Friday, April 1, 2011

Laughter for Zest

This is a painting by Nikolai Smirnov, which I treasure and use on my desktop.  It's a Russian peasant's farm, and although my farm is quite different, in the meaning, purpose, simplicity, and love I feel for my farm, they are the same farm.

I have a strong fourth house, astrologically speaking, which is the "home base" house. I have there two planets, both in Aries–Venus and Saturn. Venus has, I suppose, made me impulsive in love. Saturn made me serious. I still am deeply serious, but I laugh more and more freely, as I get older. Maybe that is also Venus. I laugh aloud sometimes when I’m reading and something strikes me as funny.

I didn’t laugh much as a child. I remember, at age thirteen, getting the giggles, when we were playing Hearts, and not being able to stop. I was both embarrassed that I’d lost control and delighted that I could so laugh. At age seventeen, when I was editor of the high school newspaper, and James, another "brain,"–he now works as a physicist--and I were stapling the April 1 edition of "The Sooner Cub." We had April Fool jokes in it, but we got the idea of stapling it on all sides so it was hard to open, and we got the giggles. The students took the joke well, as they struggled to access their mimeographed sheets. I had never so laughed and been so silly, especially at school.

Laughter is good medicine and another thing that helps us age well.

Once, when I was teaching a "Roadmap to Great Literature" class in the 1980s in the Durham Library, a student asked me how I’d learned to laugh at myself. I didn’t know the answer, but I said probably it was because I’d suffered so much. After awhile, you have to laugh.

When my three adolescents gave me fits, I certainly suffered, but when one, who’d run away twice, wanted to come home because he was living in a tent in his friend’s backyard, and it had been raining a lot, and the mosquitoes were driving him nuts, I laughed.

The mistakes we make, the things we forget, and many other of life’s little glitches can feel so tragic, but later, if we’re lucky, we can laugh. That’s the gist of what Carolyn Heilbrun said about some marriages: when you realize you can’t get unmarried, if you’re lucky, you laugh.

Laughing at ourselves is especially beneficial and can be healing, can freshen our perspective and take the dreariness out of a rainy day.

We can all be pretty silly at times–over-estimating or underestimating our ability to do something or how well we’ll cope.

When my new and first flock of chickens stayed out in the pouring rain instead of running for shelter, I read in a chicken advice book that they could drown, so I ran out to rescue them, and when they saw my umbrella, they fled. I put down the umbrella and was drenched, of course, and still had no luck getting the chickens to shelter. They didn’t drown. I don’t do that any more. If they want to stay out in a thunderstorm or when it’s hailing, I let them. I can laugh now at my mistake. Something about chickens tends to set off these absurd encounters. One of the blessings in my life?

When I carried into their coop for the first time a big bag of feed, they went into total panic and flew wildly all around the coop. So we learn and then if we’re lucky, we laugh.

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