Reality 2.0

Reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Our external senses don’t tell us everything, just enough to function in the world around us, to pretend it’s orderly and makes sense. In a way it does–in a way. But meanwhile, there’s a whole other world inside of us, in our thoughts, our dreams, our imaginations. And in many ways it’s every bit as real as the external world our limited senses perceive. These manipulated images (or in some cases accidentally captured) playfully, darkly and thoughtfully reflect that inner world.

(Click on any image to enlarge it, or to start slide show)

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” ~Albert Einstein*

“Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.” ~Anaïs Nin

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” ~John Lennon

“Reality is frequently inaccurate.” ~Douglas Adams

“Most people believe the mind to be a mirror, more or less accurately reflecting the world outside them, not realizing on the contrary that the mind is itself the principal element of creation.” ~Rabindranath Tagore

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” ~Albert Einstein

*Likely a paraphrase of his friend Swiss-Italian engineer Michelle Besso’s words.

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How to Hear God’s Voice

3866bc5e9e0b34289cfd40b336dfd76b.jpegMy Featured Blogger this week is Karyn of Saturated in Seattle. You can probably guess where she lives, but what matters more is what, and Who, lives in her. Her words: “This is me; all of me. Present. Authentic. Vulnerable. Always learning. Forever growing. Humble and yet sometimes proud. A wretch and yet a saint. I’m complex and simple, but always myself.” Karyn’s authenticity and character have touched me many times.

I know they’ll do the same for you.

Saturated In Seattle

Hearing God's VoiceI hung up the phone and promptly fell into a heap, sobbing uncontrollably. Unable to catch my breath, my mind raced from one tragic event to the next, spiraling deeper into despair with each scene my memory recalled.

Pinned down, dark eyes, unheard cries. Cold bathroom floor, double blue lines. Forever traumatized.

Escape is what that phone call was supposed to have offered me; a way out; a way to leave the past behind and start fresh. Instead, my stomach twisted and turned and memories suffocated me, leaving me feeling hopeless—even after making the call to abort my rapist’s baby.

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How to be Funny

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How to Get a RISE Out of Your Audience

In Four Key Elements of Humor, we learned that a funny story begins with a crisis. Now we’ll talk about how to build on that crisis so your story will RISE like a veritable flood of funniness! (Yes, I realize that’s a really cheesy statement.)

Ridicule – There may be no more basic form of humor than ridicule. We all do it. Wives make fun of their husbands. Employees lampoon their bosses. Kids mock their parents.  Ridicule is directed at what others are proud of: authority, self-image, dignity, expertise.

  • I had an epically pompous college literature prof; once he made a pronouncement, there was nothing more to be said. The class was aching to see him taken down. One day he proclaimed, “All books titled after a character are named for their protagonist (hero).” He rattled off examples: “Huckleberry Finn, Anna Karenina, Don Quixote…”  Then the class anarchist Stuart quietly muttered, “Moby Dick.” And the class cheered.
  • Ridicule yourself. You’re the person it’s safest to make fun of. Plus, self-mockery buys you the right to make fun of others (and besides, you probably deserve it).

Inappropriateness – Inappropriate behavior has always been a comic staple (Shakespeare used it). It’s big in modern entertainment, too. On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon displayed shocking disrespect for scientist Stephen L. Hawking’s disabilities. What made it work were Hawking’s hilariously rude responses.

  • A comedian I saw referenced a news story about a man who was bitten by his pet cobra. Insensitively imitating the snake owner, the comedian admonished, “No! Bad cobra!” making a teaching moment out of his last seconds on earth. Dark. But funny.

Exaggeration – (I know, E should be last. I have my reasons.) Remember, humor is about truth, and exaggeration is the most fundamental way to emphasize truth, because it holds a magnifying glass up to how people feel.

  • A high school friend and I argued constantly. One day we argued all the way through Gym class, in the showers, and back to our lockers. We tossed our towels in the bin and walked out onto campus, arguing–until we heard laughter. We looked around. People were laughing at us. Why? We looked down…and discovered we’d left the gym naked. When I tell the story, I say, “Two million people were laughing at us—on a campus of eight hundred,” because that’s how it felt.

Surprise – Identify the funniest thing in your story and save it for last. And don’t “telegraph” the ending–that is, don’t tip off your reader/audience in advance. The biggest laughs come from two s’s, actually: Set-up and Surprise. Read a funny writer like Dave Barry or watch a good stand-up comedian and you’ll see this two-punch at work.

  • My 2 1/2-year-old daughter Beth had reached the stage where she was ready to use the potty-training seat all by herself! “Squeak, click,” went the bathroom door. A moment later, there was a blood-curdling scream. I turned into SuperDad and flew to the loo. Shake! Rattle! The door was locked! “What’s wrong, honey?” I was answered by a plaintive cry of despair. Bam! I kicked the door open and tumbled into the bathroom where Beth stood cradling her finger. I grabbed it and kissed it all over. “Ohhh, what happened honey?” Tears in her eyes, she said, “I got poo-poo on it.”

Humor is truth.

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How to be Funny

Four Key Elements of Humor*

In Why Funny Matters we looked at the what of funny. Now let’s look at the how.

picdump-38pics-01First and foremost, comedy feeds on conflict, or at least the potential for conflict. It can be an awkward situation (blind date, first ballet class, first football practice); a difficult one (going on an uber-restrictive diet, having to use your opposite hand due to an injury); a tense one (job review, therapy session), or even a dangerous one.

For example: My friend Barry took a skydiving class. During his first solo jump, both chutes failed to open! Fortunately, this potential tragedy turned into a comedy. Barry’s story about bargaining with God, then shouting for the people on the ground to “catch” him, and about his chute finally opening within the last few hundred feet, is hilarious. Whatever the situation, big or small, start with conflict.

Now decide how you want to tell your story. Use the DRIP method to brew up something funny (I’m proud of this stupid acronym, so just go with it):

  • Different Perspective – Look for a skewed or unexpected way of seeing things. Much of comedian Demetri Martin’s best material comes from this approach. He tells us all vests are for “protection.” Then he starts naming types of vests: bullet proof (well, yeah), life vests (sure), sweater vests–wait, how are those for protection? “They protect us against girls,” he explains.
  • Relatability – At my first big youth gig, I did abstract puns. It was hilarious. If you’re a college professor. Not so much if you’re a 14-year-old. I was de-hired because I “wasn’t funny.” So all the next day I got busy…weeping. Then I wrote completely new material for an upcoming youth event in Wisconsin. This time I talked about the 3 Ps: pets, parents and puberty…and got a standing ovation. Make it relateable!
  • Incongruity – Look for mismatches: Roommate from Hell stories; Redneck Meets Sophisticate (O. Henry’s classic “The Ransom of Red Chief”). Many sit-coms and movies are built around incongruity: The Odd Couple, Two and a Half Men, Pretty Woman, Some Like it Hot, Tootsie, and Every Buddy Cop Movie Ever Made.
  • Play with the meanings of words – Misconstrue words or concepts. There’s a scene in my monster movie Notzilla in which haiku (poetry) is used as a martial art in a battle between an American scientist and a Japanese paleontologist. Puns and groaners are also based on word-play (watch any episode of The Big Bang Theory.)

Next, we’ll talk about How to Get a RISE Out of Your Audience. I know, “Another acronym?” Hey, wait, that might be a funny bit:

“Readers sue blogger for cruel and unusual acronymage.”

*Or “Humour” if you’re non-American and don’t know the correct spelling.

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How to be Funny

Why Funny Matters

Whether you’re a writer, teacher, politician or mortician, this three-part series will help you be wittier–or I’ll refund every penny you’ve paid!

My first career was about funny. I spent 13+ years in sketch comedy (Isaac Air Freight, Mitch & Allen, National Lampoon Players). But even after 22 albums and 7 videos, I had no concrete theories about why funny was funny. Comedians start by doing “research” as class clowns. By the time they’re adults, they’ve developed a sophisticated but unconscious expertise. When asked how to be funny, they give weird, subjective answers like, “Use the word ‘weasel’ whenever possible.”

So, when I started teaching writing and public speaking, and students began asking how to “funny up” their material, I decided to do some research. (Always make a point of learning a subject after you’ve been hired to teach it). And now “for less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes a day” you can reap the benefits of my research! And not die of cancer.

Funny matters: “I don’t get no respect” is humor’s motto (Rodney Dangerfield). Humor has never gotten the respect it deserves. The ancient Greeks created huge festivals to stage tragic dramas, slipping short comedies in between them as “comedy relief.” We tend to see drama as “real life, ” but humor as mere escape, and therefore less important (83% of the Academy Awards go to dramas). But humor isn’t simply escape, it’s an escape valve, a way of coping. Psychologists say those who laugh live longer. So does a much older source of wisdom: “A merry heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).

So what makes funny funny, and how does it help us cope? In a word: truth. Yes, good drama rings true, but so does good comedy. How? By tweaking truth’s nose.

Example:

In a drama, a distraught woman tries and fails to get her lipstick right, hating the face she sees in the mirror. She takes out a bottle of pills… “No!” we shout, recognizing her shattered sense of self. We pray she’ll find a way out, because as readers or watchers we’re taking the journey with her (dramatic catharsis).

In a comedy, the distraught woman puts on her lipstick–and gets it perfect! But then, as she’s leaving, we realize she has actually applied her lipstick to the mirror! Absurd? Yes. Pointless? No. It’s metaphor for how we let superficial things steal our identity. We take a step back and laugh–at her and at ourselves (comedic catharsis).

Yeah, yeah, so much for theory, Professor Teemley, but what about How to be Funny? We’ll talk about that in Four Key Elements of Humor. Class dismissed.

Don’t slip on the banana peel on your way out.

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Share the Load

share-burdenHave you ever moved, almost without realizing it, from learning about another’s burdens to helping carry them? If we don’t share one another’s burdens, are we even truly alive? ~The Wishing Map

 

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” ~Galatians 6:2

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Relationshipland

Beth CUI don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions, though I do have goals. More importantly, I have relationships. Although I sometimes wish I didn’t because, frankly, I’m not very good at them. I’m much more at home in Mitchland where I know every inch of the terrain, where I create carefully constructed missives and distribute them like worms of wisdom to a hungry world. It’s all so neat, so tidy, so completely controllable.

God, however, is more interested in teaching me to abide along the messy mesas and precipitous canyons of Relationshipland, where the landscape is continually shifting. All a part of his sneaky scheme, I suspect, to make me more dependent upon him.

I never know when God will send me to Relationshipland. Last year he set up a strategic meeting there between my adult daughter Beth and me. Then last week, during her annual Christmas visit, God did it again.

Building on what I’d previously learned, I talked to her as an adult, a confidante, confessing frustration at my glacial progress toward getting out of my head and focusing on others, on talking less and listening more.

Beth guffawed, and went on to share some of her experiences outside Bethland. Some people, she admitted, perceive her as arrogant, as only interested in her own thoughts. Wait, I asked, was she talking about herself, or about me?

We laughed at the triumphal conversations we stage in our minds in which people, unlike those in the real world, are unceasingly inspired by our profound logic.

I was shocked. I’ve always thought Beth was less like me than her sister (I adore them both). But it seems I’ve been deceived by mere superficial differences. In many ways, she’s more like me than her sister (poor thing). Of course, they both have a lot of their mother in them too (thank God), as well as that secret blend of herbs and spices that makes them completely themselves.

Interestingly, I’ve observed that each trip to Relationshipland changes Mitchland a little. In fact, it seems these trips may be the only thing that changes Mitchland. And yet somehow, after each visit to Relationshipland, Mitchland seems a little more real.

You’d almost think God planned it that way.

Posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Humor, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , | 31 Comments