When I started this column 18 years ago, it was meant to be a humorous look at raising kids. Then it spun out into a humorous look at life in general. I even got to name it – Developing Laugh Lines. Then the kids grew up, I got older, the pandemic rolled in, things went sideways...
To quote the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “My life got flipped, turned upside down.”
Some of you may have noticed the writing is a shade off-brand in an existential bummer sort of way. Some of you have been so kind as to reach out to me, worrying if I am depressed.
Yes. How are you?
To be fair, I am a perimenopausal, middle-aged woman dealing with job loss, relocation, empty nest, and a global pandemic. Google any part of that sentence. The Internet gives it zero stars.
Long story short, my source material has changed, which means this column has to change. Or die. Although I frequently think of killing the column or at least rebranding to something more accurate, like “Developing Frown Lines” or “Needing a Lifeline” or “Why Didn’t I Become an Accountant?”, I haven’t done so.
Why? I’m not sure.
As far as pandemic suffering goes, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. My boo-hoo isn’t even competitive. I can see the just-getting-by in everyone’s eyes when they think no one is looking.
As one of my dearest friends said in a fabulous midlife text storm, you can’t even be frustrated with people anymore because “everyone seems to be so damaged”. She ended her text with this: “I just hope people, in general, make a comeback.”
First, I want that printed on a coffee cup.
Recently, my husband and I watched a comedy special. It was a mash-up of 2022 stand-up routines and, although funny, it had an existential bummer sort of vibe. My husband noticed it, too, and asked how I felt about it.
Relieved. Even the reigning humor gods with Netflix specials are a little darker. I am not alone.
Several years into writing the column, I realized humor comes from sensitive souls. Tragedy plus time equals comedy. No one feels pain more profoundly than the comedian at work. Their art depends on outlasting Time, that doddering old fart.
Watching those comics work through the “dark night of the soul” to emerge with the laugh line reminded me that while our source material has changed, the process remains the same.
I know this process. Developing laugh lines is a fight. It’s a slog. It is NOT a confessional blog.
[Full confession: I spent most of today writing and rewriting this piece. The Darkness tells me no one will care if I figure this out, and, honestly, I’m supposed to be making some crazy curry chickpea dish that has a dozen ingredients and twice as many steps, and if I don’t get started soon, I’ll risk eating cereal for dinner and, according to Dr. Google, eating healthy is more integral to my mental health than obsessing over word choice. And yet, here I am, obsessing and wondering if Dr. Google is the Darkness.]
I hope people, in general, make a comeback.
I hope laughter, specifically, makes a comeback.
I hope chickpea curry isn’t as complicated as it sounds.
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Nicole, I believe this is one of your most well-crafted pieces, yet. You always take us readers on a journey of signs and discovery (even if we don’t realize it -- which is your special skill).
I, too, hope people in general make a comeback. Unlike past comebacks over Tyranny, Secession, Crashes, Wars and Terror, we seem to be flailing for broad common cause to return to “normalcy.” Simply desiring to “get past this” doesn’t seem to provide the fuel to get us there.
However, voices such as yours help us “slog” through this fog (not of war, but of “just getting by”) towards that elusive shared ground where we can find real traction.
Thank you for still developing laugh lines, even if the process includes a few stress-lines and weary sighs along the way.