so, it came to our attention that my husband is an aphorism addict. By the way, this is predicted by certain personality types–namely, the annoying ones. No, I didn’t mean that. But I do know a woman who used to rail on me for never divulging my innermost thoughts to her. So I decided to take the risk, and wouldn’t you know it–she took my ruminations, my joys, my sorrows, and answered them all with annoying platitudes.

Now, aphorisms are a little different than platitudes. Platitudes spring from a soul who’s decided she already has all the answers and, therefore, has no need for creative problem solving. Aphorisms spring from the lips of a man who loves to be clever and pithy in order to maintain the notion that everything’s all right with his world. Sometimes, the man in question creates his own aphorisms because the man I speak of is creative in his own right. For the purpose of our mutual quest for inner health, my husband decided he would eradicate all aphorisms from his conversations with others. I, of course, would be the receiving end of his prototype discussions that use no pithy expressions. Yes, I’m already aware that when two people have a conversation and one is the receiving end of the discussion, no conversation is actually occurring. But I’m a good wife (on Thursdays), and so I chose to be supportive regardless (because it happened to be Thursday).

Sample conversation:

Husband: Determine this diurnal course whom you will appreciate with your ardent servanthood.
Wife: Huh?
Husband: A homo sapien is inefficacious at obliging two authority figures.
Wife: By that you mean . . . ?
Husband: A commander is a merchant of expectation.
Wife: And you expect me to do what?
Husband: A mistress’s domain of vassalage is in her husband’s castle.
Wife: Yes, I’ve come to that conclusion, too.

As you can see, the one-step process for ridding aphorisms from daily communication is to carry a thesaurus with you wherever you go. In the last case, the husband was doubly clever at obscuring his use of two aphorisms in one statement. Nice use of your archives, Darling, as well as your thesaurus!* Well, I might have to say that these are truisms rather than aphorisms, or falsisms in regards to the last, but who am I to dispute with the sovereign of my fortress?

I think we learned a lot from this exercise. My husband and I are slowly but surely moving toward our directions of integration and health. May you also achieve inner wisdom today. And remember, a wise head makes a closed mouth. I feel a rash coming on. Are aphorisms contagious?

*Disclaimer: The use of Darling here is ambiguous because this conversation may or may not have ever occurred.

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The Farthest Horizon of Civil Rights: Female Sea Monkeys Routinely Sexually Accosted by Time-Traveling Males

It’s a wonderful world indeed! I’ll bet that while you ate your nice dinner of peas and mashed potatoes and contemplated the possibility of time travel in a choose-your-own adventure novel, you had no idea what went on in the underwater world of sea monkeys. Yes, time travel is now possible–for sea monkeys. For years, humanity has contemplated the beauty and what-if questions of transporting through time. We could change the past and better the future; we could make all things right! Or wrong if we happen to be a super-villain with time travel technology. But have you ever wondered what happens to those Left Behind?

If you’re a female sea monkey, you have no choice but to stay up nights contemplating what will happen to you when the latest army of male sea monkeys returns home from “battle”. When they return, these males are driven by no other instinct but to propagate themselves, and they will commit any crime to get a mate, including sexual assault. One wonders what these sea monkeys witnessed in their travels. Some day, programs may be available for returning time-travel sea monkeys. But, meanwhile, we must consider the most immediate plight: that of the female sea-monkey.

What will the sea monkey do in order to produce offspring? According to this Wired article, Time-Traveling Male Sea Monkeys Make Bad Mates, the health of a female sea monkey is meaningless to a returning male, and he will use a variety of weapons to make certain she produces offspring for him, even to her detriment. He will go so far as to inject her with toxins that suppress her libido, in order that she mate with nobody but him.

And, folks, this behavior of sea monkeys has been going on for a long time, right under the noses of our children, who have encouraged the violent sexual assault without realizing it when they fell prey to deceptive ads like the one shown above. The necessity for action has come! Sea monkeys are in danger. We are in danger. Our children are in danger. As time travel becomes a nearer reality for us–as we learn from the methods of the sea monkeys–we approach a moral crossroads, and we must decide now what direction we will take. Time travel isn’t the sweet, erotic game we learned of in Time Traveler’s Wife. It isn’t the melancholic yearnings of a young man, whose early demise came about because he accidentally killed his grandfather.

As Duncan Geere, author of the groundbreaking article linked above, so deftly put it, “But either way, be warned: Sex with time travelers appears to be far more dangerous than anyone had previously realized.”

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Non Violators Need Not Apply

I’ve always wanted to write humor. In fact, I’ve written several partial comic novels and a few completed short comedies. Comedy doesn’t come naturally to me in the least. As a matter of fact, it’s something I analyze a little too much, which probably means I’ll never be a stand-up comedian. But then, it’s unlikely I’d ever be a stand-up anything–except maybe a stand-up citizen (oops, that might be a Malaprop). Because of my natural tendency to analyze humor, I found this wired.com article both enlightening and funny: One Professor’s Attempt to Explain Every Joke Ever. According to the article, psychology and marketing professor Peter McGraw has developed a simple theory to explain what makes jokes funny–benign violation. It’s a simplistic way of looking at humor, yet it explains why audiences find pies in the face, slipping on banana peels, and some “acceptable” racist or sexist jokes amusing. Actual violation hasn’t yet occurred; nobody has actually harmed the guy who got a pie in the face; nobody has actually beaten the tar out of a dumb blond or a Polack. What has occurred is a nonviolent violation of the norm, or a departure of what we expect because of our moral and rational views of the world.

I like clean, simple explanations. I long for them because they reduce the complexity of the world into tag lines, very much like jokes do. Clean explanations and punchlines are beautiful ways of looking at the world, and I lack the natural ability to do either. Simple ideas explain so much. For example, I now understand why my comedy critique partner doesn’t laugh at most of what I write. My humor is almost always based off of irony. From my perspective, ironies abound in the world, and I layer them on one by one when I’m attempting to write comedy. I find them funny–why don’t others? Why did my critique partner sit deadpan reading one of my comic novels, until he arrived at a scene in which the male protagonist lures the neighbor’s cat to his house w/ catnip? I didn’t find that scene funny. I used it only to show the lengths this character would go to to get his way. Why did my critique partner nearly fall off his chair? Ah, yes–the simple explanation–benign violation. Being the neighborhood kitty drug-pusher is a moral violation of the benign sort. If my protagonist had lured a little boy to his house w/ a spliff, the violation would no longer have fallen into the benign category.

However, the professor’s explanation doesn’t explain why a benign violation to one person might be a malicious violation to another. As a case in point, I don’t find blond jokes amusing. I find them denigrating, most likely because I’m a blond female who’s always lacked self-confidence. I grew up being called a dumb blond, and a part of me still believes it. You could tell me to lighten up, to laugh at life a little more. But it’s much harder to force laughter when the joke’s on me. In that sense, the theory changes into one of jokes and pranks and slapstick are funny because they’re not violating me. I’m not the one hurting. I’m not the one w/ pie in my face.

Going back to my comedy critique partner (yes, I do have one!), I understand now why he didn’t find my irony amusing. What I don’t understand is why some people laugh at my humor and others don’t. With beta readers, I’ve found it to be a fifty-fifty proposition. About half of my readers/friends/family will laugh, and the other half won’t get it. How does that fit into the benign violation theory? Does irony upset some people’s expected outcomes, while others expect the unexpected?

What do you think of the idea that comedy is funny because it violates social norms in benign ways? What do you find funny? Oh, wait, don’t tell me you laugh at blond jokes! Do you? Hit me with your best shot, then. I dare you.

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I Am Mrs. Malaprop of the Oracular Tongue

Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs! –Mrs. Malaprop

In my finest moment, I played Mrs. Malaprop from Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals(1775). All right, it wasn’t a fine moment, rather a stint of readers’ theater while wearing a wig of bouffant curls. But it was a defining moment, because in playing Mrs. Malaprop, I acted out my own character–the woman with the cracked brain who always jumbles up her words and pulls out the wrong ones from the rucksack of her mind (for more on a rucksack of words, click here).

When the “enamel of philosophy protecting my mind has cracked,”* as James Boswell would say, I not only muck up my words, but I turn to the very same insane Boswell’s London Journal(1762-1763), where I find myself pretending to cavort around 18th C London with Boswell and Thomas Sheridan. Yes, you might think this is a sign of pure insanity, because, here I am–usually at two in the morning–envisioning myself as Mrs. Malaprop, one of Richard Sheridan’s characters, while all the time drinking my beer and eating my beefsteak and bread w/ Boswell and the playwright’s father. Just in case you’re wondering, James Boswell, better known as Samuel Johnson’s biographer, supped w/ almost everybody of note in the London literary world at that time, but he seemed to have a particular affinity for Thomas Sheridan, father to Richard. Hence, I cling to my ghostly connection w/ these two brilliant men.

I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry at continuously playing the part of Mrs. Malaprop. After all, I’m supposed to be a wordsmith. I’m supposed to have a grasp of language. Yet, I choose my words w/ careful wrongfulness–conjunctions for injunctions, prepositions for propositions. Or was that Mrs. Malaprop who made those errors? I hardly know any more.

Don’t you think that as writers we should strive to get our words right? Shouldn’t we drop the malaprops by whatever means possible? Are you laughing at me? Oh, come on, I can’t be the only writer out there who blunders her words. I’m ripping the wig from my head right now! Something tells me my sleep is incipient, and the beer w/ Boswell is a montage in my overtly fecal imagination. Let me at least bid the men adieu–“I will dismember you in my dreams as giants of the livery world.” Adieu, Adieu.

For more on Mrs. Malaprop, read the play: The Rivals.

For more on James Boswell, read his London Journal or Boswell’s Presumptuous Task by Adam Sisman (*the quote comes from pg. 6 of this book).

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Honeysuckle Cottage and the Relief of Laughter

What began as an earache turned into a difficult weekend of illness. The harsh climate in NM seems to breed chronic illness in the people who live here–the severe and quick weather changes, the cold, dry winter, and the hot, wet summer all spell trouble for anybody whose immune system is not working at peak level. I’ve heard the flu season lasts for eleven months here, and, although that might be an exaggeration, there’s some truth in it.

I’ve found no better way of warding off the depression illness causes than reading P.G. Wodehouse. And because of the arguments going around the Christian speculative fiction blog circles, I decided to reread Honeysuckle Cottage. This story is one of the master’s masterworks. Mr. Wodehouse wrote hundreds of stories, most of which adhere to a formulaic comedy structure. Some, however, stand out due to the universal truth of the humor.

First of all, I advise you to head on over to Mike Duran’s blog for the many debates there on Christian fiction. Focus particularly on these recent discussions, Interview w/ Agent Rachelle Gardner and “Redeeming Love”–A Review, in which the debates revolve around what makes good Christian fiction. Inevitably, arguments between the romance readers and the serious fiction readers abound.

Now go find a copy of Honeysuckle Cottage–it will take you less than half an hour to read. This short story was originally published in The World of Mr. Mulliner, but I’m certain you can find e-versions, or discover it in a P.G. Wodehouse volume at your local library. In case you don’t want to do that, a synopsis of the story is as follows: an author of serious hard-boiled fiction inherits 5000 pounds from his aunt Leila J. Pinckney, famous author of drippy romance stories, so long as he promises to live six months out of the year at her country cottage. The cottage, however, is haunted by the numerous romance novels the aunt has written there, and our author of serious hard-boiled fiction soon finds drooping-violet-type females entering into his stories, where previously only suspense, murder, and mayhem existed.

We should all laugh at ourselves occasionally, and Wodehouse provides a way for us to do just that. Even agent Rachelle Gardner  (Mike Duran’s agent, as well as agent to numerous romance writers) would find this story amusing because it pokes fun at the literary agent in the story, who is serious enough about selling books to represent both Leila J. Pinckney, romance writer, as well as her nephew, the writer of serious fiction. When the nephew complains that his aunt’s books are tripe, the agent responds, “No author who pulls down a steady twenty thousand pounds a year writes tripe.”  Bear in mind that Wodehouse’s story was first published in 1925, when 20,000 pounds a year was an insane amount of money for an author to earn.

When my head is feeling a little more attached to the rest of my body, I’ll actually write the blog post I intended to go w/ the title Solving one of Literature’s Great Questions With the Enneagram.

p.s. Image of P.G. Wodehouse taken from the wiki article on the same.

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