It was just a nice little bit of encouragement, I thought initially, certainly nothing to engender any particular self-analysis. It was a brief note from our friend meryddian
a week or two ago, in which she “tagged” me to write more humor in my journal. You can see the result of this in my recent postings – everything from an update on the aftermath of my recent car accident to an old story about almost getting maimed while delivering newspapers, capped off with a jolly little quip about Coretta Scott King’s funeral.
OK, so those postings weren’t exactly the “A” material for my stand-up routine. In fact, they weren't intended to have much humor value at all, but that tagging has still been rolling around in my brain, and it’s made me think about who I am in this journal compared to who I am on a face-to-face basis, compared to who I am in various other modes of my life. I’ve had to sit and ponder why humor is such an inconsistent visitor to my journal postings. Probably most people would not ask such questions of themselves, but humor and I go way back. I’ve spent a whole lot of my life making people laugh (or at least giving it my best shot). Humor is one of the central joys in my life, and I will even say that I think I know a lot about it. So what’s going on in this journal?
After gnawing on that question for a while, I began to realize that it was the wrong question to use as a starting point. The real question was, where does my humor come from? And what do I really use it for? I began to see that much of my humor requires the dynamic presence of another person. Our interaction is automatically filtered through my comic sensibilities and the result can be very stimulating and can even be a device for building bonds of trust and comfort. Seeing how someone reacts to my humor tells me volumes about them in a very efficient manner, and if in turn it tells them something about me, I think that’s a good thing. I recognize that the seeds of this were planted early in life. In my childhood, I learned that humor was perhaps the most uniquely powerful tool I possessed – it was a way of getting adults to talk with me as a peer, and it was also a way to distract older, bigger kids who might otherwise be inclined to tease me or beat me up. There was also that other really basic need – my need to entertain. I seem to have carried that need with me from the womb onward.
A favorite memory dates from when I was about 9 years old. My mother passed along a comment that was made by her sister, my Aunt Rosie. Rose and I had had a lengthy conversation at a family gathering, and she told my mother afterward that, “I used to think Charles was such a brat, but then I realized he was just trying to be funny!” She and I had a more peer-based relationship from that day forward.
Over the years, then, humor has evolved into a very integrated part of how I relate to the world and to people. It isn’t something I have to remind myself to utilize, it simply is a part of my identity. So now we return to the question of why, if it is such a central part of my life, it is not a more ubiquitous part of my journal. To investigate that, I had to examine what this journal is to me, and I found that it serves multiple purposes. It is not just the Chuck Magazine,
published for the edification and entertainment of the public, although there is an element of that to it. It is also to some extent my actual journal – a diary, if you like, a place where I can compose and record whatever is on my mind. And when I’m in that mode, I’m not giving priority to entertaining anyone. Oh, I’ll still try to make sure that my spelling and grammar are somewhere near proper, and I’ll still read it over and see if there’s anything I might want to explain more fully for the benefit of the unknown reader. But a lot of this is coming out not first and foremost to edify or entertain anyone, but simply because putting it into words is helpful to me on a personal level. Sometimes, I’ll imagine that there’s exactly one person out there who gives a shit about what I have to say, and I’m writing for that one person. And if anyone should read my brain droppings (thank you, George Carlin) and find them stimulating or enjoyable in some way, I’m very gratified.
Of course, there are also entries I put out purely for entertainment purposes, so as I say, there is more than one agenda at work here. But back to that original “tagging” – there is still an important point to explore there. The fact is that I began this journal as a means of making myself write more, and I didn’t know how long I would stick with it, so I didn’t make an extraordinary effort to get my journal name posted all over the place. But this Friday will mark the 6-month anniversary of my first posting, and I feel like I’m just getting warmed up. I’ve been feeling lately that I would like to publicize my journal and develop a wider readership, and maybe alter the identity of this journal just a little. And as that transformation begins, I suspect that humor will begin to creep into the picture more and more, not because I’m consciously reaching for it, but simply because the environment of this journal will have been redefined. We’ll see what happens. I can point myself in a certain direction, but I don’t really know where I’m going to end up!