In a funny twist of events, my most successful writing seems to be about my lack of employment as a writer. Today, DoubleX.com has posted my Top Ten List, 10 Reasons Why Losing My Job Has Been Good for the Universe. I would like to believe that this list is a) funny b) true and c) will lead to me getting a new job so I can stop pretending that I like being unemployed.
To me, a, b, c basically summarize the nature of the self-deprecating humor that evolves when we are approaching the asymptote of Total And Complete Despair. That kind of humor has been my go-to fix for about 6 years now.
It started in college. I had this friend, C., who loved coffee and catastrophic thinking as much as I did. Whenever we stopped overworking ourselves enough to have a little free time, we’d meet at WaWa to buy 24 oz weirdly flavored coffees, complain about how much work we had, come up with reasons why boys would never like us, over-analyze the reasons why we were unable to like ourselves, and then decorate our chatter with some intellectual sparring to prove that the reason boys didn’t like us and we didn’t like us was because we were just too damn smart. Refill coffees, repeat.
These coffee sessions were fun because my friend and I were pretty good at being really sarcastic. But after 5 years, I realized that all-negative humor all the time still leaves you feeling pretty negative. And a few months ago, I suddenly had the funny sense that self-deprecating humor could go too far. Basically, self-deprecating humor is only funny if somewhere deep inside, you have a little self-support system.
So, after I got laid off, I decided to aim for a more balanced diet. Sure, I’d still make fun of myself. But I’d add other things, like yoga, small presents for myself, one or two genuine conversations with another human being, basic self-respect…and so on.
I learned that there is nothing wrong with the mostly-sarcastic approach to life. As long as you’re not lying to yourself about it. Sometimes it helps people to feel more comfortable. Last weekend was my friend’s annual birthday party in CT, and I killed time in the parking lot while waiting for a ride by explaining in great detail to two younger friends what it meant to have a lifeFAIL.
When our ride came, we all buckled up and the first thing the driver, my friend N., said was, “Hey, RB? Weren’t you dating someone last year?”
“Yeah!” Shouted one of the boys from the backseat. “She used to have a job last year, too!” And we all had a good laugh, because I had effectively demonstrated that LifeFAILs are funny.
That said, two days later, it was 3am, I was in the pool, and I was worried. I said to N., “I have no idea what’s going to happen to my life. And I don’t know what to do.” I wasn’t joking. He replied by saying what everyone says, that I would be “fine”. But he added, “You know, you seem to get a lot more joy out of just living than most people do.”
“I know,” I sulked. “But all I get is joy in a moment. How and why am I supposed to move towards the future?”
“More joy in the next moment?” He suggested. “That seems good enough to me.” Now, of course N. is starting business school next week, so he is clearly someone who can tell me that “stopping and smelling the roses” will sustain me through retirement….oy. But at that moment, I took his words at face value.
I also realized that I get a lot of joy out of being sarcastic. So if I pretend that unfunny, horrible things are funny, so be it. Sure! There are definitely 10 great things about being laid off. Maybe 20. And if there aren’t, I think we can all have a joyful time acting as though there are.