Saturday, March 10, 2012

Laughter Medicine

There's an old saying that "Laughter is the best medicine," and maybe it's true. I've been having nightmares all week long—memorably, an impassable field of rattlesnakes, being chased by Men In Black—till last night.

Last night I watched part of a DVD I had found at the thrift store (of all places) that afternoon: PDQ Bach in Houston: We Have a problem! I've been a fan of Peter Schickele and PDQ Bach, his research "discovery" in those dark corners of music history probably best left unplumbed, for decades. My Mom the concert pianist and piano teacher, and my Dad, the amateur musician and opera buff, and my sister and I started laughing to PDQ Bach's musical jokes in the early 70s, and have never stopped. It does help to know a lot of classical music to get the full depths of the jokes and the satire, but it's not necessary. There is a certain kind of Spinal Tap humor to PDQ Bach: that is, just as in Spinal Tap, most of us professional musicians have met people just like that, or been in that band, those of us who have been involved in classical music as performers or audience have all seen people just like that, too. Watching this on-stage live performance caught on film made me laugh out loud, just as with every PDQ Bach concert I've been too (at least 5 or 6 over the years).

My last dream before waking last night was funny, made me wake up laughing, and still makes me smile. I was with my artist friend Alex at a seaside place, an art school or resort town or small college or some combination of those, where we were rooming with college-aged artists and other creative types; the atmosphere was funky and friendly; I was the oldest one there, of course, but not the oldest at heart; one young women artist was making her living as a hair stylist, and I decided to let her dye my hair something wild, and she got creative and did a two-tone thing with red and a darker shade, with subtle purple streaks; people were astonished when they saw me later, shocked but positive; in the dream, I really enjoyed it; and in the dream I felt like I was giving her a gift of support and nurturing confidence. I woke up laughing. I've never dyed my hair in this waking life. But who knows. Artistic funkiness is no bad thing. It's good to shake things up. Maybe some henna some day.

I had been watching too much political commentary TV, or movies, the past few nights. Hmn. Be careful what you watch before bedtime. Something that makes you laugh is much better than yet another stupid violent movie. Why don't people make that connection? It's an environmental issue: The place you live, the things you eat, the information you take in, the "entertainment" you absorb: all of these affect your internal environment as well as your external. Maybe it really is just that simple.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I'm working on a review of a book about creativity at the moment but I thought I'd share this quote:

Beeman has discovered that people who score high on a standard measure of happiness solve about 25 percent more insight problems that people who are feeling angry or upset. In fact even fleeting feelings of delight can lead to dramatic increases in creativity. After watching a short, humorous video—Robin Williams doing standup—subjects have significantly more epiphanies, at least when compared with those who were shown scary or boring videos.

And here I though we needed to be miserable to create great art.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

That's cool. I've certainly experienced the post-laughter creative surge, so I accept that as real.

And yet.

The problem I have with this quotation is that as usual they do not define "happiness," but assume a definition. Happiness in my experience is a state of being or an attitude. The last way to achieve happiness is to pursue it—"the pursuit of happiness" is an unfortunate phrase. Happiness is a state of being that one discovers one is experiencing when already there. It's not a goal, like comedy.

And speaking of comedy: The example used here is about momentary (if recurrent) "funny," about laughter, not about happiness as an ongoing state of being. That's the most common category error one encounters in discussions about happiness, this conflation of the durable and the momentary. That leads to much confusion.

Post-laughter creative surge might better be labelled as joy, inspiration, or ecstasy, to more accurately describe what's going on in that moment. Because it's not a permanent change-of-state, but a periodic one. When I talk about writing at white heat, I'm talking about something similar to this. Ekstasis.

11:44 PM  

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