Why is that funny? and why le rire (laughter) est important

Impropriety is the soul of wit.

– W. Somerset Maugham

I always thought it was brevity…at least, that’s the saying in our house. But this version put a new twist on how to be witty, something I like my literary characters* to be, even if when I’m not.



W. Somerset Maugham

William Shakespeare

We all know that humor is important in life: Laughing makes us happy, and even provides health benefits. Being quick-witted is admired, though we don’t have to be quick  – or really smart – to be witty, or witty, to be smart. But looking for humor in life (and finding it) seems necessary and very important. Through it, “joy happens,” I dare say.

Inside jokes aside, I like laughing about things that others laugh about, and I don’t find it fun to laugh at another’s expense. Maybe because I’m a mom, sarcasm is out, too. I prefer the positive side of humor, not the negative. I love it when something unexpected and silly – maybe just a phrase or a word – makes me laugh uncontrollably (and may even bring tears)..and I love it when others join in. Typically, after several minutes – afraid that I’m going off the deep end – one of my kids brings me back to reality (“Okay, Mom, it’s not that funny.”)

So – why is “that” funny? Different people might have different views: some like slapstick humor, and some prefer the sophisticated kind. But there’s a lot in between. Take Carol Burnett, my favorite comedienne: watching her television show in the 1970s, I knew I would always find her funny, and some synonyms of the word “impropriety” remind me of her humor (goof, gaffe, inelegance and faux pas).

When I started dating (later),  if a guy couldn’t make me laugh, I couldn’t stay interested. It wasn’t that he had to crack jokes or never be serious. But he had to not take himself (or life) too seriously – especially since I had have a tendency to do so. Eventually, I found a partner whose sense of humor was the one for me, and it’s been a vital part of our relationship: I don’t know how we could have gotten this far in life together, without it. Fortunately, he doesn’t need me to make him laugh (though I do, at times, which is a bonus), but he still likes to make me laugh.

And usually without too much impropriety…

* for example, Lisa, one of Jenny’s roommates in my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX.

What would Julia do? Faire la cuisine française

Anyone can cook, with butter.

– Anonymous

My husband and I heard that offhand comment a few years ago at a fête — and a new (ironic) family motto was born.

Because, not anyone (such as, well, me) can cook, even with butter — an ingredient that my husband doesn’t fear.* En fait, because he enjoys faire la cuisine (and since I don’t know how), he does the cooking in our home, toujours — every day — an arrangement that works for us, and one that’s never changed. 

(If he doesn’t feel like cooking, we order a pizza, eat leftovers, or go out.)

As you might imagine, some of our his favorite recipes are found in cookbooks written by Julia Child.

If I were Julia Child

So, whenever he tries a new and complicated recipe (which is often) — if it calls for butter (which is quite often) — someone in our family might remark to him that, well, “anyone” can cook with it.

Then, he laughs…and concocts something délicieux. 

I blame my inability to cook on my family growing up: my father did the cooking, so I thought that was normal. Evidemment, it was one of the qualities I looked for in a husband. That, and a sense of humor, patience, and optimism, among others.

But from what I’ve observed, cooking almost requires those three — at a minimum.

In my soon-to-be-available novel, the main character, Jenny, is a girl in college, and in one of my favorite scenes, her date cooks dinner for the two of them at his apartment. I’m not saying whether butter is involved, but wine is — c’est certain. But c’est la France, so c’est necessaire. The evening is a memorable one, but not because of the food. I won’t describe it further here, except in these words: guitar, bathroom, and (full) disclosure.

Jenny has her own list of qualities that the ideal man should possess, and I’m not sure they match my own. Let’s just say, she’s open to persuasion.

I don’t know what Julia would do. But – what will Jenny do? Il faut acheter le roman! (You have to buy the book!)



Le verre est a moitié vide

I’m a glass-half-empty person, so no wonder I like the French.

France is a nation of pessimists, deux amies françaises averred to me this week. I asked both of them (who don’t know each other) just after I read the recent NYT piece by Jane E. Brody, A Richer Life by Seeing the Glass Half Full.

My husband, however, is a glass-half-full person– not surprising, since in many cases, opposites attract. I’ve always admired his persistence and motivation, two qualities Brody says that optimists usually exhibit. He tackles problems with a focus on solutions, looks for the good in stressful situations, and believes that somehow, everything will work out. Over the years we’ve been together, some of his positive attitudes have rubbed off on me — but not all.

I’m not always “No-we-can’t,” but of the two of us, he’s the idealist and I’m the realist (and, being me, I don’t mean that I’m a realist in a good way). I’m a worrier and always have been. Unlike Brody, I haven’t fretted over the social, political and societal issues that I couldn’t do very much about. I have fretted about family issues that I could do little or nothing to solve, plus all those other things that I could change or fix. And yes, rather than looking on the bright side, I have focused on the worst that can happen.

After reading the article, though, I decided to evaluate whether I’ve evolved from my natural negative tendencies — whether I’ve fait de progrès. As my children grow into adulthood, I think I have, at least as a mom. As a writer, I believe that I have, as well. It’s still sometimes a struggle. I’m not always inspired, but I keep trying, keep writing and keep reading. Developing habits and a routine has helped, which I’ll explain in a future post. Watching and trying to emulate my husband’s work ethic and attitudes has helped a lot, and so has stepping back to focus and re-focus on my goals.

Can I change into a glass-half-full person? I’m working on it. Optimistically, I googled the phrase and discovered a new restaurant to try the next time I’m visiting Chapel Hill: Glasshalfull located in Carrboro, N.C., the town next door. What a nice surprise — and maybe a way to pursue that richer life.

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