Friday, September 14, 2012

Finding the funny: Distance helps

Lake Atitlan and surrounding volcanoes
One of the writers in my critique group asked me why I didn’t talk with as much wit as I wrote with. Fairly certain she wasn’t calling me dull-witted, I took no offense.

Although her question triggered some group speculation about repressed personalities, alter egos, and writer’s persona, I suspect the answer lies more in the perspective of distance.

It’s much easier for those of us slow to find the funny when we are not in the midst of the family feud. It is easier to laugh when we are a safe distance from a fearful experience, or even a humiliating one.

This is particularly true when writing personal narrative. Personal stories like wine and cheese are better aged. Putting some distance between the event and the telling allows us to see from a wide-angled perspective the other factors involved that our on-the-scene emotions were incapable of absorbing.

In Call of a Coward, I related an incident when my husband was momentarily annoyed, angry with me for indulging in an expensive Dove ice cream. At the time, not even his attempted apology: “Marsh, you’re worth twelve Dove bars,” did much to appease the ruinous moment. But years later, (mind you, I didn’t harbor ill will that long!) it was easy to write about the incident. 

With the poignancy of perspective, I happily accept that I am worth more than twelve Dove bars.

Another time, while traveling an unfamiliar road in Guatemala, we were halted by road construction. A huge swath in the side of the mountain was blown open; its spewn boulders lay scattered in the road. A sign warned of the obvious danger, which not only entailed maneuvering around the rock slide that had already happened, but dodging the boulders that continued to plummet down as the road crews kept right on dynamiting.

No flagmen. No detour. No stop in blasting. Just pure guts, grit, and go Guatemala style. Choose the side with the two-hundred foot drop and oncoming cars or the one closest to the tumbling rocks and pray it’s not your day to die.

Those of you who have read my story know how I felt about traveling the roads there on a good day.

This wasn’t good.

I’m quite sure in the throes of fear, I muddied my prayers with things about primitive public safety and lack of common sense: “Can you believe this! You, don’t have to be a North American to know enough to have a flagman and stop blasting, for crying out loud.”

Once through, however, I looked out the rear window in wonderment. What fortitude these people had. Drive through a rock field while dodging boulders and oncoming traffic—no problem— just do whatever it was you had to do and get on with it.

Safe with five hundred feet between me and death, I thought it was pretty funny.
The perspective of distance.

How about you? Do you have a story that you find humorous now, but at one time was mortifying, horrifying, or petrifying?


  1. Marcia, I loved reading Call of a Coward and I loved your humor. Distance sure does give one a different perspective. I've had so many instances that didn't seem funny at the time, but looking back sure is fun.

    I had an incident when I woke and felt a large spider crawling up my back -- inside my nightgown. Ack! Not fun!!! However, I was able to use it as a suspenseful scene in my novel, Prodigal Nights.

    God's blessings to you, sweet Marcia!

  2. I'm always afraid people will meet me in person and be as disappointed as those who met Paul and exclaimed that he was not so bold in person. That's me. Face-to-face, I falter. Time and editing aids humor and a smooth retelling of what one only wishes to escape in the moment. Enjoyed this.

  3. Good analogies! I can think of a lot of things that time, distance and shielding have helped! This brought back good memories. Thanks!

  4. Love this! I can completely relate. I'm wired to process first, then articulate. It also makes me a S L O W writer.


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