A quick recap of a time I went out on a limb to be comedic and nobody laughed:
Every now and then, I pull myself aside and do a sort of gut check — you know, take a little inventory on the general state of “me,” spiritually speaking. These little moments I spend with myself are essential to any personal progress I hope to claim as the years move forward. And I dig pretty deep, and get pretty real. As someone who lives life with a sense of urgency, I can’t bear the thought of time gone by full of “should’ve-would’ve-could’ves.”
So when I self-assess, I’m not messing around.
Two months ago, a self-assessment that revealed a tendency toward procrastination lit such a fire, that the vague notion of “maybe someday I’ll start a blog” became a secured domain name and two published posts a mere 48 hours later. And prior to that, the discovery that I had never really committed to a healthy lifestyle — the kind that lasts beyond the end of a particular summer or continues past a “goal weight” — propelled me into weeks of research on women’s fitness and nutrition before completely rebuilding my daily routine from the bottom up. I have since lost ten pounds, and cannot fathom a day that doesn’t include a lengthy jog or an hour in the gym.
Like I said, when I self-assess, I’m not messing around.
So, maybe a year ago, I was doing some serious thinking about the way I interact with the world. The idea of human relationships and what I offer up to the people around me was weighing heavy on my mind. After getting real honest about my social acumen, I decided that I had moved through most of my years way too buttoned up. It occurred to me that I took myself a bit too seriously:
I could be having way more fun, if only I’d relax, I thought.
I need to start finding the humor in all things.
I need to take more social risks — I need to engage more with others.
I should always find a reason to laugh.
And, by the way, I do love to laugh. Always a reliable audience for all the would-be comedians I know, I laugh a lot, actually. But I don’t laugh enough, and perhaps not when it would really count. If I could laugh, say, when the x-ray reveals several cavities or when stuck in a long line at the MVA “Express,” well, then, I’d have the golden ticket. I’d have learned the right way to unwrap life itself — revealing the elusive shiny foil with scalloped edges not once in a lifetime, but every single day.
So, around the same time that I was drafting up my new plan to laugh more and engage more, and humor and risk more, I had a years-overdue appointment with an ophthalmologist.
The reading glasses I had in college were no longer sufficient for the near-daily struggle to read far away road signs and close-up books and all things in between. I needed new glasses and a full eye check-up to boot.
I arrived at my appointment at the scheduled time on some weekday afternoon. I signed in, and then took a seat on the only chair that didn’t have a suspect stain. Flipping through the stack of magazines on the table next to me, I could feel my usual impatience for such things begin to bubble.
Figures — the only current magazines are the ones I don’t want to read.
And — gross! — they’re all “filmy.” What the Hell do people do with them that makes them feel like that?
Rifling through my purse, I grabbed my iphone.
Of course! No service. Perfect.
Looking around the waiting room, I sussed out the scene.
That lady across from me looks as though she’s been here a while. And that one over there, she’s clearly sick. Oh my God, why is she here? She should have canceled. And she’s ahead of me, which means I’ll have to lean my forehead and eyes against the same machine that she leans her forehead and eyes. How can I ask the technician to clean it all off without sounding weird?
And so it went in my mind, one negative interpretation of the situation after another, until I had worked myself into a mild lather.
My chest cinched tighter with each passing minute.
My deep breaths became audible sighs.
I started kicking my crossed leg in sharp, impatient fits so that, more than once, I worked my shoe loose enough to send it flying several feet in front of me.
Basically, I was being my usual, too-serious (and highly irritable) self.
And then, I suddenly remembered the pact I was intent on making. The one that I had been working on that week — the one about finding more humor and more reasons to laugh and more people to engage.
I decided, in that moment, that the pact had been officially made. I sealed the deal, right then and there. Starting right now, in Dr. Smith’s [not his real name] waiting room, I was going to be a new, lighter, funnier version of me.
Mentally, I was ready. Physically, I needed just a bit more time.
When my name was finally called, I began to psych myself up as I trailed the nurse to the first of several exam rooms.
Find the humor. Find the humor. Find the humor.
I found I couldn’t make too much out of the glaucoma test — the one where each eye is assaulted with a quick blast of air to assess pressure levels. No material there, but I was decidedly more lighthearted then I had been in the waiting room.
Then, the doctor walked in. He reviewed my history, and acknowledged that I likely needed a new prescription for glasses.
He was soft-spoken, but subtly warm and friendly. Very professional. Kind of serious. Maybe a bit buttoned up.
He put drops in my eyes to dilate my pupils before sending me back to the waiting room so the drops could take effect.
As I got up from the chair, my eyes were watering profusely. I was sure my mascara was bleeding trails of black soot down both cheeks. The doctor noticed my state and offered up a box of tissues. I gratefully grabbed several, and then walked out toward the hallway.
In that moment, I believed I had suddenly found the humor.
As I made my way down the hall and toward the waiting room — where two elderly couples, one forty-ish woman, and a young guy sat with filmy magazines and cell phones that had no service — I conjured my best “cry face.” Using the watery eyes to my advantage, I threw in a down-turned mouth and furrowed brow. I let my eyelids droop just slightly. I drew quick gasps of air into my throat as I blotted my face with the handful of tissues.
As I rounded the corner to meet eyes with the other patients — people in waiting rooms always reflexively look up when someone new approaches — I played like I was terribly distraught.
Sniffling, light gasps of breath, and eye blotting set the stage for what I thought was a pretty clever stab at comedy:
“Dr. Smith is just so mean,” I choked. “I can’t believe he spoke to me that way.”
I stood for a moment, waiting.
Though my vision was a little blurry, I could see through the fake tears that no one reacted.
Not only did no one laugh — no one even cracked a smile. In fact, no one so much as acknowledged my remark with a raised eyebrow or tilt of the head.
I saw only dead-pan faces and vacant eyes.
As I made my way to a chair, the other patients returned to themselves, still quiet and stoic and….well, in a state of “waiting.”
Apparently, the notion of a bullying ophthalmologist doesn’t move most people’s needle.
I did one more glance around the room, in an effort to find a shred of evidence that I didn’t make a complete jack-ass of myself.
Holding out hope, I played the crying bit a few seconds longer, partly to allow the others a chance to catch on, and partly because I needed a graceful exit to the act, which would involve slowly phasing out into a return to normal. You can’t just shut these things down without a slow phase-out.
Eventually, I morphed back to my initial waiting-room-self, arms crossed over my chest, head leaning back against the wall, releasing an audible sigh and pumping my crossed leg impatiently.
Well, so much for my goal to be more engaging and spread more cheer.
If this is the life of a comedian, then I preferred to remain in the audience.
I still contend that turning pupil dilation drops into tears over a fake-mean eye doctor was clever and funny. I would have laughed at that. Or, rather,”eye” would have laughed at that.
Okay….perhaps it’s time for another self-assessment.