Humor Saved My Life

"smile" by kennymatic

“smile” by kennymatic

“You’re only given one little spark of madness.
You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams

I think it’s safe to say that laughter saved my life.

Not in a keep-the-body-working escape-death sort of way, but in a keep-the-spirit-soaring sort of way, a feed-the-soul make-it-all-worthwhile sort of way.

Most of my early health issues took place between the ages of just arrived and six-years-old, and the biggest near-death moment of my youth happened at thirteen. I mentioned in an earlier post that I spent my teen years utterly terrified of death. Well, I’ve been thinking about that a bit lately – death itself, but also that paralyzing fear I had back then.

For some reason, I’ve also been thinking a lot about humor.

How rejuvenating it can be, either in the moment, or cumulatively. How life-changing, life-preserving laughter has been for me.

Lafayette Wattles as a Boy

Lafayette Wattles as a Boy

I honestly don’t remember having much of a sense of humor before we moved. Before everything changed. I was nine then.

When you move, it’s often like hitting reset on a game. Sure, you’re the same person you were before you got in the car that took you from one spot to another. It’s not like we transform in a matter of minutes or hours.

Yet, in a way, we do.
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Dear Mom

Lafayette's Mom Who At 18 Was Named Miss Lake Street Bridge

At 18, Lafayette’s Mom (pictured with some fan mail and news clippings) Was Named Miss Lake Street Bridge

Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children 
because they are more certain they are their own.” – Aristotle

Gotta love that Aristotelian wit.

Though, doubtless, there have been many moments when my mother has scratched her head and wondered that very thing.

Last week I wrote about being different. Well, there’s no way I’d have survived being different if not for my mother, not to mention the fact that she’s been one of the people encouraging me to be different my entire life.

I never told my parents (or anyone at all) about the things I endured during Middle School. But hey, that’s the beauty of being a writer. I get the chance to do that every day now with the hope of making similar odysseys a bit easier for misfits today who might find themselves on the periphery, belonging to some degree perhaps in every group, but not quite truly belonging to any.

This post is a rather informal ode to my mom.

She has an expansive heart. She’s extremely loving, caring, conscientious, empathetic person. Someone who tends to put others first. Though that can get in the way of her own happiness sometimes, it’s just who she is. It’s not intended as some noble thing. It’s not something for which applause or praise are expected.

Truth is – if she didn’t think about how this or that might impact everyone else, she simply wouldn’t be being herself.

Below I’d like to share a few thoughts about what a mother is, and about my mom in particular, and I’d also like to share a poem I recently wrote especially for her.
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What is Ron Koertge Writing For?

Batman and Robin by MrSchuReads

Batman and Robin by MrSchuReads

I didn’t grow up with some prized comic book collection, like one of the characters on Big Bang Theory might have, but I’ve always been a fan of superheroes. Still am.

After spending a few years without television, I recently caught up on the final season of Smallville. That’s right. I admit it.

And, yes, as a boy, I did imagine myself saving the world each time I leapt off the picnic table in the backyard, trying to fly.

As a boy, my favorite superheroes were Superman and Batman, sure, but I also used to imagine The Thing and The Hulk engaging in epic throw downs.

Maybe it’s the way each superhero has flaws, vulnerabilities, perceived weaknesses which they don’t just manage to overcome, but which, in the end, often turn out to be strengths as well.

Maybe that’s why Ron Koertge’s poem “Sidekicks” speaks to me so strongly, in part because it’s not a poem about superheroes, but about their sidekicks, characters who tend to exist in the background. They don’t usually represent the best of us, not in a sense of possessing superhuman abilities, but they do represent the best of us in the way they selflessly put the needs of others ahead of themselves, the way they exist outside the spotlight and still do what we need them to do. Not for fame, but because it’s the right thing. In some ways, they are misfits, yet misfits who often save the day.
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Laughter, My Favorite Exercise

Laughter by Symphony of Love

Laughter by Symphony of Love

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” – Victor Borge

So many times, laughter has saved me.

And some of my best friendships have been forged over laughter, some of the best moments in my life. Including times I’ve ended up laughing at myself.

I hadn’t thought about that until the other night during one of the NCAA basketball games. A commercial came on and my mom laughed. And I saw her dad in her then, the way he would break open in a soft smile and the way that smile would quietly sparkle with laughter.

And I thought, at that moment, laughter might just be one of the best things ever.

I recall being a boy (no, it’s true, despite the common theory that I just showed up with a receding hairline and a silvering chin) and watching this amazing pianist on one of the shows my parents liked to watch and his fingers were like Olympic hurdlers racing across the keys. And, yes, that was impressive.

Only I was like six and as appealing as it would have been to have fingers that were fast as gazelles (I could imagine their usefulness for hiding peas at dinner or tangling my sister’s hair), but what I wanted most at that time were legs that were cheetahs, so I could run all over the neighborhood (which I did anyway) faster than anyone (which I so didn’t do).

But then the piano guy stops playing and makes a sound or a face or he does some crazy thing or he makes some tangential comment and I laughed. We all laughed. It was unexpected and a bit absurd, given the seriousness of the music, and absolutely wonderful. And it was also something my family and I shared.

Those moments laughing.
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Who Are You, Really?

Pablo Picasso - Tête d'Homme (1969) by Cea

Pablo Picasso – Tête d’Homme (1969) by Cea

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else
is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most of us spend our entire lives in one body (at least I don’t think any full body transplants have been successful so far).

Day after day after day, for as far back as we can go, we have been us (and, see, right there, a few people grunted, “Don’t remind me!“). For many people being you is one of the hardest things.

Some of us might not even remember ever truly being ourselves.

I find that mind-boggling and understandable at the same time.
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Mickey McKay & Frank Conifrey - Lenox Hill Settle't [i.e., Settlement]

Mickey McKay & Frank Conifrey – Lenox Hill Settle’t [i.e., Settlement]

“Words are easy, like the wind;
Faithful friends are hard to find.” ― William Shakespeare

As a boy, even with best friends, there’s sometimes very little distance between a fist bump and a fist fight. At least that’s how it was for me growing up.

When you’re seven, eight, even nine-years-old, it doesn’t take a lot to turn all that get-up-and-go fueling your youthful exuberance into scowling proclamations of “take that back!”

As adults, a fight between friends can often turn into something much more dramatic and much more personal. There also tend to be less split lips and more ugly words or all-out avoidance. Of course, when adult friends have a moment, it can also seem like nothing at all – no blood drawn, no feelings hurt, just a word or two, an honest reminder, a respectful, loving, setting straight.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. I’m a very lucky guy.

I have some of the most remarkable friends. Ever!

It’s true. Scientists and Historians are still shaking their heads in disbelief. A few of my closest chums have been friends of mine for two or three decades. That’s right, they’re slow learners.

I had some great friends as a boy too, before we moved. It’s that in between time that was a bit more problematic, so it’s no wonder that’s the time I tend to write about.

One of my absolute favorite things to do as a writer is create the protagonist’s friends.

Without consciously setting out to do so, I’ve found that I imbue these fictional sidekicks with many traits my childhood possessed and my adult friends possess. Characteristics like pluck, curiosity, empathy, spunk, humor, and perhaps a slight propensity for mischief (like Webb) or nerdy interests (like Swatch).

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes about friendship (see if you agree with them or disagree):

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” – Elbert Hubbard

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” ― Aristotle

“Silence make the real conversations between friends. Not the saying, but the never needing to say that counts.” ― Margaret Lee Runbeck

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ― Anaïs Nin

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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Writing Sample from Xero

Closing Doors - Rusty Knob #2 in Black and White by Bitzcelt“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints
his own nature into his pictures.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Nearly the entire time I’ve worked on my Middle Grade novel The Short Bus, I’ve thought the story has had little do with me personally. Recently, however, I realized that it has everything to do with me.

When I first started writing the book, I wondered what it would be like to be the most ordinary kid in the world. So ordinary that you were almost transparent. So average that you were forgettable.

Most people, after all, have at least one thing they do well. So what would it be like, I wondered, to be the kid who didn’t seem to do anything well?

In some ways, like Xero, I’ve felt invisible at times. As a boy, sure, but even as an adult.

Even recently, I experienced this very thing, at the same time, it turns out, that I was coming up with the idea for the novel. Like Xero, I wanted someone to see the one thing I did best. I tried to show it every way I could think of. In the end, though, that someone didn’t see anything at all.

The novel is about a boy who thinks it’s what you do that makes you extraordinary. He hasn’t learned yet that it’s really just a way you are. Sad to say, I don’t think I understood that myself until Xero showed me.

The following is a very brief writing sample, a short chapter from my Middle Grade novel, The Short Bus.

Bear in mind, it’s a chapter that didn’t exist until, well, just now. It’s brand new. In other words, it’s a rather rough draft. Still quite raw. I hope you enjoy it though.

Oh, by the way, since this is an excerpt from later in the novel, you might need a little backstory:

Xero is thirteen. He and his best friend, Webb, have made friends with a boy they call Knee Boots (an older boy named Kevin who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury four years earlier). John is Knee Boot’s father and Mick is Xero’s brother. There was a recent confrontation at school between Xero and Mick and Knee Boots happened to be there. Witnessing the conflict upset Knee Boots due to what happened that terrible day in his past. Xero has gone to check on Knee Boots. To make sure his friend is okay.

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Klutzy Me: Childhood Blunders and Other Disasters

Rescue Work - Dayton (Bain News Service, Publisher)

Flood – Rescue Work – Dayton (Bain News Service, Publisher)

“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.” – Confucius

Believe it or not, I’ve actually been called a good dancer (no, not by the guy in the mirror), but I admit, I’m not someone you probably want to give a sword to . . . unless, you know, it’s time to wield it, time to slay the dragon or defend the kingdom. I’ll be all in, then, focused on my movements, on the intention. My body might even cooperate then.

To just carry around, though, probably not such a good idea.

Even though I grew up playing sports, you could say I was a wee bit klutzy as a boy. I’m a bit suspicious, though, that my little sister crept into my room one night while I was sleeping and adjusted the controls to my center of balance.

No, I can’t prove that. Yet. But here’s what I mean.


When I was about eight-years-old, my mom asked me to go to the store for some milk. Simple enough of a request, right?

The store, it should be noted, was a mere block-and-a-half away, other side of the street, on the way to my favorite hide-and-seek location, the cemetery.

This was back in the day of glass bottles and penny candy. It was the coolest store, and I have to find a way to get that store and the old man who owned it into one of my stories.

I rode my bike, because, you now, it was faster.

I had things to do, after all, like playing football or baseball in the street with my friends. Fortunately, my friends were all in their own houses at the time and were NOT waiting for me on my front stoop because THAT would have been mortifying, since, well, I sort of ran into a snag on the way home.
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The Gift of Generosity

Lafayette & Sis at ChristmasToday I’m going to write briefly about Christmas and the Gift of Generosity.

I don’t remember a lot about my childhood. I’m not sure why, I just don’t. Even less from my teen years. Perhaps, I’ve just tucked it all away somewhere. The events I recall most from my early years tend to be embarrassing and funny, though a few were frightening. I alluded to several of those last week in the list that appears at the end of this post and I’ll get to those incidents after the holidays.

Two things I do remember from my childhood, though, are how my family showed me the importance of GENEROSITY in the things they did, and CHRISTMAS.
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Family, Friends, and Our Stories: Continued

famsmallIn the beginning, FAMILY is pretty much all we know.

While we’re infants, they’re perceived as an extension of us (in regards, mostly, to how they meet or neglect our basic, inherent needs).

Most of the early truths and discoveries we make are learned through our experiences with family. Our values, our beliefs and attitudes, are influenced by them (as we grow to accept or to resist theirs).

As we age, as we approach and then navigate the muddy waters of adolescence, our FRIENDS assume a much larger role in shaping us (or at least in influencing how we shape ourselves) into the people we’ll become.

All of this may be true. All of it may, and does, and will influence our stories.

But, as Willa Cather stated: “most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” I can say that most of my personal stories, most of the memories I draw upon when I write, are from that time in my life. They’re related to experiences I had with my family, and adventures I had with my friends back then.

A few of them, in particular, have in some way influenced the novels I’ve been working on recently, but not in the ways you might think. Not for the events themselves, in most cases, but for something more.

Here are a few specific events I recall from when I was between six and nine years old:

The Great Carpet Incident
Broken Bones & Concussed Noggins
Shattered: Or Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Wrong Body
The Land of Up & So Much Falling
Climbing the Walls
Rooftops & Hurricanes

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