Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Lying Smile

Bill Bryson is an author who takes ordinary situation and finds humor within it. Essentially he bridges the intangible gap between what is mundane, and transforms it into something amusing. He takes situations that often times can be considered boring, and reveals an interestingly amusing side. Bryson as Candide might say takes a situation, and makes it the best of all possible worlds; the best of all possible situations. What is this Bryson’s humor? Optimism, blind stupidity, annoyingly light hearted humor from ordinary experience?
Thinking of Bryson’s book makes me think about my everyday life and about the way in which I fit into that life. I am often times consumed with single events, the daunting questions of life, my challenges and problems, and my abundance of school work, that I often miss the small things. Maybe this is what Bryson is trying to tell me. Even Maria Kalman is taking art and imagery to fuel opinion, to insinuate the way in which she thinks about the world. Humor is a way to show who we are, to represent how we feel about our experiences, and to make light of both the questions we have in the life, and the beauty of its challenges.
I woke up Friday morning feeling sick. There was no doubt in my mind that I didn’t want to go to Cristo Rey. I didn’t want to tutor, sit in a classroom, travel to motor pool, pick up a car, least of all drop it off after an hour of tutoring. It was the first time that I was not genuinely excited to go to Cristo Rey, and I wasn’t shy about telling my friends either. They of course, encouraged me to skip it and spend the day lounging around instead, but knowing that I have an obligation was to be honest, the only thing that actually made me go. And I was not hiding that I had an attitude about it.
Getting to Cristo Rey that day was also a chore, the motor pool got screwed up, I was chewed out for wearing flip flops, I just wasn’t in the mood. As I began to tutor Michael, I was frustrated with him because he just wanted me to tell him the right answers. I would ask him what he thought, he would turn away from me, and say “I dunno” and try to skip the question. He could tell that I didn’t want to be there, and looking back on it now, he was reciprocating my negativity by refusing to try and sulking away when I asked him to think about his work.
Michael and I didn’t have a good day together. When it was 4:28pm I was happy that I was leaving and started to talk to him in my normal friendly manner as I usually did. He didn’t reciprocate. I asked Michael what was wrong and he told me that the day before he had taken a girl to a carnival, sat and talked with her, bought her cotton candy, took her on the Ferris wheel, and she hadn’t kissed him goodbye, had not said thank you, but instead ran off with her friends after about 30 minutes of what Michael considered to be “his first date”.
The way Michael was telling his story was by laughing slightly and smiling while he was telling his story, so that I was invited to smile as well, to make light of the situation. But it was this mundane and ordinary experience that had meant something more to Michael and had invoked within him certain emotions that were unexpected. While Bryson for example has particular experiences and describes them using humor, he also alludes to the fact that these experiences confuse his sense of identity, and his place within culture. Humor can be taken as face-value, it can be instigated by one individual in order to make us laugh or to amuse us, but in actuality humor can also be a way that we bring light of events that hurt us, that exclude us, and that further, define us.
Humor is described for Michael in a particular manner, like it is for Bryson. When I asked Michael if he was going to ask the girl on another date, his face drew blank and he flatly answered, “no”. Bryson describes simple things like a trip to the post office, or a trip through the airport, and Michael describes a date, in order to create humor for an audience. However, the importance is that for both of these characters, humor can at times be detrimental because it effects true emotion and hides underlying feelings. After all, feeling as if you don’t belong is one of the worst feelings in the world, as is being disappointed on a date when you truly like somebody.
It is hard for me to think of Michael’s story as humorous, though his smile invited me to do so and his mockery of the girl and her outfit made it comical for an onlooker. But I could see the pain leaking from within Michael and see his disappointment, his hurt, and his embarrassment. Bryson’s humor shows his struggle with identity and his desire to feel comfortable within a particular society, and Michael’s humor shows his pain from his experience at the carnival. Humor can be one of the most beautiful things in the world as laughter and happiness are most often the result, but in some cases humor can be detrimental. For while humor initiates laughter and reveals situations, it can at times, shield us from the truth of our troubles.

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