Humor and Grief: Putting the ‘FUN’ in Funerals

When a close relative of yours gets murdered, it shakes the foundation of your existence; it can send you on a downward spiral of depression, dependency, and regret. One of the toughest moments of my life was learning of the passing of my aunt, Kristie, at the hands of her own daughter – my cousin Taylor. I was lying in bed around 7 AM after a late night of shock and questioning reality – we had already known Kristie had been killed, but when we went to bed, we didn’t know the culprit – when my dad burst into my room with hate in his voice, declaring, “Taylor did it.”

My first thought was, “Christmas is going to be awkward this year.” I stopped myself from laughing: “This isn’t the time to make jokes.” The next few weeks were miserable – every day we learned more and more gruesome details about the murder. If you were to drive by our house, it would’ve been the one with the black cloud hovering above it. You always hear people say things like, “That kind of stuff happens on the news, it doesn’t happen to us,” so none of us really knew how to cope. We spend a lot of time together, consoling and comforting one another. In college at the time, I confronted my vulnerability by skipping two straight weeks of class – the only percentage I got was the .09 I blew into a breathalyzer. Needless to say, none of the family could find a way out of the black hole we were stuck in… until the funeral. That’s when I finally gave in to the humor of the whole situation.

During the eulogy, the minister said, “This is a celebration of life!” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “celebration,” I think “party,” and not one person was partying. Besides, if you were to invite me to a party, then inform me it’s at a church, everyone would be crying, and the DJ would be bagpipes, I’d politely decline. And one more thing: he called it a “celebration of life…” with a dead body in the middle of the room – you couldn’t get more contradictory. That’s like having an open bar at a sobriety party. I had to laugh – and the moment I did, it was like a weight was lifted off of my chest. I began to notice even more incongruities: the first three letters in ‘funeral’ are ‘F-U-N,’ Kristie found joy in the happiness of others and, ironically enough, EVERYONE THERE WAS CRYING, and a stranger no one there had ever met sobbed uncontrollably into the microphone for five minutes, blubbering on about how he wished more people had known Kristie, while we wondered who the hell knew who that guy was.

In the face of tragedy was the moment I realized the power laughter has over our fears, stress, and sadness. But it shouldn’t come as such a shock: science has known this for some time now

A study from the University of Berkeley, bereaved widows and widowers able to laugh about their loss were observed to be happier, better equipped to deal with distress, and better socially adapted.

A study done at Kent State and reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care revealed that humor was present in 85 percent of 132 observed nurse based visits. Amazingly, they found that 70 percent of the humor was initiated by the patient.

Humor provides us with relief, not by washing away bad feelings, but by activating them, along with positive ones, so that we can enjoy a complex emotional experience. Tragic circumstances are an effective breeding ground for humor because they provide the same release as horror movies, allowing the participants to confront their emotions head-on.       –Scott Weems (author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why)

How have you used humor in the face of tragedy? How have you helped others experiencing tragedy, trauma, or even just a bad day smile?

Each of us has had a “Christmas is going to be awkward this year,” lean into it and let yourself laugh.

 

Rejection is Feedback and Feedback is an Opportunity

“[We are] going to rescind our request to have you speak to [us].”
I stared blankly at the text of the email, mouth agape.
“This has never happened to me,” I thought aloud. “What did I do?”
I kept reading.
“Eight members of our chapter were in attendance and all were offended by your presentation,” the email continued.
“Offended? I was trying to make you laugh!” My fight-or-flight response had kicked in, but before I found myself going off on a tangent, I decided to continue reading to learn more.
“Specifically, you told a ‘dick’ joke.”
Ah… that’s fair. Using my character, Perspective Detective Dick Ransom’s first name strategically for laughs is admittedly juvenile, but it’s something that people remember. The premise of the bit is based around the fact that when we blame the circumstances or other people when we fall short of our goals, so we should “become a Dick” because “we all have a little Dick inside of us.”

Later in the email, he writes “I won’t comment on the rest of your presentation.” This is what hurt me most, not because they didn’t enjoy my presentation, but because once the Dick joke was on the table, they missed out on the message of the rest of the presentation.

That’s on me.

My talks aren’t your standard HR presentation because the current business climate is mired in complacency, so I take some risks – some pay off and some don’t, which I live with. The key, though is to analyze where I am and ask, “Is where I am better than where I was before this?” To get a more accurate answer, it’s vital to consider all feedback from other perspectives. I only have one way of looking at my reality – my own – so I admittedly have a bit of a bias. However, when other people say to me, “We were offended by your presentation,” that’s a sign that, instead of resisting their POV and getting hostile, I have an opportunity to consider another perspective.

I can’t possibly follow through on all feedback given to me, but I can at least listen, appreciate the fact that someone is willing to take a risk to even give me the feedback, and consider what to do next. My aim is to always improve in some way after every presentation I give, and in order to do that, it’s important to listen. This is as true for me as it is for all of you – even if no one approaches you and says, “Hey, here’s my feedback,” if you listen to the world around you by
-evaluating where you are vs. where you want to be
-paying close attention to the nonverbal clues of others
-considering the perspectives of those who do offer explicit feedback
you’ll learn more than you ever would simply looking through your own eyes.

Though another group approached me after the presentation about speaking at one of their upcoming meetings because they enjoyed the presentation and felt motivated (proof that multiple people can see the exact same thing but get something completely different out of it), my aim is to leave everyone feeling better when they see one of my talks. I don’t expect everyone to leap out of their seats and change the world when they leave, but at the very least, I want people to have laughed and felt good. To have not been able to do that for one group leaves me in a state of self-examination where I realize that “I too have a little Detective Dick in me,” now it’s up to me to figure out how I can do better next time, and it’s all thanks to feedback.

“Rejection is just feedback designed to show you how to be better.”

I’m Not White & Neither Are You: A Piece on Self-Identity

My name is David Horning, I’m not white, and neither are you. If you’re black, well, you’re not black either. Are you Latino? Sorry, but that means nothing. In fact, without man-made labels, race wouldn’t exist, there’d just be people who are easier to find in the dark than others. How you identify yourself and others determines your experience.

One thing is true about everyone who reads this: you are you and you’re the only one who is.

Your identity is never attached to a race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status; your identity is whatever you choose it to be. Unfortunately, we get shoehorned into categories, and, since we live in a world that categorizes pretty much everything, we confine ourselves to these categories. Our brains are constantly working in an “If that, then what else?” manner, so when we look at our skin color, we confine ourselves within preconceived notions about what it means to be white, black, Latino, Asian, Greek, Inuit, Viking, etc. The same goes with the other classifications within which we identify ourselves.

Grab your water wings and get ready to jump off the diving board.

Sure, David Horning might be my name, but I didn’t choose it. If I could choose my name it would be something awesome like Birmingham Steele. Actually, scratch that; I like a little variety in my life. If I could choose my name, I would pick a different one whenever I feel like it. As some of my friends know, I have gone by several different aliases, demanding they refer to me as something other than David H, David, or David Horning in their contact lists. My given name may be David Horning, but one day I could be Daddy Long Legs, The Monitor, Distinguish’d English Gentleman, Bee Stings, Sticky Pants, or any number of things. Actually, I’m not David Horning, I just am.

The point is: your name and identity were chosen for you, but you don’t have to live your life within the confines of these parameters.

Why?

There have been billions of people with light or dark skin, but only one you.

There have been billions of males and females, but only one you.

There have been billions of rich and poor people, but only one you.

There have been billions of homosexuals and heterosexuals, but only one you.

There are 26 letters in the alphabet, but only one u.

Embrace these facts fact and allow your deepest desires, character traits, and interests shine through like only you can do.

I challenge you to think about who you really are by pondering the concept of consciousness.

What is consciousness and how the hell did your consciousness become attached to your body? No one can know for sure, but what we do know for sure is that our bodies are limited while consciousness isn’t. You have the freedom to think anything you want. You have the freedom to be whoever you want to be. You have the freedom to interact with others any way you want. What makes it difficult to fathom the infiniteness of who we are is who we’ve been told we are, which is limited and limiting. From the moment we’re born, we start being told who we are: a boy, David, white, Republican, Catholic, middle class, straight, part German and Italian, right-brained, a chip off the ol’ block, an only child (for the first nine years of my life, at least), etc. When we spend our entire lives hearing these things, they become true to us and we accept them as who we are which buries our authentic, unadulterated, uncensored selves under layer after layer of identities. If someone comes up to you and asserts that you’re an architect when you’re a musician, you’d probably think, “What gives you the right to tell me what I am?” This is what happens to us when we’re young, but we’re too young to question these identities forced upon us from the outside, so we accept them and they become who we are.

When you’re old enough, you can either come to the realization that you can change your identity to better fit your unique consciousness, or you can live according to the expectations of others who aren’t you.

When you do the latter, your inner you is constantly trying to alert you that you’re doing life wrong:

When you’re bored at work.

When you’re offended by the opinions of others.

When you feel insignificant next to others.

These feelings are just your inner consciousness alerting you that it’s time to give up the façade you’ve built for yourself and be you. Unfortunately, your identity tells you that it’s the job’s fault you’re bored, the other person’s fault you’re offended, and the fault of your circumstances when you feel small next to someone else. In reality, this externalizing is just your identity’s way of protecting itself from you realizing you can shatter it and embrace your true self.

The identities that are created for us are what limit us and those around us by creating conflicts based on these imagined classifications. Our identity is infinite. To deny this, is to create inner-conflict, which often leads to external conflict. Don’t be who others expect you to be unless you want to live in constant conflict with yourself and others.

There is only one you. There has never been another you. There will never be another you. Why limit yourself into limiting categories determined by others?

This doesn’t mean that I want you to fill in the “African-American” bubble on a survey if you look like me. This does mean that I want you to get in touch with the real you. Strip away the labels, categories, classifications, and limits you’ve been given. If you were given a blank slate, what would you do? Who would you be? How would it feel to express your creativity without fearing the opinions of others? How would it feel to love everyone regardless of who they are or what they do? How would it feel to wake up every day inspired to work on something that engages and excites you? Strip away everything you know and be you.* Create your self-identity based on who you are, not based on who others tell you you are.

I create characters, get on stage, and do silly things because that’s who I am.

Chatham Adams

You’re not white, and neither am I; you’re you. You’re the only one who is lucky enough to be you, so embrace yourself and let the real you shine through to others.

 

 

*People are still made uncomfortable by nudity, so I don’t recommend literally stripping. Especially in public.

 

Check Your Privilege, Kermit

EVERY. YEAR.

Every damned year, Al Roker/Matt Lauer and whatever physically appealing female co-anchor that happens to be working for NBC go flipping crazy when that Kermit balloon appears in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. All we hear about is how everyone loves him, how he’s one of the main attractions, and then there’s some obligatory joke about Miss Piggy. The heaps of praise and unwavering love for this frog isn’t equal to the love for many of the other balloons and I say, “No more!”

Where’s the praise for cartoon characters? Corporate mascots? And there’s not even a Caitlyn Jenner balloon; it’s blatant disrespect.

Check your privilege at the door, Al Roker. There’s more to this parade than just Muppets.

What about Sonic the Hedgehog? “There’s Sonic. He’s making his 6th appearance in the parade.” That’s it!? That’s all you got!? No mention of his rings or the fact that he SAVED THE WORLD FROM DR. ROBOTNIK!?

Hello Kitty? They’re just like, “Hello, Kitty. So anyway, how’s your turkey coming, Hoda?”

When Bart Simpson appears, it’s a bullying slugfest. “What trouble will he get into this year?” “He’s probably been up to some mischief.” What, because he’s yellow that automatically means he’s been doing something mischievous?  Get off your high horse, NBC.

I’m sick of the puppet privilege this amphibious ass gets every. single. stinkin year! Enough is enough!

When you see that smug son of a salamander snake his way onto your screen, switch off the set and watch something that DOESN’T rub puppet privilege in our faces. Like football.

Big Bird too! Such an avian a-hole.

Just watch and see what I mean. How do you think the other balloons feel about all of the attention these Muppets get? It’s time to take a stand. I, for one, won’t be watching the parade and will be watching Home Shopping reruns. I won’t be shopping at Macy’s anymore either because I can’t, in good faith, give my money to a corporation who obviously doesn’t care about equality. Join me in my defiance and let’s tell the man that we won’t stand for this inflatable injustice any longer!

Krush Kermit

Words, Words, Words

*This blog uses language that is NSFW… or does it?

Fuck.

Just 4 letters put together to make a sound, given a definition by some shadowy council, and given meaning by anyone who uses it or hears it being used.

verb
1. Have sexual intercourse with (someone).
2. Ruin or damage (something).
noun
noun: fuck; plural noun: fucks
1. An act of sexual intercourse. A sexual partner.
exclamation
exclamation: fuck
1. Used alone or as a noun the fuck or a verb in various phrases to express anger, annoyance, contempt, impatience, or surprise, or simply for emphasis.

(I’m not going to include the Urban Dictionary definitions because it muddles the meaning of the word even more.)

Who decides whether or not a word is vulgar? Who decides whether or not they are offended by someone’s words? Who’s to stop me from re-defining the word in my own life?

“I’ve been fucking all day.”
“Watch your mouth, David!”
“What!? I didn’t get much fuck last night, so I thought I’d take a nap!”

Words are arbitrary. The number of definitions given to this word, largely considered profane, prove it. If someone says something that we may be offended by, it’s because of the meaning we give what was said, and not what was actually said that determines our response. Words mean nothing, yet. for some reason, such a high value is placed on them. One person could listen to a racially charged, profanity- laced tirade, get offended and try to get other people to get offended, while another could hear the same tirade, think, “What an idiot,” and move on. When we dwell on something “offensive,” we give the culprit power over our emotions. It’s not the words that cause the emotion from the listener, it’s the listener’s thoughts about what is said. In eighth grade English class, I used the word “dingus” in a sentence and the teacher and I got two completely meanings out of the word. The word “dingus” is used to refer to something whose name the speaker cannot remember, is unsure of, or is humorously or euphemistically omitting. Even after showing her this definition, she was still furious because she assumed I was referring to a penis and I was given two detentions.

Art is the same way: one person may see a painting of a bowl of fruit while another may be moved to tears because of their family’s history of scurvy. Or they’re offended by pears. While watching The Departed with my parents, my mom would gasp every time someone said “fuck,” and, in turn, hated the movie because she missed out on the story to count “fucks.” What we draw from an external experience depends solely on the meaning we give it. No one actually likes to be hurt by words – negative emotions don’t feel good – but it’s the thoughts we think about what was said that impact our beliefs, which determine our attitude, which generates our feelings, which influence our actions, which directly define our reality. People who use hateful speech aren’t worth your time – giving them attention by criticizing their words just adds fuel to their intended hate. If words really hurt, take action by softening the blow. How? Swear with character and cuss with kindness. Since words and their definitions are man-made, change their meaning. Redefine fuck. For example:

-When someone says, “Fuck you,” define it as, “You embody the person I wish I was.”
-When you’re called an idiot, look at it as an opportunity to learn how to do something better.
-When someone calls you a “motherfucker,” assume they’re using “motherfucker” in place of the word “friend”, give them a wave and a smile, and go on with your day. Even if they mean to accuse you of fornicating with mothers, they’re not worth your time. Sticks and stones, right?

You can do it with your own words too! For example:

-Say, “Your dick is showing,” if you see someone’s tag peeking out from their shirt.
-When you see someone wearing a cool hat, say, “Nice hat, asshole,” then flash him a smile. You just said, “Nice hat, handsome.” Now that’s polite!
-When you see a couple with a newborn baby, tell the parents, “Oh, what a cunty baby girl!” Of course their newborn daughter is beautiful, and you complimented them using an adjective appropriate for the miracle of childbirth because that’s what “cunty” means to you.

No one likes being angry or feeling offended, but these feelings are a choice based on our programmed thoughts about something external that really has no value until we apply value to it. There’s more than one way to view a situation, so why not attach the meaning that makes you happiest?

Fuck you (have a great day)!