My mom gave me this criticism today “you sometimes come off as a fly-by-night.” What is a fly by night?
From wiktionary: “One who departs or flees at night in order to avoid creditors, law enforcement etc. (often used attributively).”
I think by fly-by-night she was implying that I am a flake, and not serious.
I feel that. I know that it’s true. Sometimes I’m late to events, or I miss them completely. I used to do this because something more interesting came up. Nowadays I typically do this because I’m having a tough day and I don’t really want to be around people. I tend not to RSVP to things if I know I would prefer to spend that time alone.
That is known as JOMO - the Joy Of Missing Out.
I think the main reason people think that I’m not a serious person, however, is my need to turn everything into a joke.
To laugh or not to laugh.
The day I arrived home after my Dad died, I got in trouble for making jokes in the house. Mom said severely, “now is not the time for that.”
Ruby Namdar, the author of “The Ruined house” said that he thinks the need to be funny is evidence of pathology. He speculates that European Jews and Jewish-American people became comedians as a way to cowtow to their masters, or a defense mechanism to ward off the aggression and hostility of others. Freud says the same thing - laughter is a form of sublimate aggression that lets victims of persecution safely cope with their condition.
When I’m angry, or in pain, I would prefer to laugh. When I shattered my wrist going over a jump and had to get a metal plate put in my arm, I started laughing hysterically and couldn’t stop for an hour. I barely remember the pain, but I remember how good it felt to laugh. I think laughter is a strength.
There have been studies that show that we retain information better when we are laughing (http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun06/learning.aspx). Laughter dulls pain, and is, of course, the best medicine. Laughter can make an unbearable situation bearable, like when we make jokes about politicians.
But are there times when laughter isn’t appropriate?
I think the only time that laughter is inappropriate is when it is used as a way to feel better, when the correct response would be to fight the injustice.
I have to admit that hopelessness is a big part of why I laugh. People who believe that change is possible don’t laugh, they get to work. At a conference recently, they only gave out men’s shirts. My response was to make a joke about how the shirts fit. Another woman’s response was to demand that the conference do better next time. A tiny thing like a shirt’s fit can make you feel welcome or unwelcome. But I am worried that people will see me as nitpicky if I say something. Or they will see me as unappreciative, or as a bitch. It’s happened in the past. In fact, I probably see myself that way.
My response is hopeless laughter. I swallow my anger with laughter. Her response is hopeful seriousness.
I also make jokes so that if I say something that gets me in trouble, I will be able to return to it and say “I was only joking.”
I often say things that I’m actually angry about as a joke.
“I’m going to slip laxatives in her oatmeal,” I say about a friend who hurt my feelings. And if people show disapproval, I say “I was only joking.” It’s a way of testing the waters - of seeing where public opinion lies before you leap in with your beliefs or opinions. It’s the refuge of someone who grew up never quite sure if what she was about to say would make people burn her as a witch.
You hear little kids doing this. They’ll say something innocent, like “does god have a penis?” and their parents, fearing cultural or religious norms, will reprimand them for it. “I was only joking,” the child will say.
Self deprecation works the same way. I make fun of myself first because I expect somebody else to make fun of me, and I want to beat them to it to avoid getting my feelings hurt or losing face.
Laughter, at least for me, is a reaction to hopelessness, anger, and fear.
So, is laughter pathological?
No, I think laughter can be the most healthy reactions to these emotions. Making a joke makes me feel better like nothing else. And I know that I need to learn to find hope to fight, but laughter is so much easier when I don't have the energy to fight, and frankly, most of the time I don't, but I still deserve to survive.
The only thing that bothers me is that some people will always perceive me as someone who isn't serious. Because I like to turn everything into a joke, some people will always see me as a fly-by-night, as my Mom calls it. But fuck 'em.