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A Brief Treatise On Poignancy

A Tragicomedy In One Simple Act

Earlier in my "textbook" on comedy writing [not yet on this site], I shared with my fictional "boy" "friend" my views on comedy, as follows:

I think you have to be fairly smart (like Dave Barry) to write successful comedy that might actually make someone laugh. It requires the following (this by no means being a complete list): a good sense of humor; the courage to make a complete fool of yourself (like Dave Barry does at every opportunity); a well-rounded education with a general grasp of literature, intellectual concepts, issues profoundly vital to one's fellow voyagers on this planet, and the culture in which we live; an ability to laugh at yourself harder than you ever laugh at anyone else (with several "obvious" exceptions); an understanding of the human predicament and the simple needs we all hunger to fulfill; the gift to look at the plain and the reviled but to see the beautiful and the poignant; a fervent desire to create and share humorous relief via an altered, upside-down "take" on the world, all in loving service of God's children who are in pain; and an adequate vocabulary.


I had a recent brush with poignancy which I wish to footnote herein.

My elderly mother had somehow lost her rickety little portable shopping cart.

When you are elderly and alone, you will realize the significance of such a contraption, it being a means for toting up to your little studio apartment your TV dinners and prune juice and ever increasing supply of medicines. It is a means of maintaining a little independence and self-esteem by performing chores that you can still do for yourself.

My sister and brother-in-law had subsequently purchased for her a replacement cart, different from what she previously had, comprised basically of a plastic dairy cart on wheels with a handle.

When they brought it to my house, assembled it and presented it to Mom, I tried to pose as a dispassionate observer (although I couldn't find my white lab coat).

She didn't lunge towards it in a predatory manner; that is not her way. Instead, she sat and observed it for a bit from a distance. I could see her mind working - "This is something new. I've got to design my strategies for dealing with this unfamiliar but interesting-looking object. Will I be able to figure out how it works? It looks complicated - but oh so beautiful!"

Remember that Mom is pretty small as forest creatures go, very low on the food chain and somewhat of a bottom-feeder.

It was so heartbreakingly poignant to witness her circling the object. I could see her confliction over the best angle from which to approach it. Her excitement was palpable. I felt vicarious pride when she finally gained the self-confidence to actually go up and touch it, to make sure that it was actually real. When the initial thrill had subsided, she proceeded to examine it all over. She wheeled it around some and was quite pleased with the smoothness of its action.

You can fill in the rest of the story. Mom and the plastic cart spent time becoming acquainted, engaged in a little mutual admiration, etc. However, I thought I noticed a sly wink between them, a shared acknowledgement that they would surely be spending out their remaining days on this earth together.

Although I had fancied myself capable of maintaining clinical aloofness, that night I alternately laughed and cried myself to sleep at remembering it all.

I do not intend to conjure up mental images of laboratory chimpanzees because, no matter how humorous or facetious the above narrative may sound, this scene was truly poignant.

I could have chosen the low road, which I shamefully admit to myself that I have done all too often in my life, for it is easy to become irritated with an elderly mother who is having an increasingly hard time remaining firmly planted on this earth.

I am humbly attempting in my new life to have little successes in holding to The Path. My ability to see the poignancy in the above simple episode makes me believe that some one or some thing is kicking me in the pants and jerking me back onto the trail, even as I stagger off, so that I don't stray too far from the uniquely human ability to see poignancy.

It hurt so good.

P.S. to Dave Barry

Dave, after receiving an email comment from a friend with whom I had shared the above (true) story, I felt compelled to open up this chapter of my work and re-read it. In my rapidly worsening obsessive-compulsive manner, I STARTED REVISING IT YET AGAIN! SOMEBODY STOP ME!

However, I felt renewed hope for myself when I hit the [SAVE] button after having added JUST ONE LINE (although I confess that it was a compound sentence, and I admit to having performed just a tad light dusting as I wandered through). Anyway, that exercise made me realize the power of the pen and the even greater power of using it sparingly (this being Hemingway's genius, as we all know) because, with a mere flick, I was able to add an entirely new dimension of poignancy.

My original version of the above document which I sent to you did not contain the below sentence, which is now included in the body of this document.

However, I thought I noticed a sly wink between them, a shared acknowledgement that they would surely be spending out their remaining days on this earth together.


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