blogging university

Humor Is Always In The Eye Of The Beholder

Bill ClaywellWhat began as a joke became a small act of defiance.

As we sat in sophomore high school English a classmate, positioned one aisle over and one seat up, discovering his chair squeaked with the slightest of movement serenaded us with its high-pitched squeal.

It was all we could hear as the teacher droned on about grammar, literature or whatever you learn in sophomore English.

The squeak became a battle of wills. Like a true detective the teacher, abandoning the task at hand, isolated the sound and the chair, becoming obsessed with catching the miscreant in the very act of noisemaking. But the movement was indiscernible.

Whoever (or was it whomever) is making that noise, please stop now, the teacher said.

The teacher repeated the phrase several times, until one student, not known for his academic skill, seized the day by exiting the class — saying the noise was driving him crazy.

Despite being unable to catch him in the act, the teacher asked the prankster to leave, restoring the class to its squeak-free state.

My cousin and I, teenagers filled with more energy than intelligence, decided the most logical way to rid ourselves of our surplus fireworks, left over from a week-long series of setting them off in obscure places during church camp, was to ignite the whole brick at once – about 2,000 firecrackers – on my enclosed back porch.

Building on our previous experience of lighting them, and then casually walking away, they were exploding as I sat comfortably on the living room couch. My cousin, though, did not make it to relative safety of the living room. He was walking through the hallway when my father arrived on the scene – angry after being rudely jarred from his Sunday afternoon nap.

It was one of the few times I saw my father angry — not irritated, but truly angry.

As a Korean War veteran, the sound of the firecrackers, sounding like machine gun fire in his sleep-like state, meant the joke had gone too far. It forced my father to reenter and relive a dark time in his life.

But, in his rage, new knowledge was instilled in me: Humor is best understood through the eyes of the victim.

Categories: blogging university, Funny Stories, Humor, laughter, writing prompts | Tags: , ,

Dodge Ball, Dogs, And The Motivating Power of Praise

20160112_103030-EFFECTSI have a pound dog. And, like many shelter animals she suffers from fear aggression, which means she responds negatively to anything new or scary.

It can be a challenge when training her.

She does not respond to negative reinforcement. The other day when she grabbed my daughter’s unprotected sandwich and started to eat it, despite several firm commands to Drop it, she did not.

I knew she wouldn’t even as I utter the command.

Positive Reinforcement

She’s not a bad dog. In fact, Versa is normally well behaved (I know I’m bias). She will sit on command, lie down on command, fetch a ball and even catch a ball — all on command. She did not learn those skills with negative reinforcement. They were taught using the clicker training method. With this system a dog learns to associate the clicking sound with something positive — like a treat or praise.

And, Versa will do anything for a treat or praise. She will work hard. She will think and repeatedly try to master a new skill because she knows what is waiting for her. I even mix it up, giving her surprise jackpot treats which brings out the excitement even more.

I’m the same way. So are you.

One of the most positive experiences I had in grade school involved a not-so-fun game of dodge ball. As a small, underweight and athletically disadvantaged child, sports were not my place to shine. Unfortunately, then as now, even for the athletically challenged, sports are a huge part of the socialization process for children.

But, what I lacked physically I made up for in persistence. And, by the end of the day’s first dodge ball game, I found myself alone against five or six opponents, including the ‘toughest’ kid in the class.

As I dodged, threw, caught and played, my teammates were yelling — not words of encouragement, like ‘you got this’ or ‘you can do this’, but rather words like ‘give up’, ‘let them hit you’, and ‘get out so we can start a new game’. Of course, I didn’t give up and by some twist of fate, I outlasted my opponents and my team won.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Our gym teacher, Mr. Gilmore, (yes, I do remember his name), pulled the class aside, praising my hard work and perseverance.

That’s how you do it, he said.

One of the toughest battles bloggers and writers face, I believe, is the lack of positive feedback. Writing can be a vacuum with little to fill the void. We write, we post, and are often uncertain if our words touch anyone. The struggle is real. It is difficult to find your voice in the midst of the millions of other voices. It is hard to find the audience. As one talented writer notes,

I have my moments of doubt, when I wonder that I am talentless and all this education and practice and persistence means nothing because I just don’t have that mystical spark that makes a ‘real’ writer.

In those moments it’s definitely easier to quit. To throw in the towel — say I gave it my best shot — get a do-over and start a new game. Just like my fellow blogger, some days doubt fills the void. But, she doesn’t stop there. She offers these pearls of wisdom,

However, I also know that every person on the planet has these moments of angst, and I go on writing until the doubt dies down.

Thanks, Mr. Gilmore

When doubt creeps in, Mr. Gilmore resurfaces in my mind and I remember outlasting, outmaneuvering a more physically capable opponent. I did it then. I can do it now.

That’s what Mr. Gilmore said.

And I still believe him.

Categories: blogging university | Tags: , , , , ,