What makes you laugh?
Many things. Books, films, stories, people, memories.
What makes you laugh?
Many things. Books, films, stories, people, memories.
On November 3, I joined women across the United States in wearing pearls to honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I admired, and admire, the Justice for her intellect and her dedication to extending the rights guaranteed under the Constitution to people who had been denied them.
I was happy about the pearls, a gift from my husband, because I don’t often wear them. Sheltering in place has shrunk my social life. I could wear them to medical appointments but am afraid they’d get in the nurses’ way.
Before I posted my photo on Facebook, I cropped out my face. Then I thought, Justice Ginsburg didn’t crop her pictures. So I published the whole thing.
I have little vanity left anyway. I went around bald during chemo, and recently I became desperate enough for a haircut to submit myself to David’s new clippers, which have two settings, extra-short and scalp-showing-in-places. I chose extra-short. My hair has grown a lot since then. I look forward to the day when I no longer look so much like Hercule Poirot.
Yesterday I had a scare: a throbbing headache above my right ear. I haven’t had any headaches at all since the migraine that sent me to the emergency room in 2000. That was the best migraine I ever had. They knocked me out for forty minutes and when I woke up I felt great. All those years of twenty-four-hour migraines, and I could have gone to the ER and had them zapped.
But I digress. Last year, when I was having some problems with balance, the oncologist mentioned the possibility that cancer had made it to my brain. So when yesterday’s headache suddenly blossomed, throbbed, in just that one spot above my ear, I had a choice: to report it at my appointment in December, or to call the triage nurse immediately. David called. I described the symptoms. The nurse told me to stay near the phone for a call back.
Waiting, I dredged up all the no-big-deal causes I could think of: I spend most of my time reading and writing, and I really, really need new glasses; I’d skipped lunch and was very hungry; it was the day after the presidential election. . . .
Within fifteen minutes the doctor’s nurse called and asked for details.
I recited my history of headaches, my current symptoms, and my emotional state.
In one way, it was like the Friday afternoon at 4:48, a couple of years ago, when I touched my neck and felt a lump, and panicked, and called the nurse, and she said to come in Monday morning . . . and then on Sunday night I realized the lump was part of my new port. They’d removed the malfunctioning one on the left and installed a new one on the right, and a right port sometimes feels different from a left port . . .
So on Monday morning I told the nurse practitioner I was there on false pretenses but refused to feel silly about coming in. She confirmed the false pretenses and said, “Never feel silly about calling when you suspect something’s wrong.”
Yesterday’s experience wasn’t so pleasant. Before the nurse called, I had figured out the reason for headache. I knew I had to disclose everything, and I did, but this time I felt silly. No, not silly. Mortified.
“The headache was caused by . . . I was wearing a tiara.”
The string of pearls had made me feel so dressed up, so elegant, that the next day I celebrated the democratic process by wearing my tiara. It’s a little tight. On each side, there’s a comb whose teeth–emphasis on teeth–slide into the hair to keep the tiara in place. If the wearer has no hair, they pierce the scalp.
Hearing the full story, the nurse, instead of saying, “Never feel silly about calling,” said, “Hahahahahahahahaha.”
“So I took it off a few minutes ago and the headache went away.”
When she caught her breath, she said she was glad I felt better. “Hahahahahahahahaha.”
We hung up. I spent the next half-hour imagining her repeating our conversation to the doctor.
But then I remembered Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Would she be mortified ? Would she run out and find a new doctor?
Not on your tintype.
So neither will I. In December, I will don my tiara, ignore the excruciating pain, march into the doctor’s office, and show him those teeth.
Ever since I told him I can’t sleep because when I go to bed the voices in my head start talking–I meant my characters–he’s thought I’m a little crazy.
I might as well let him think I’ve gone completely around the bend.
And if he says, “Hahahahahahahahaha”–that’s good medicine.
Someday I’ll explain why I have a tiara.
Portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Simmie Knox, under commission of the United States Supreme Court, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In the early 1970s, I watched the British series Upstairs, Downstairs—the original, which was called the best depiction of the effects of World War I on the upper and lower classes that had been produced up to that time.
In one episode, James Bellamy’s wife, Hazel, contracts the Spanish flu. A brief synopsis of the next episode, published in the TV section of the newspaper, said James and Hazel would leave London for a quieter life in the countryside. At the end of the show, however, Hazel dies.
I cried for a half-hour. Maybe the shock value was worth it to the producers, but I felt betrayed by the false publicity.
That was my introduction to pandemics. At that point, I was protected by both a television screen and time.
A hundred years later, the world faces another pandemic. Experts said ten, twenty years ago that we were overdue for it. There’s no vaccine. We’re told to wash our hands, disinfect surfaces, and avoid contact with other people.
But we see from the experience of other countries that personal measures alone aren’t sufficient; governments have to take action. The U.S. lags far behind in attempts to delay the spread of infection.
What to do? Keep Calm and Carry On. Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands.
One psychologist says—I wish I could remember who and where I read it—that instead of Keeping Calm, we should feel some fear, because fear can prompt action, such as admitting the gravity of the situation and acting on the advice of medical experts.
And if you’re elderly, recognizing their advice as a warning.
My husband and I are elderly—I don’t know when that happened, but the experts say we are—so we have soup, tuna fish, TV dinners (for junior citizens, frozen entrees), canned everything, frozen fruit and vegetables, orange and cranberry juice, and other non-perishables in the pantry for self- or government-mandated quarantine. And Cheetos, of course.
We’ve also stocked up on medications and other necessities.
We’re not hoarding. We’d have trouble if we tried: David, the shopper, says shelves normally housing toilet paper and hand sanitizer are empty.
We canceled a trip to Florida. We’ve reduced—practically ceased—our out-and-about. I’m sorry about Florida, but we can reschedule. I’ll hardly notice the out-and-about; it’s not like I get out much anyway (lazy). Maybe I’ll finish that eternally-budding novel.
There is a certain irony in being more concerned about a contagious disease than about cancer. The cancer belongs to me alone; I continue treatments; I’m in remission; I don’t worry about my husband contracting it; I can be in a crowd without catching or transmitting it. At some point it will recur, but I don’t often think about it. Uncertainty exists, but within limits.
With this virus, uncertainty has no boundaries, for any of us. It’s everywhere.
But about fear: We need to smile, too. It’s good for the immune system.
Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist in Los Angeles, says that smiling has been shown “over and over again” that happiness boosts the body’s resistance.
“What’s crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity,” says Dr. Grossan. “When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.”
In a sense, the brain is a sucker for a grin. It doesn’t bother to sort out whether you’re smiling because you’re genuinely joyous, or because you’re just pretending.
“Even forcing a fake smile can legitimately reduce stress and lower your heart rate,” adds Dr. Sivan Finkel, a cosmetic dentist at NYC’s The Dental Parlour. “A study performed by a group at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who could not frown due to botox injections were happier on average than those who could frown.”
And there are plenty more studies out there to make you smile (or at least, serve as reference for why you should).
And then there’s laughter. From WebMD’s “Give Your Body a Boost—With Laughter”:
Immune response. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response. . . . Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells, as well.
When I was in chemotherapy, I tried to maintain a smile (a beatific one I like to think). That may be one reason I’ve done better than my oncologist predicted. It at least seemed to make him feel better. My radiation oncologist appears genetically programmed to smile. She made me feel better.
Anyway, I take the advice of these experts as seriously as I do the epidemiologists’: We’re washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, stocking up, staying out of crowds, and laughing as much as we can.
For anyone too young to remember, Pogo was a comic strip by Walt Kelly, featuring a possum and his friends, who lived in the Okefenokee Swamp. Children enjoyed the animals and their adventures; adults enjoyed the“layers of political satire.”
To see why Pogo said the enemy is us, click here. The strip ran on Earth Day in 1971.
I should say the first two screenings.
David’s video was scheduled to run at 7:00 p.m. However, due to the enthusiasm of the folks operating the projector, it began at 6:47, right after the Doc Bloc had finished.
Most of the audience had left the theater for the break, so very few saw “Invisible Men.” Just in time, however, the manager appeared and announced the mistake. And “Invisible Men” ran again at the official time.
Now about the unqualified success: The audience laughed. Those who saw it the first time returned after the break telling others, “It’s about a space ship and aliens and cats.” Then they watched and laughed again. So did newcomers.
I don’t know what David learned from the experience, but here’s what I took away from it: When making videos, cast cats in starring roles. Viewers laugh at cats, even when said cats do nothing but lie around being cats.
Viewers laughed at David’s script, too. One line in particular drew a roar. It elicited the same response during a showing for friends in our living room.
The laughter of friends is good.
But when strangers laugh, you know you’ve done something right.
And if David doesn’t know that, something is radically wrong. Because Mrs. Producer Davis has informed him of the fact at least ten times this evening alone.