I know I need all the help I can get in my quest to release control while keeping a tight grip on hope. Have you forgotten the power of laughter? Author Rae Ellen Lee provides a heartfelt reminder in this beautiful post.
While riding the subway in New York City a few years ago, I smiled every time the male computer voice sang out Stand clear of the closing door. Seemed downright ingenious, as mantras go. I mean, things can slam shut on you real damn fast. But if you’re mindful, you can stand clear, at least metaphorically. To me, that meant not shriveling up and losing hope, or letting my hair turn gray overnight, when life sends you an ambush.
Soon after this trip, my husband of 10 years realized he might really be a she. Was this a door closing? I chose to believe it was a passing fancy. I gifted him with a manicure, the kind men get, and let him sleep in my black half-slip. He frequented eBay, and packages began arriving, soon almost daily, containing pastel clothing with ruffles or lace, the kind I didn’t wear.
At the time we were crazy-busy with our business but I wrote every morning and night in my journal – a fair amount of neurotica, mind you, but also details of all the weird and funny moments, too. Part of me felt grateful, because aren’t we, as writers, required by cosmic law to celebrate when the unimaginable happens? And aren’t problems life lessons we can learn from? My brilliant and funny husband and I had always made fun of life. Here, now, was a new and strange opportunity for mirth.
But friends began counseling me. “How can you laugh at a time like this?” One of them even told me that if her husband wanted to become a woman, she’d take him out in a rowboat and knock him in the head. Police would find his body washed ashore. And she wasn’t kidding.
It was a bizarre time. But before moving to St. John we’d lived on a sailboat, and that, too, was weird. During our near-death sailing experiences, I cussed a lot and jotted notes in my journal. I thought, If I survive this, I’ll use this material to write a funny book. And I did.
I had chosen to marry this person, and in spite of our differences, we’d grown very close. I’d even chosen, reluctantly, to move with him to the sailboat. And when his gender dysphoria made an appearance, I had a new choice to make. Would I act like I’d stepped in something? Poor me; not again. Or would I try to understand my husband’s second-self, this other woman who had arrived uninvited? After all, this seemed like a good time to remember the Golden Rule. Thou shalt not be pissy.
The situation was painful for him to go through. But we continued to laugh and cry about things that happened, as if we were watching a sit-com together. And I kept writing in my journal. I also underwent counseling, hypnotherapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. I practiced ho’oponopono, an ancient Hawaiian method of forgiveness and healing that actually works. I flirted with the law of attraction. I tried to take care of myself. I even scheduled a colonoscopy.
Don’t get me wrong. I never once thought Tom’s gender identity crisis was the best thing that ever happened to me. I also never thought it was the worst. I’d been in and out of lots of scrapes. I knew by then, of course, that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control what we do with it. Then, too, my father, a geezer of some renown in northern Idaho, had a terrific sense of humor. I’d grown up hearing him tell stories about his life, sound-bites that documented much of the 20th century. He laughed at his own foolishness and at his hardscrabble childhood in the Midwest. Call it using humor as medication.
And why not practice grace? How could that possibly make the situation worse? As William Zinsser says in How to Write a Memoir, “Call on the best of your character. Be ready to be surprised by grace.” So stand clear of the closing door. When things go wrong, look for the funny side and write down all the details you can. Then mine your journal to craft a story. Share it with others. Have the last laugh.
I know many others have chosen humor to soften life events. How have you used your wit and sense of the absurd to help you through a life-changing event?
Rae Ellen Lee is the author of two humorous memoirs, I Only Cuss When I’m Sailing and its sequel, My Next Husband Will Be Normal. She also captured her dad’s stories in Powder Monkey Tales. Her novel, The Bluebird House, is set in and around an old Montana mining brothel she renovated and lived in. All books are available in e-book format or print through her website www.raeellenlee.com, from online booksellers, or can be ordered from bookstores at no additional cost. Be sure to follow Rae on twitter @RaeEllenLee!