humor, Life, love, Washington

This just in: Finally beginning to understand the “better together” principle

Better together
Better together

I’m a fiercely independent person. I like to be able to take care of myself, and I take a lot of pride in that ability. Yesterday I had to run a few errands in D.C. by car—not my preferred mode of transportation. In the bitter cold. With my dog, Phin, in tow.The packages I picked up were heavy. Phin was uncomfortable in the weather (as was everyone.) It wasn’t easy, but I got it done.

When I parked the car and got back to my apartment, an unfamiliar thought ran through my head: “It sure would be nice to have someone to share the load with.” I sat up a little straighter and looked around. Did I really just think that? Phin looked at me with his big marble eyes as if to say, “Yes. Yes you did.”

First time that idea’s ever crossed my mind so I guess there really is a first time for everything. And maybe here in D.C. I’m going to find that someone who can share the load of life with me in a loving, supportive, and helpful way. And if he could have a sense of humor about it all, too, then I’d be sold on the idea. Time will tell.

books, comedy, humor

Beautiful: Jack Gray Recounts His Life With Anderson Cooper in His New Book, Pigeon in a Crosswalk

imagesWhatever you’re reading, I strongly suggest that you put it down immediately and walk your fingers over to to buy Jack Gray’s new book Pigeon in a Crosswalk: Tales of Anxiety and Accidental Glamour, a recounting of his rise to fame, fortune, and glory as a television news producer. You’ve never heard of Jack Gray? Don’t worry, no one has except his 1M+ followers on Twitter and Anderson Cooper. Just to put that in perspective, Kim Kardashian has over 17M followers on Twitter and Anderson Cooper has heard of her, too. Clearly, Twitter and Anderson Cooper have questionable standards.

In all seriousness, I loved Jack’s book so much that I have laughed out loud numerous times on the subway while reading it and missed my stop more times than I care to admit. I couldn’t put it down, even if it meant I was in danger of walking 20 blocks out of my way because I forgot I was on the express train and there was no uptown service at all on my line. I laughed so much I didn’t even care about the inconvenience of missing my stop. (Maybe the MTA should start handing out Jack’s book to disgruntled riders to improve morale.) My unbridled laughter while on the subway has caused passengers on the 2 / 3 train to clear a wide area around me and their facial expressions say something akin to, “Damn, here comes that crazy lady and her book about pigeons.” Crazy has its privileges.

For Jack, everything that’s ever happened to him and anyone he’s ever known is fair game for his comedy. Nothing is sacred. Not even the Kennedys. Especially not the Kennedys. Memoirs are a tricky genre. The book market is flooded with them. They’re so personal and it can be difficult to figure out if the stories in them have mass appeal or appeal only to people who know the author. Pigeon in a Crosswalk falls squarely in the former category.

Jack’s life caused me to howl with laughter, mostly at his expense, and he seems fine with that. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have written the book. Sadly, nothing gives us a good chuckle like self-deprecation and horrible strokes of bad luck happening to relatively decent people. (I have no idea why this is – blame it on our insane desire to feel better about our own lives at any cost.) Jack’s book has both of these in spades. But it also has something more that makes it special and memorable, even lovable.

Look, life here in New York is a little like hell. Especially in February. It’s cold, dreary, windy, and getting more expensive by the minute (literally.) We all need a good, honest laugh as often as we can get it. Jack’s book delivers on the comedy front and he also has a wonderful sense of irony and hope. It’s a rare combination and a fine line that he negotiates beautifully with seemingly little effort. He’s just telling his story and we happen to be there in the front row. Please tell me that he plans to make this a one-man show. I’d pay good money to see it, and I bet Kathy Griffin would, too, as long as Anderson Cooper promises to be her date for opening night.

experience, humor, time

Leap: We All Start From Zero – A Lesson From My 90-year-old Yoga Student

From Pinterest

“Every child begins the world again.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

On Thursday mornings at 10:30am, I teach a Chair Yoga for Seniors class. And these seniors aren’t the newly retired. Most of them are in their 80’s and 90’s and they are as spry as can be. I’m hoping that by teaching this class, a bit of their well-aged spunk will stick with me when I’m (God-willing) their age.

One of these students came up to me last week with a question.

“I’ve got a bit of a nagging injury,” Muriel said to me.

“Okay. What’s that?” I asked, assuming it was something that is common with arthritis or something similar.

“Well, my upper arm around my shoulder area has been hurting for the last few days.”

“Did you sleep on it funny or hit it on something recently.”

“Well, I started playing ping-pong at this place just down the street a little while ago and I’m really getting into it. I’ve played every afternoon for the last week and I think I may have overdone it.”

I had to laugh at myself. Here I was thinking she had some symptom of aging and it’s actually a sports-related injury. I should have known better with this group of active seniors. Muriel is especially effusive about my class. A few weeks ago, she let me know that the meditation portion of the class has been transformational for her.

“I cannot believe how easily peace settles into me now when I’m meditating. I’ve never felt this peaceful in my entire life, and I’ve been alive a long time. I wish I had known about this earlier!”

I was very proud of Muriel and her sore muscles. “Muriel, this is wonderful. This means you’re building strength in your arms, just like when you go to the gym!”

“I’m actually very excited about this ping-pong. It’s so good for me. Check this out,” she said as she flexed her biceps and asked me to feel them. There was a definitive muscle there. “Can you believe it? First time in my life I’ve ever had muscles in my arms. It took me this long to build them!”

I gave her the advice to alternate ice and heat and give herself a bit more rest to heal her shoulder.

“Do you play ping-pong, Christa?”

In truth the only version of ping-pong I’ve ever played is beer pong. “No, I’ve never played proper ping-pong before,” I replied.

“Well, we will have to play some time. I can teach you. When I come to class next week, we’ll set a date and time. This will be marvelous! But we’ll have to get there early in the afternoon when they open. Otherwise, there’s a crowd. And don’t worry, we can play downstairs where it’s less crowded so you won’t feel self-conscious as a newbie.”

And with that, Muriel got her coat and made her way outside into the big, bad world. I thought about Muriel all afternoon and the deep, beautiful lesson she taught me during our conversation.

At every age, there are new experiences waiting for us. Too often, we think old age equates with decline. For my seniors, this couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re bringing newness into their lives all the time – whether that’s through taking a yoga class or building biceps at 90-something years old.

Golden years can certainly be golden. It’s all a matter of perspective, attitude, and the courage it takes to try something new.

comedy, gratitude, humor, thankful

Leap: Thank You Notes a la Jimmy Fallon

Another leap I’m attempting to make this year is to focus on humor writing. Comedy writing is tough for me – witness my crash and burn sketch writing class at UCB in which only 2 of my 8 sketches were laughable. One of those funny sketches is still kicking around in my head, and it was drawn from real life almost verbatim, so I began to wrestle with the idea of humor essays rather than sketches. An equally tough endeavor, though more my speed.

As practice, I’m trying out this new weekly post format inspired by Jimmy Fallon’s Thank You Notes segment, which is one of my favorite late night bits. One happy side effect of this endeavor is that it’s helping me to see the humor and comedy in everyday life. When possible, I will actually write and send these thank you notes. I’ll let you know if I get any responses. Let’s give it a whirl for a few weeks and see how it goes.

Thank you, Broadway theatre, for whittling down my bank account while staging revivals that remind me of the originals I saw in my youth. I needed a reminder of my age.

Thank you, GOP, for filling the gap that Grandma the Clown left in the wake of his retirement from The Big Apple Circus.

Thank you, Modern Family, for reminding me that my family is not the craziest version of 5 people living under one roof.

Thank you,, for adding a “Pin It” sharing button. I now have one more much-needed way to spend even more time down the social media rabbit hole.

Thank you, Rush Limbaugh, for crossing the line into inappropriate commentary (again) and angering American women. Finally, your sponsors are coming to their senses which may lead to your show being pulled. We can only hope.

Thank you, army of weather predicting groundhogs. Thanks to your inability to agree on how many more weeks of winter we should have, nature gave up altogether and moved on to Spring.

Thank you, corporate America, for being such an insufferable employer that 1.9 million people handed you a pink slip in January and taking the reigns of their own futures. This is being hailed by economists as “good news.” I couldn’t agree more!

And thank you, Sarah Palin, for reminding us of the trait that’s more important for a U.S. President. “My preference tonight was for the cheerful one. And that’s Newt Gingrich.” I’m sold on that logic!

comedy, humor, writing

Leap: Humor Writing with Sara Barron and Gotham Writers’ Workshop at Housing Works Bookstore

Comedian Sara Barron

Last weekend I took a morning class with Sara Barron, comedian and author of People are Unappealing: Even Me. The moment she started to speak I knew this was the writing class for me. In my quest for a writing community, I’ve tried a few different genres of classes. None of the felt quite right until Sara’s class. I’ve wanted to bring more comedy into my essay writing for some time, but haven’t been sure how to do it.

Sara offered up a set of guidelines that helped me to begin to find my way in humor writing and they are certainly worthy of repeating:

1.) Comedy isn’t mysterious. It’s direct and snappy so set your reader up to laugh along with you by being crystal clear with every word. Tell them where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with.

2.) Circumstance is never as funny as character. The characters are the engine of humor writing.

3.) Cut the adverbs and adjectives. Sentences should be short and sharp. Leave lyrics to the song writers among us.

4.) Dialogue is funny.

5.) The key to the universal is through the specific. The more precisely we nail the details, the easier it will be for our audience to relate.

6.) “Seriously?” is not a funny response. To move you from observer to writer, you need a funny response to someone else’s actions and words or a funny analysis of a situation.

7.) Unlike fiction, more humor writing is done is the first person. You are the main object of your narrative.

8.) Open strong and remember that the most important word in your first sentence is the last one.

9.) Expand your definition of clichés, and then cut every single one of them.

10.) Comedy is tragedy plus distance. Most humor writing starts with some horrible experience and some horrible person. Something awesome happening is great, but it’s rarely funny.

Sara teaches many of the humor writing classes at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. I’m planning to take one in the not-so-distant future. I hope you’ll join me!

change, humor

Step 135: Laughter Makes a Difference

“If you laugh – you change; and when you change – the world changes.” ~ Shilpa Shah

I don’t care what people say about TV – I love it. When I was feeling badly about my job, I watched The Office as often as possible. Even re-runs. My boss at the time reminded me of Michael Scott. The Office made it easier for me to go to work in the morning while I found another job. Laughing changed my perspective.

I’ve experienced this same phenomenon when a friend cheers me up after a tough day or when someone emails me a joke or a funny story right when I need it. Yoga puts a smile on my face after I get through a rigorous class. My niece does something hilarious like see the space shuttle take off and say, “Look, Mommy. Fireworks.” If we look closely, there is no end to the hilarity of life.

Laughter changes the lens through which we see the world. And once we can see the world differently, we can see our role in the world differently. And once we see our role differently, we find a way to make a difference.

The image above was found here.