Meeting

Children can get tired of being told what to do pretty quickly. The novelty of being human wears off, and while there’s still a lot they don’t know about the world that all of the adults around them know, they’d rather learn about it in their own time and by the route of their own curiosity. This is why a parent’s jokes can often fall flat. It is easy as a parent to become so preoccupied with your child’s well being that even jokes become a form of care-taking, delivered like chicken soup to raise their poor little spirits.

I am happy to report that my boys laugh at a lot (though by no means all) of my jokes, and I believe this is because I never try to make them laugh. Instead, I make myself laugh and look for crossover. It’s an important distinction. I know my boys are fierce about wanting to make up their own minds, which means they must be given full permission not to laugh. The only way to give that permission is to not care whether they find it funny, only whether I find it funny.

Of course I do want them to laugh, and so this is why I look for crossover. I notice the type of humor we both find funny and aim for it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way I’m still laughing, sometimes to their annoyance. I married my wife because there was so much crossover. That crossover is where we really meet, usually in love, sometimes in frustration.

I’m looking for this same meeting with my readers, but I do not have the luxury of observing their reactions. Moreover, I do not want to. The page must be as open to my full curiosity as my own mind. It is the only way to meet myself, without any requirements or expectations, and when that meeting occurs I believe I have given my readers the best opportunity to find themselves.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Meeting

Children can get tired of being told what to do pretty quickly. The novelty of being human wears off, and while there’s still a lot they don’t know about the world that all of the adults around them know, they’d rather learn about it in their own time and by the route of their own curiosity. This is why a parent’s jokes can often fall flat. It is easy as a parent to become so preoccupied with your child’s wellbeing that even jokes become a form of caretaking, delivered like chicken soup to raise their poor little spirits.

I am happy to report that my boys laugh at a lot (though by no means all) of my jokes, and I believe this is because I never try to make them laugh. Instead, I make myself laugh and look for crossover. It’s an important distinction. I know my boys are fierce about wanting to make up their own minds, which means they must be given full permission not to laugh. The only way to give that permission is to not care whether they find it funny, only whether I find it funny.

Of course I do want them to laugh, and so this is why I look for crossover. I notice the type of humor we both find funny and aim for it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way I’m still laughing, sometimes to their annoyance. I married my wife because there was so much crossover. That crossover is where we really meet, usually in love, sometimes in frustration.

I’m looking for this same meeting with my readers, but I do not have the luxury of observing their reactions. Moreover, I do not want to. The page must be as open to my full curiosity as my own mind. It is the only way to meet myself, without any requirements or expectations, and when that meeting occurs I believe I have given my readers the best opportunity to find themselves.

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Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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The Full Story

My youngest son loves comedy. Unfortunately, a lot of the comedy he seems to like is aimed at an audience a few years older than himself, and so many of the jokes sail over his head. He laughs anyway, because he likes to laugh with the crowd, and then asks, “Why is that funny?”

Of course, it is impossible to explain a joke in such a way to make it funny to the person who did not get it when it was first told. This person might understand intellectually why it was funny, but they have missed their chance to laugh because the true humor in all jokes lies in what is not said, what the audience fills in. Consider:

A blonde, a brunette, and a redhead walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What is this? Some kind of joke?”

If you have to explain that many jokes begin this way it is no longer funny. We make it funny by finishing the joke. Stories are like this too. In high school, and even college, we are often asked to delve into the “theme” of a famous book or story. The theme is what the story is “about.” But trying to describe after the fact what any story, especially a story with a few layers to it, is about is much the same as trying to explain why a joke is funny. You will always fall short.

The very best stories are always about the fullness of life. And so while one story’s theme might be summed up as “Love Thyself,” this does not begin to encompass what is required to love thyself, the combination of surrender and acceptance and joy and perhaps even some sorrow. The reason the story was written is because simply saying “Love Thyself” isn’t enough. Within the empty spaces of the story, those spaces the writer leaves for the reader’s own imagination, the fullness of life is felt, and only then is the book and the story in all it was meant to be understood.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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No Longer a Writer, Now an Eraser

I would like to welcome Allen Klein to Author’s blog. Take it away, Allen!

While writing my first book, The Healing Power of Humor, I purchased a new computer program.  One morning, after typing for two hours, I accidentally pressed the wrong combination of keys.  Instantly everything I had written was erased.

Just then the phone rang.  It was a friend inquiring about how my writing was going.

“Not so great,” I said.

“What’s wrong?” she inquired.

“I’m no longer a writer.”

“No longer a writer?” she questioned.

“No,” I replied.  “I’m now an eraser!”

In spite of my trying to make light of the situation it was painful losing some good writing but perhaps not as painful as being rejected by eleven publishers when I was trying to get my book published.

And certainly not as painful as having to rewrite most of the book after my first editor left the company and I was assigned another editor who had a different “vision” of the book.

Or the mental anguish I went through when I was told that the title had to be changed in spite of my first editor admonishing me to “never change” what she called a best-selling title— Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying.

So how did I have the motivation to continue writing when being bombarded with so many setbacks from so many directions?

I was able to do it because I knew that my words would make a difference in the lives of those who read my book. I knew that the story of my how my wife used humor to deal with her terminal illness would help others deal with their loss. I also knew that if I could write just one page a day, no matter how many setbacks or rewrites I encountered, eventually the book would be done.

And it was.

And it is making a difference. The Healing Power of Humor is now in nine languages and a thirty-sixth printing in this country. The feedback I get from those who have read it is heartwarming. One of my favorite pieces of fan mail, for example, came from a woman who wrote:

Dear Mr. Klein,

I want to tell you about an incident that happened to me after reading your book.

I had to take a trip I did not want to take.  I was grumpy about it and became more upset, as the days got closer to my leaving. So, as you suggest in your book, I decided that I would turn my negativity around.

I went to my local thrift shop and got the baggiest brightest pair of pants I could find, some red suspenders and a big polka-dotted shirt. Then I bought an inexpensive multi-colored wig and a red clown nose.

The day of the trip that I was regretting turned into one of the best days of my life.  When I got to the airport in my clown outfit, some kids came over and asked for my autograph.  One man was convinced that he had seen me recently in the Ringling Brothers circus.  But best of all, when they announced the boarding of my flight, they said, “We are going to begin pre-boarding only.  Those needing a little extra time, families with children and clowns may go first.”

Postscript:  Did the challenges I faced writing my first book keep me from writing others? No way. My 17th book, with the original title of my first book, Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying, was published earlier this year.

Allen Klein, a Certified Speaking Professional, is an award-winning speaker and author. www.allenklein.com, humor@allenklein.com.

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All Right

I’ve been on a Monty Python jag of late. It began when I discovered, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut), a six-part documentary about the comedy troupe’s life and work. Being such a process junky, it was a treat listening to the Pythons discuss how they arrived at the concept for a style of comedy the Oxford English Dictionary now defines as Pythonesque.

The main innovation, it turns out, was to use “only the good stuff.” That is, once they were out of funny things to say in a given idea, the writers would simply end it, without burdening the sketch with some creaky punch line. Thus all the collage animation, which were used for transitions, as well as the iconic, “And now for something completely different.”

One of the beauties of humor is that a laugh is a kind of beginning and end by itself. Humor inserted into a conversation that gets a good laugh has done its job, unlike an idea (school children should be made to wear uniforms) which requires exploration and explanation and then, preferably, a conclusion. A good joke contains within it an emotional completeness.

Stories can sometimes be viewed as a joke. The storyteller provides the needed information through the beginning and middle so that the end has its desired emotional conclusion. I know why the Pythons avoided endings to their sketches. True endings are the hardest parts of any story; true endings are where you must decide why it is you’ve taken your audience on this journey.

My own philosophy is this: how can I show that everything is all right? If that sounds overly simple, good. That’s exactly the point. But of course it is not so simple. Stories by necessity complicate things; stories by necessity put characters in situations that seem empirically not all right. The challenge then for the author is the same of any person in their daily life, to step back from the grisly details, to not complain, and to gain the broadest perspective possible.

I usually don’t have a definite idea of how to end my stories, only the abiding belief that everything is all right. For me, this is enough. It will only not be enough when my belief in the all rightness of things wavers. The gift to me in writing a true ending is being called back to my most authentic self, the only part of me I wish to share, the part that always reminds me that I am going to be all right.

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The Jungle

I interviewed Mary Guterson last week, having been warned ahead of time that she was quite funny. The warnings were accurate. After the camera stopped rolling Mary confessed to me that it had taken her about ten years to find her voice. How odd, I thought, because as soon as I met her I found that she sounded exactly like her books, which is to say, yes, she was funny and then some, but also capable of saying anything at anytime. Her internal editor, it seemed, had been downsized long ago.

This habit, she admitted to me, had gotten her fired more than once, but what made her somewhat of a liability as an employee helped her eventually with her writing—better for a novelist to have too much to say than not enough. Yet if I had had to guess, I would not have thought someone like Mary would need ten years to find her voice. She was such an irrepressible talker, surely her voice merely spilled onto the page when she summoned it.

No. And it was precisely her humor that had gotten in her way. That is, she’s a smart woman, she’s a reflective woman, and so she naturally wanted to be taken seriously by other smart, reflective people. As luck would have it, who she is eventually won out over who she thought she should be, and the world is only a better place for it.

Mary’s story is hardly an unusual one, and not just because she wanted to be taken seriously. Rather, it was that she wandered for ten years in some literary jungle only to wind up more or less where she started. This is so often the journey of the writer. You look down at what you have and think, “This will never do,” and so off you go to find something better. If you are lucky, all the classes and books and seminars and writing groups and rough drafts will teach you that what you’ve always needed, you’ve always had. What we call skill and craft are merely tools and tricks to point you toward yourself, and all that we call bad writing is just some debris that’s accumulated between where you’ve drifted and where your self stands waiting for your return.

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