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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Hope, The Stuff of Dreams

“Hope is the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul –
and sings the tunes without the words –
and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson

Those lines form one of my favorite stanzas by Dickinson or anyone really, not for the meter, the rhythm or the rhyme, not for the way the thought is said at all, but for the thought itself, the meaning behind the words.

I’ve been a positive person as long as I can remember. Spending most days with a smile that comes from an appreciation that’s difficult to describe. I’m a genuinely happy guy.

I joke sometimes and say I’ve had an octogenarian’s outlook on each new day ever since I was thirteen and nearly died. But it’s not really a joke. I spent each day over the next four years (my entire time in high school) absolutely terrified that my time had run out, and every night when I went to bed I was palpably afraid that would be the end, which is also why I greeted each new day profoundly thankful for another chance.

I’ve been praised for my outlook, and thanked by those around me who have drawn on my positive energy, and ridiculed by some of the latter as well.

“People who smile all the time,” I’ve been told, “are just putting on a face for others, hiding the pain and the frustrations of life.” Well, I suppose if one pretends there is no pain and that there are no frustrations, then that might be true. Except, I’ve found that choosing to acknowledge the pain and frustration to myself, assessing what things I can change and what things just are the way they are, and then approaching the moment with an attitude of hope, that is the reason I tend to smile.

And, most days, most of the time, no one else needs to be made aware of my pain or my frustrations.

Anyone who truly knows me also understands, that’s part of the reason I write. I see the darkness. I feel it emphatically. I am a very empathetic person, too much so, perhaps. And I’m also a very sensitive person when it comes to the struggles of others.

Read one thing I’ve written and you’ll get it. I focus on the shadows, the storms, the unpleasantness of the human condition in nearly every poem, in every single piece of prose. But, I do so from the perspective of hope.

I’m that way in my relationships, that way with my work, and also with my dreams though I did put those on hold for a long time. I believe that hope is an essential ingredient when it comes to making dreams a reality.
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A Thing Called Fear

Shark by Deja Photo

Shark by Deja Photo From Lens To Picture

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen

Fear. At a basic level, fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. Essential, historically, to the survival of humanity. Yet a potential catalyst to the undoing of an individual.

It should probably be noted that this is just MY take on fear. For what it’s worth.

I’m not going to get all psychoanalytical here or even very philosophical, but it seems that fear can be the spark that saves a life or that gets us headed in the right direction. It can also, in a manner of speaking, end a life when it becomes paralyzing, when the threat is viewed as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to happiness, success, dreams.

Although fear might be an instantaneous response to a specific threat at a particular moment in time (a reaction to stimuli in a present moment), some are layered. They’re not merely a reaction to that one instant, but are often threaded deeply, intricately, inextricably to other (often sundry) past experiences.

It figures, doesn’t it, that something so influential would be so complex.

Here are My Four Biggest Childhood Fears (in order of severity, not in chronological order, from ages six to eighteen):

DEATH (as in no longer alive, as in ran out of time, as in the end, finito . . . I’m talking from the perspective of a boy who had absolutely no desire to be off pursuing evidence of an afterlife or a lack there of . . . not as a youthful resistance to the concepts of heaven or hell or purgatory, but simply as an I-just-got-here reaction to the whole idea of shuffling off this mortal coil)
STAGE FRIGHT/PUBLIC SPEAKING (being the center of attention might be a more apt name for this one)
HEIGHTS (a fear of falling, really . . . not of climbing, not of being UP, for UP was one of my favorite places to be – as Xero says, being there often allows you to see what everyone else can see, but in a totally different way . . . okay, so I guess maybe I did sort of morph into a misfit on my own)
DOGS (that’s right, man’s best friend . . . although I have a genuine affinity for dogs, I was attacked by two of them when I was in first grade so every canine interaction I’ve had since then has begun/begins with all out fear)

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Dreams

Mask and Unveiling

Mask and Unveiling

“Writing is both mask and unveiling.” ~ E. B. White

That quote seems to sum up one of the most rewarding byproducts of writing for me: the paradoxical duality of simultaneously concealing and revealing oneself. On one hand, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be invisible. On the other hand, I’ve spent many of those exact same moments trying to find a way to be heard (by myself first, by others second).

When I was about seven or eight-years-old, I revealed to my mom my dream (my grand life’s plan was all laid out in my mind and it seemed so simple back then to just know in your heart that you were going to do a thing and not question it at all). I was going “to make $100,000 a year,” I told her. And I was going to buy her a huge house and give her and my dad a whole heap of money (as an aside, I was reminded last year by my aunt who is now in her eighties that I had apparently promised great sums of money to other members of my family as well . . . oops).

How, my mom wondered, was I going to manage this.

It should be noted that back when I was eight-years-old settlers were still bartering with glass beads and animal pelts, so that annual salary was quite a lofty goal.

“I’m going to be an actor,” I said.
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Frequently Asked Questions

Lennart Tanges

Young Scribes

Q: Did you always want to be a writer?

A: Not a chance!

As I mentioned on my ABOUT page, I never read my first poem, short-story, novel (and so on) outside of an English class until I was twenty-six years old. I didn’t have the patience to sit own long enough to read a bubble gum wrapper, let alone a book.

And that was just reading. But writing? It took me years after that first book before I would stop moving long enough to even know I had something worth saying (the way we all do, really). Before I realized how good it feels transforming thoughts and feelings and experiences into words. How incomparably magical it is to spend some time living from the inside out. That’s what writing is, after all. Those moments when you’re at the page.

As a boy, I was so not ready for that. Back then, I was trying to stuff every feeling I had into all the dark spaces I could find. Writing was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I mean, I’d have eaten broccoli first. Even asparagus. Just not at the same time.

I loved movies, though. They always felt like adventures I was part of and I could enjoy them with my dad. I still love movies. They’ve always been a way for me to decompress. Besides, I envision everything I write (even the poems) as small movies.

Q: What’s the hardest thing about writing a novel?
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