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Stepdad Jeans

The concept of finding humor in devastation came up in one of my weekly therapy sessions — I laugh way more than I cry during therapy. It is something I do often as a coping mechanism to help me navigate through trauma and tragedy. For example, I laughed as I read my estranged mother’s “final letter.”

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My reaction of amusement to the letter was emotionally complex. Although I knew I would never forgive my mother for her repeated and predictable cruelty, I still had compassion and empathy for her (even though I know, “fuck that”).

But this made me want to better understand the complexities of humor.

For women and non-binary people to achieve mainstream success in comedy and humor, like in most industries, they have to follow the standards already defined and accepted by men. Stand-up comedy is typically masculine. It’s compassionate towards the self/ego and is humiliating, aggressive, deprecating, and/or violent towards others. It seeks self validation, is emotionally restrictive, and is told in two parts: setup and punchline. But not everyone feels comfortable or safe being the butt of a joke, so there must be room for a more compassionate style of comedy. And since compassionate traits like gentleness, empathy, humility, and sensitivity are socially and traditionally cited as feminine, this more compassionate style of comedy could also be considered feminine.

Laughing in response to a devastating situation reminded me of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette special. She sets the initial tone of the performance with an expected self-deprecating formula. She knows the audience is familiar and comfortable with this technique. From the very first line, the audience is easily laughing at her body, at her sexuality, and at her trauma. She uses this as a device to explain why this comedy style does not help tell her story properly:

“I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor… Do you understand what self-deprecating humor means for someone who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to seek permission to speak. And I simply will not do that anymore. Not to myself or anybody who identifies with me.”

Her passion was unexpected and I remember male critics either predictably rejecting the stand-up label for her performance or just not recognizing it to be genre-breaking. Probably because she was angry, which went against their standards for women in comedy:

“It’s not my place to be angry on a comedy stage. I’m meant to be doing self-deprecating humor. People feel safer when men do the angry comedy. They’re the kings of the genre. When I do it, I’m a miserable lesbian ruining all the fun and the banter. When men do it, heroes of free speech.”

Through rewatching Nanette, I was able to start a list to define feminine humor:

  • compassionate towards others

  • emotionally complex

  • expresses humility

  • validates the experiences of others

  • tells stories in three parts: beginning, middle, and end

I hope that more space can be carved out for the very valuable compassionate comedy that I am excited and eager to witness and experience.

 

You probably already know all about Sarah Winchester, the widow of a wealthy gun baron who spent nearly the last forty years of her life rebuilding and remodeling her house — staircases to nowhere, trap doors leading to eight foot drops — to ward off the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. She believed she was cursed by the spirits during the golden age of Spiritualism.

I have visited her mystery house before, but on my most recent visit, I realized that what others considered weird or unusual was probably just her method of coping and processing the heavy burden of her inherited wealth with violent roots. She had the privilege to withdraw from society into her invented world where she could exist as she pleased. She followed her impulses, like nightly séances at midnight locked in a room at the “heart of the house,” and stayed in her invented world until she died in her sleep in her 80s. (Note: the private company that owns her house now, opened it up to paying visitors only months after she died.)

She created her own space to exist in, and I admire that.

Here are the decorative glass windows of her grand ballroom inlaid with quotes from Shakespeare:

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I visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA for the first time and for some reason I felt compelled to write down all the non-male artists who were currently on exhibit even though the Gorilla Girls have been doing this for decades.

MOCA’s Permanent collection:

Louise Nevelson

Helen Levitt

Lynda Benglis

Senga Nengudi

Sherri Levine

Rosemarie Trockel

MOCA’s current exhibition (April 2019):

Alexis Smith

Barbara T. Smith

Brenna Youngblood

Rachel Harrison

Betye Saar

Sara Vanderbeek

Georgina Starr

Corita Kent

Julia Wachtel

 

I am working on a new personal project that led me to read every single Lana Del Rey lyric. She recently announced that she is going to start self publishing her own poetry books, which I am looking forward to.

She posted some of her new poetry on instagram. I like this one a lot:

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One of my inspirations for self publishing, besides the fact that I don’t reject myself, is Anaïs Nin. For most of her life, her work was ignored or mocked (Elizabeth Hardwick called her “vague, dreamy, mercilessly pretentious” and “a great bore”). Of the nine books of fiction she published in her lifetime, four were self-published.

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In the 1930s, she set up her own small press and taught herself how to typeset. She did most of the manual work herself to self-publish her third book, Winter of Artifice.

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“The writing is often improved by the fact that I live so many hours with a page that I am able to scrutinize it, to question the essential words. In writing, my only discipline has been to cut out the unessential. Typesetting is like film cutting. The discipline of typesetting and printing is good for the writer.”

 

Here is a draft of a new poem:

Stepdad Jeans

my stepdad
I forget which one
loved A1 steak sauce
another one rode a harley
for jesus
another liked speed boats
another liked horses
i am allergic to horses
they all liked beer
they all liked cowboy hats
and line dancing
does he have a mustache?
is he rich?
then we can
have all the toys
no one told me
about college tuition

thanks for reading

:0)
Cortney