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The Best Medicine -- Lighten Up!
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

We live in funny times. No, I'm being serious (wocka wocka!) If we weren't so absorbed with the need to make sense out of all the garble and nonsense, draw some conclusion about this surrealistic void-space in our transition from one era to another, we might be able to relax and find a few laughs. Lord knows we need some; the shifts and stressors of this period have the ability to create us as brittle, vulnerable and humorless. That is, of course, a choice and we're seeing a number of citizens make it. Bummer, as we used to say; and not part of any productive solution to our challenges.

I'm not so sure we are capable of making sense out of everything in this moment, anyhow; some of it is absurd to the point of brain-freeze, and not nearly as tasty. It takes an increasingly light touch to get through the day and a suspension of the myriad judgments we used to make when we thought we knew what we were about. I'm not suggesting that we let go of that thread of rationality that binds us all in common purpose; I'm proposing that those of us who have already taken the lay-line of this new landscape stop agonizing over the map and have a bit of confidence that we're on the right track. Shift is sweeping us all along, the astrology is opening doors to vaster consciousness and the collective spiritual intention has put all of humankind on a remarkable journey; those of us who will come out on the other side of the tunnel with a smile on our face are those who cultivate one now. Indeed, our choice of optimism, hope and humor is our protection and safety net.

Do you need something to tickle your funny bone? I've heard it said, and rightly, that laughter is an orgasm triggered by the intercourse of sense and nonsense. As the world is lush with nonsense at the moment -- what can be said of a political climate that has prompted many news articles to come with this disclaimer: this is NOT an Onion article -- it shouldn't be difficult to spot an opportunity to lighten up. For whimsy, how about Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) showing up on Jay Leno's new nightly spot to show off his Abstinence Ring? For cutesy, take a peek at this collection of Green commercials. For farce, consider the oh-so-serious lecture given by an aide to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn at the recent Values Voter Summit, that proclaimed Playboy magazine a recruitment aid for homosexuality. For satire, the faux-ad done by Will Ferrell and others -- Hollywood speaks out to help insurance companies -- has been picked up by MoveOn and spread around the nation. This last proves the wisdom of Francoise Sagan's notion that, "One can never speak enough of the virtues, the dangers, the power of shared laughter."

Humor itself takes many forms and the science of making another laugh is so inexact that documentaries have been made of comedians' opinions, looking for the common thread. One theory expounds that humor occurs when the brain recognizes a pattern that surprises it, and that recognition of this sort is rewarded with spontaneous laughter. Perhaps, as Quincy Jones puts it, "... a big laugh is a really loud noise from the soul saying, 'Ain't that the truth?'" We humans were created with a jiggler such as you'll find on a pressure cooker; a way for excess emotion to escape before we blow. Sometimes that looks like tears, sometimes laughter -- occasionally both. Laughter, like tears, hiccups and childbirth, is naturally occurring and irresistible, centering our consciousness firmly in the moment and giving us respite from the spinning gears of thought-process.

"Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects," said Arnold Glasow; it's part of our human survival kit as a gift from our Creator. A good laugh massages our internal organs, peps up our immune system and brightens our attitude; it just feels good. It's also an infection we're glad to share with others. I'm sure you've had an attack of the sillies from time to time that slapped a smile on someone else's face, leading to an eventual wealth of shared giggles; or, in the words of one Mary H. Waldrip, "A laugh is a smile that bursts." When you give a good laugh away like that, you're right in the Divine flow. Laughter, they say, is the language of the Angels and of that, I have no doubt.

Last week we talked about our innate ability to discern truth from untruth; our response to discovered truth takes a bit of a curve, however, especially if we've been asleep a long while. Gloria Steinem said it best: "The truth will set you free, but first it's really going to piss you off!" After 8 years of being ignored by a government configured to substitute propaganda for truth, most of us are past that now. It takes way too much personal juice to stay in a fury for long; our adrenal glands go into exhaustion and our immune system opens the gates to woeful intruders. So while some progressives may be dissatisfied with the slow ascent of progress, most of us are comforted that at least we are, by all measures, moving along. Not so for those of the opposition party; all of a sudden they're no longer laughing -- they're pissed off.

While racial tension is certainly part of their disenchantment, recognized or un, those who describe themselves as Tea Baggers (and do have a giggle at that ill-advised moniker) have a whole laundry list of outrages that they're wrestling, from taxpayers' money spent to prop up the Capitalist system they so adore, to supposed government intrusion in their lives and wallets. This crowd is faintly Libertarian, although it is so mixed a bag that I think we'll find much of their hysterics are amplified by the mythologies of the End Times. While 2012 seems to us an exciting and challenging period of renewed possibility and a leap of consciousness, to them it's curtains. Have a moment's empathy for their night terror -- in their fantasies, they'll have a better chance to meet their Maker 'victoriously' if they have a good Christian leading the country, a white one, and government out of their Social Security and Medicare [sic]. They want their warriors on the trail of heathens, their patriotism pinned on their lapel and their children's heads bowed for a moment's prayer before the big game. They want infrastructure, roads, schools, police forces and fire stations fixed without their tax contributions and they want godless, hippy, Liberal Socialists assigned to hellfire where they belong. Sadly, nothing we say means anything to them; we need a different language to bridge the gap of this dangerous polarization. Perhaps the words of Alan Alda, hearkening back a few years, is pertinent: "When people are laughing, they're generally not killing each other."

Larry Gelbart died last week; if you've forgotten, he was the man who gifted us with 11 years of weekly must-see TV. He gave us M*A*S*H... put words in the mouths of Hawkeye and Trapper John and Hot Lips, gave Radar a psychic sense, a teddy bear and a childlike heart ... and changed our perception of war. Larry was a clever and thoughtful quipster who came up, as a bright teen, in the humor tradition by writing for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows; over the course of his long career, he never stopped using that talent to illuminate the deeper levels of life by poking it with a stick. He was part of the generational talent pool that gave us Norman Lear, able to chide our moral absolutism with the likes of Archie Bunker; and spinning off entertaining but thought-provoking offerings like Maude, The Jeffersons and Good Times. Gelbart was long admired and his creativity extolled; Alan Alda speaks to his passing in this short remembrance.

Flashing back to those similarly polarized years in the early 70s, you'll recall that one night a week the generations eagerly gathered around the television in anticipation; it was an event that brought us all together to sift through the concepts that prodded our conscience, the humor in it masking the importance of it. Even as Vietnam was a constant dirge in our news and minds, M*A*S*H showed us the ruthless, calculated truth of war by taking us back in time to the Korean conflict. Gelbart bypassed controversy about 'Nam by scripting from a historical conflict nobody cared much about, many didn't even remember -- an old police action that arrived too soon after the Big War to grow into much more than an asterisk in our exhausted psyches.

Korea seemed an improbable backdrop for a brilliant sitcom, and wearing sheep's clothing, the wolf in Gelbart drew an audience across the political spectrum and illuminated the sorrow, suffering and sacrifice of all who participate in war, no matter the cause. M*A*S*H was an anti-war statement, howling with irreverent and dark humor, punctuated by human doubt and framed as a counterpoint to the lockstep of the military mind. It was as if someone had managed to make a wildly popular musical/comedy out of General Smedley Butler's hard-edged assertions that war is a racket.

Gelbart was a life-long Liberal, as is Lear, of course -- you can't be funny unless you have a progressive state of mind. I know that sounds biased, but time has proven it true. Conservatives have an atrophied funny bone; perhaps it's from running so hard to keep everything as is, preventing them from taking regular sabbaticals into silliness or whimsy or flights of fancy. Remember when FOX News tried to duplicate Jon Stewart's Daily Show success by giving us an hour of stand-up with Coulter and Limbaugh? Fell flat and lasted about two weeks; that's because Republicans are wired to think demeaning persons and groups is funny and the show was unable to draw an audience larger than the base, who were watching anyway.

Remember when Saturday Night Live's Norm McDonald was a funny guy? After 9/11, he became something else and you can find him over at FOX News these days, his old cut-ups now more an angry cut 'n slash routine, popular with those who think in black/white terms. Real humor thrives in the gray areas, the situational serendipities, inviting us to laugh at ourselves -- not one another. If you need to figure out where a group of new friends stand socio-politically, invite them over for a showing of Mel Brooks' classic satire, Blazing Saddles. WHERE your new friends laugh ... too heavy on the Slim Pickens, for instance ... will tell you everything you need to know.

Here's the secret -- to finding humor, as well as everything else. You have to court it, like a lover. You have to want it to find it. Want to laugh? Find the laughable. Want to love? Ditto loveable. Peace? The same. We will find what we pursue with determination. We think these things happen spontaneously like lightning bolts from the blue but that's never true. Laughter is within us, much as is every other human experience; we bring it forth ourselves. Jon Stewart won a 7th Emmy this year for his Daily Show; I read a recent harangue from someone who said the writing was great but they were tired of Jon's mugging. Au contraire! Without Stewart's 'everyman' persona ... his Liberal humanness ... to react to the disconnected bits he presents, we wouldn't have the whole of the fascinating, hilarious picture. It's the surprise our brain isn't looking for that sets off Divine laughter.

Humor reveals. I change the signature on my e-mail from time to time; this is the bit of snark I'm using now: "Oh my god! I'll have to give up my $1,100 a month insurance bill, which only pays 80% of my insurance costs AFTER I pay the initial $5,000 of those costs! If that ain't Joe Stalin all over again, I don't know what is!" Like a good political cartoon, there's nothing else to say. Humor defines, it defuses -- when in doubt, use it. Don't laugh at anyone, laugh with them. Life, and epecially this amazing moment of chaos, is a Divine Comedy, yes? A big cosmic rumble full of comedians and court jesters that we're making up to amuse and inform ourselves. Unless we accept that supposition, we will have lost the ability to take ourselves Lightly.

Even as we make our way through these days of change, aware that our future is significant in its social transformation and political reconfiguration, we will not hurry the cause of evolvement if we bicker and fight; we only solidify any energy we pit ourselves against. Our president has made an art form of this kind of side-stepping civility, one that has many of the old Liberal war horses snorting with indignation. In Obama's recent appearance on Letterman, the first of a sitting president on a late night talk show, he was asked about the allegations of racial bias marking his healthcare proposition and quipped, "I think it's important to realize that I was actually black before the election."

He might have said anything -- instead, he made us laugh. Is that a cop-out? Or something organic to the good of the whole? We are each the authors of our intentions, aren't we? Is the High Road less effective than the lower one that diminishes us all, even if it's the one we know best? We choose to move ahead in our lives as spiritual creatures, focused on those skills; we make conscious choices of how to respond based on our highest expectations of good. In this, our personal and collective play, where all the actors have charge of their roles, the stage direction for a successful Shift ... and conscious choice ... seems clear to me. Enter, stage Left, laughing -- the Angels will approve.

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