You Gotta Laugh

I was out for a drive a couple of weeks ago with my grown daughter, just to get out of the house. We came to a red light on Cook Street, and along the boulevard across the street there was a big tree just covered in birds. Starlings, I think.

I said to my daughter “Bird meeting.” She immediately mimicked a bird, saying “I guess you all got my tweet!” I laughed so hard. She makes me giggle like nobody else. It was perfect comic relief.

It’s not something we get much of lately, but “comic relief” is a definitely something we need more of these days. It’s a relief to laugh, a release, even. For just a few moments, you forget everything else in the world. And in this dark time that we’re trying to get through, a little break from the doom and gloom is wonderful.

Babies usually start smiling and laughing at about 6 weeks old. There’s nothing more contagious than a baby’s laugh, or more satisfying than when we make them cackle. But where does that ability or instinct to laugh come from?

Because I’m always curious to know how we humans tick, I did a little research and discovered some interesting facts.

As it turns out, studies say that laughter is actually more about communicating and bonding than anything else. It isn’t the joke, it’s the interaction. Laughing together creates that bond, and helps us feel and become a part of the group. And in an uncomfortable situation, or in meeting someone new, sharing a laugh can make everyone a little more relaxed. We work better together when we can laugh together.

We are also more likely to laugh along with another person than we are to do it alone by ourselves, which is one of the reasons why laugh tracks on television sitcoms came into being. Psychologically speaking, laugh tracks and live audiences on TV make us feel like we’re sitting right there in the crowd, and we can’t help but chuckle along. It’s infectious.

If you are a fan of TV talk shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, have you noticed how different these shows are lately without their live audiences? Minus the energy and laughter of all those people, it really hasn’t been the same. The jokes and the banter don’t seem to be nearly as funny. I mean, there’s no doubt that it’s funny, but that silence right after the joke just makes it seem awkward.

In my LOL research, I found out to my amazement that rats can laugh! Theirs doesn’t sound quite like our giggles, of course, but they can be brought to laughter by tickling, and they also tend to hang around with other rats who laugh. I’ve seen them in groups before, but never realized the noises they were making might be laughter. That’s okay, as long as they’re not laughing at me.

I also discovered that women laugh 126% more than men do. I can vouch for that. When I golf with my girlfriends, we can literally make ourselves hysterical with laughter, but the male groups that are ahead of or behind us don’t seem to be nearly as amused. Lighten up guys. It’s just a game.

The physical effect of laughter releases endorphins, those “feel good” chemicals that relieve stress and pain, something you may be feeling a lot of these days. That’s why laughter is literally the best medicine. And why a smile is a curve that sets everything straight. There are at least a million idioms and quotes about laughter out there.

For instance, you might be a bundle of laughs, but you don’t want to be a laughing stock. You might laugh yourself silly, or laugh your head off, but you don’t want to kill yourself laughing!

There have been plenty of COVID jokes and memes out there too, of course. Like the new COVID Edition of Where’s Waldo.

Hint: he’s really easy to find.

And a sign I saw in the window of a book store lately: “Please note: The post-apocolyptical fiction section has been moved to Current Affairs.”

Well, you gotta laugh.


The Grand Re-Opening. Sort of…

I made the decision a couple of weeks ago that this would be my week to venture back into teaching guitar. I teach out of my home, so I pretty much had to decide for myself how things might be changed around to allow for the protocols that need to be in place now; physical distancing, keeping everything clean and disinfected, and signage to remind students of everything they needed to do, too.

When you’ve been doing things a certain way for 30 years, it takes a fair amount of brain function to change it up, but I think I’ve figured it out. I’m sure there are a lot of people, especially in smaller businesses, who are doing their best to wrap their heads around this new reality. We’re in different times.

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One of the first things I did was go to the WorkSafe BC website where they have a section called “Returning To Safe Operation” for businesses and facilities opening up, to know what protocols need to be in place. I downloaded some posters to use as signage, I marked out the proper spacing between myself and my students on the floor in the studio. I bought new music stands that are easier to clean, got cleaning supplies ready, and I worked out a plan for students to follow when they arrived back. I even recorded a video to send to them so they could see what changes I was making and would know what to do when they got here.

I emailed them all and sent a link to the video.

So far, so good.

About half of my students have returned, which is more or less what I expected. Some of them would have been in classes of 3 or more, and so far, that’s too many people to have together in my small studio yet. Maybe one day soon.

Some students are more nervous than others, or not ready to return for various reasons. I understand that. It’s been rough for a lot of us.

And some may never return. I’m prepared for that.

I’ve been rescheduling returning students with a little time in between each one so I can clean and disinfect between lessons.

So they come in the door, they sanitize their hands, they leave their guitar cases out in the waiting area, they bring their guitars and music into the studio, they tune on their own or with my help, and we begin to play. Then we start to smile a little as the music kind of lifts us up. We can’t help but share some of our stories in between songs. It’s a little like coming back to life.

I’ve been thinking about all the students, clients and customers that have been returning to different businesses this past week. The conversations they must be having, the laughs (behind face masks in some cases!), the getting back to something that almost feels normal. For small businesses like mine, our clients are not just our source of income, they sometimes become good friends. I’ve been teaching some of my students for 10 or 15 years.

These are relationships we’ve all been missing.

For those of you with small businesses or who are self-employed like me, I’m rootin’ for you. If we do everything as we’re told by those in charge, over time it’ll get better. Even if we have that dreaded second wave, I think we can anticipate what to do, and ride it out.

And thanks to my students who’ve done everything the way I asked them to.

Some of them even practiced a little 🙂


There Is Nothing To Fear – Or Is There?

I remember reading somewhere once that fear and excitement are the same feeling, just interpreted differently. At the time, I was trying to deal with something that had become more prevalent for me as time went on — performance anxiety.  I was a performing songwriter, out there trying to sell my CDs, and the only way to do that effectively at the time was to play live. But sometimes I would literally feel sick before a performance, my heart rate and blood pressure so high it’s a wonder I didn’t pass out.

Excitement my foot.

I tried to talk myself out of the fear, I tried many things over those years to lesson my anxiety, but eventually I gave up and stopped performing entirely.

The statics say that people are more afraid of public speaking than dying. I get that. And if you’ve ever been with someone who is having a panic attack, you’ll know that you can’t reason with them or try to rationalize their fear. In fact, trying to reason with them might even make it worse.

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But fear and anxiety are also one of the reasons we’ve succeeded as a species. I mean, if you’re not afraid of that wild boar staring you down like you’re his breakfast, you’re not going to last long.

There are plenty of people out there who do things that terrify me just to think about. Like jumping out of a plane with only a big piece of cloth to prevent them from smashing into the earth. On purpose. Or walking on a rope suspended a hundred feet up between two buildings with only a big stick to give them balance. Who in their right mind?

We might thrill to watch OTHER people do those terrifying things, and sometimes we might even be a little guilty of fantasizing about what would happen if they failed. And, of course, many of us  like to be scared poop-less by movies or haunted houses on Halloween. But there’s a knowing to all of that, a knowing that we’re safe and nothing bad is going to happen.

All of us at some point in our lives have experienced the “not knowing”, however. Not knowing if things are going to be okay. Maybe there was a bad accident or a job loss, or serious illness and you didn’t know how or if it was going to end. That’s not a very nice feeling. But that’s what we are experiencing as a global community right now. The Great Not Knowing.

Even if scientists and health authorities try to calm us with facts, figures and projections, that fear can just take us over at any moment and we can find ourselves in a panic. Sometimes, it’s our own fault. We read too many tweets about the pandemic, we follow the number of deaths as they rise around the world, we inundate ourselves with scary information. But fear can also pop up out of nowhere and with no rational explanation.

In BC this week, May 19th, we are beginning Phase 2 of our “restart” program. It’s a sign that we are doing the right things and keeping the virus at bay. The other morning on my walk, I saw a barber open for the first time in months, and a man sitting in the chair with a big smile on his face.  A coffee shop had little tables outside, spaced apart at an appropriate distance, for the first time in months. For some it’s going to be a great relief to see things come a little closer to “normal”, for others it’s going to up their level of anxiety.

We have to trust our Federal and Provincial governments and people like Dr. Henry (isn’t she wonderful?) to carefully lead us through this pandemic and bring us out of it relatively unscathed. So far, they’ve done a fabulous job. One day there will be a vaccine available to us, but in the meantime, listening to and trusting those in charge is our best bet.

There are some, however, who are not going to be calmed by anything. They are scared, they are anxious, and nothing short of a complete annihilation of the virus will make them start to feel better. You probably know someone like this, and you might be tempted to secretly roll your eyes at them or giggle just a little. But just as we’ve had to be patient with this whole pandemic process, we need to be a little more patient with, and kinder to, those who are still pretty worried.

Because, you know, they’d probably already be half way up that hill before you even noticed that wild boar coming at you…



Hey! I’m Walkin’ Here!

I open the kitchen door, go down the steps, wander out on the street beside my house, and it all seems so wonderfully normal. The sun is just peeking out from the clouds, the birds are gossiping and life is as it always was.

Sort of.

I’ve been walking in the same neighbourhood, the same route, for many years, and I know it well. Over time, little things are bound to change. People move out, others move in, the colour of a fence changes, a garden grows and then dies back again. Sometimes big things change, like an old house being torn down to make way for a new one. Or a corner store changes hands and becomes a new kind of business. Still, there’s a nice rhythm to life in my neighbourhood that gives me comfort.

The changes that have happened over the last couple of months on my little route have been very different ones, as I am sure you've also experienced wherever you live.

After the state of emergency was declared in BC, my first couple of forays out into the streets were strange to be sure. There was an eerie silence on the roads, as many people stayed home, just as they were told to do. Very few cars. At first there weren't that many people out walking either. I'm used to seeing some of the same folks at the same time every week day, but very few showed up for the first week or two.

As time passed, we adjusted to this strange, new reality and more people ventured out.

Getting used to the idea of physical distancing was awkward for me, as I'm sure it was for others. Somebody would be a block or so away, walking towards me on the same side of the road, and I'd have to zero in on them to see what they were going to do. Who would make the first move to the other side? After awhile, my experiences inspired me to create some rules for myself about this physical distancing thing.

First of all, I will instantly move over if the person coming towards me is pushing a stroller. I mean, it's more of a pain for them to move off a curb than for me. Especially if they have a dog in tow and a toddler too. I will move for them.

And if they are elderly, I will also be the first to move. I mean, sometimes I have to decide if they are actually older than me. Since I am in denial about my actual age, this can be a conundrum. If they've got a walker and I don't, that's a clue. I will move for them.

And there are those I move over for who seem to have no awareness at all about anyone else in the world but themselves. It's really about self-preservation, because I'm darn tootin' not gonna die because of them! Sometimes these people are just young. Sometimes, they are stupid. Occasionally, they are both young and stupid. Yeah, well I was that once, too. Sigh.

The number of people I now pass on a daily basis has grown considerably, depending on the time of day. That means that there's a lot more physical negotiating going on. But most of us have adjusted, and the majority of people I meet are smiling and friendly as we do our little dance around each other. Some people even move over for me, which makes me appreciative. And suspicious.

I notice different things on every walk. Like today, there was a middle-aged fellow talking and laughing to himself. As we passed each other at a distance, I realized the smoke trailing behind him was from a doobie. I took a long whiff.

And there used to be a couple I'd see every day who were probably around my age, smiling and enjoying each other's company as they walked. Now, they walk about a half a block apart from each other, and neither one is smiling anymore. I guess the "stuck at home with each other" syndrome has finally had its affect.

Happily, most of the changes I see these days are positive ones. So many more yards are neatly maintained and gardens have been tended to and nurtured in a way they have rarely been before. It's beautiful out there. Decks are being repaired, houses painted inside and out. On sunny days, people sit outside their front doors and read, kids play happily in their yards. Neighbours are chatting, at a distance, of course, but maybe more so than they have in a long time.

There are literally dozens and dozens of hearts plastered in the windows of houses, self-penned thank you notes, and the Canadian heart flag cutout from our local Times Colonist paper is everywhere. I hear more birds now than I ever have, in fact, some I'm sure I haven't heard before. A couple of weeks back, just a few blocks down the street from where I live, I noticed a chalkboard outside a home with "Dad Jokes" scribbled on it. There has been a different joke scrawled out in chalk pretty much every day, one of which you see in the picture I've posted here. I love the funny, sweet, and really creative changes in my neighbourhood most of all.

So for that reason, I've actually started walking twice a day. Oh, and also because I need to do something about the change in the size of my waistline.



Patience Is A Virtue — And A Necessity

“Get away from technology for awhile!” my daughter exclaimed, as, for the third time in as many days, I railed at the issues I was having with my website, which I had been trying to update, and my printer, which really is a dud.

Technology. Lately, it has been both a lifesaver and a pain in the nice word for ass. But is it the technology that’s driving us bats or are we doing it to ourselves? These days, the slightest bump in the road can lead to rage. Newspapers, TVs, tweets and Facebook feeds have been filled with posts telling us to take care of our mental health for good reason. At this time, when we are literally at the end of our rope, the thing we need most is the thing we seem to have the least of. Patience.

My mother was the epitome of patience. And strength. Nothing phased her. This week, she would have marked her 100th birthday. She was born on May 6th 1920, two years after the Spanish flu ravaged the globe. Her early life was poor, growing up in a large family in a little fishing village in Denmark. When she was older, she started cleaning houses, and one of the houses she cleaned belonged to a doctor. He encouraged her to study to become a nurse, which she did. She was working as a nurse in a mental hospital in Copenhagen when the Germans invaded her country, so she joined the Danish Resistance. I have no idea what horrors she may have witnessed during that time. Then, on May 4th, 1945, the Germans finally ended their occupation, and since then, every year on that date, the Danes put lighted candles in their windows to commemorate it. This year marks the 75th anniversary of their liberation, along with the rest of Europe.

A few years after that war, my mother joined the Danish Red Cross and spent a year on the Danish hospital ship, Jutlandia, which was stationed in Pusan during the Korean War. When that tour ended, she immigrated to Canada, met and married my father and had me, her only child. She died of cancer at the young age of 52. An amazingly full, but sadly short, life.

I’ve thought about her, and my father, a lot in the last couple of months. Everything they endured in their lifetimes. Me, I grew up in a Leave It To Beaver neighbourhood, with everything I needed. Never did I go without food or clothes, even when times were a little tight. The scariest thing I ever lived through was Typhoon Freda, here on the west coast when I was 5 years old. But to be honest, I don’t even remember it.

The only diseases we endured were mumps and measles. I had both. At the same time.

There were the occasions in school in the early 60’s when we were taught to hide under our desks, practicing to protect ourselves in the event of an atomic bomb. Come to think of it now, hiding under a desk wouldn’t have helped us much.

The only thing that actually shook us up was the occasional earthquake. I’ve never heard a bomb explode, or a machine gun rattle, never had to hide in a shelter or go without the basic necessities. I’ve had a very, very good life.

So I think I can deal with pain in the ass technology for the time being. I’m sure I will be able to adapt to whatever changes have to take place in our world after this pandemic. I can find a little more patience, even if it’s somewhere at the bottom of the barrel, to hang in there a bit longer. If my mother could live through all that she did, I have nothing to complain about.

Happy 100th Birthday Mama. Jeg elsker dig.

My mother Fanny, toasting Kai Hammerich,
the captain of the Jutlandia, during the Korean War.