March 24, 2010

Stretching Yourself

Today, I think I’ll grapple a little bit with being funny. I know, I know. If you’re grappling, it’s not funny. You’re trying too hard. You’re showing the man behind the curtain ~ which, by the way, isn’t funny.

I have an ambivalent relationship with “funny.” There are things I find funny. The two funniest scenes ever in movies are the post office scene from The Full Monty and pink stocking scene from The Birdcage. This is pure physical comedy ~ not of the slapstick falling-out-a-window variety but of the subtle someone-trying-to-be-someone else variety. I love Monty Python. I love intellectual humor. In Shakespeare in Love, I love the pen/mock psychiatrist scene.

But there’s a lot of humor I don’t find funny at all. A lot of it is very angry (like the movie Shakes the Clown), or its humor depends on making fun of someone, on degrading someone. I so empathize with people that I find this type of humor incredibly sad. Along those lines, when I was a teenager and the thing to do was to have cut-down contests, I was totally at a loss. First of all, I wasn’t quick enough on my feet, but second it felt so demeaning to everyone involved. Why was that something people wanted to do?

That’s why when it’s time for me to write funny, I get a little nervous. I don’t think of myself as funny, yet I have written a couple of pieces that people have said are funny. In fact, I’ve written pieces that I meant to be very sad that people found hilarious. So I’m never sure if it’s just me. It’s all very murky.

So, now, in my new novel project, I’m need to have some light scenes, some possibly funny scenes ~ as I’m modeling it on a Shakespeare play. Of course, no one is going to match Shakespeare’s dialog. However, I’m going to attempt some lightness, dare I say humor. Am I ready to find out how unfunny I can be?

But I take heart from the fact that, like any type of writing, it takes hubris and it can be learned. I’ve heard (possibly apocryphal) stories about people who didn’t consider themselves funny writing very funny stuff. So, here’s to the attempt.

What I’m Reading Today: My friend Lynne Barrett’s short story “The Borges Cure” up at Night Train. Oh, the language, the catching and holding of that moment, the circling round and round. A glorious story.

PS A form rejection on a story today.

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