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  • Andrea Butler

A Case for an Absurdity + Connection in a Time of Anxiety

Updated: Mar 31

Hey out there, humans. This is an anxiety and fear and anger provoking time for so many of us. Humor and absurdity may seem really hard to relate to right now, maybe even unappealing. If you’re willing to try though, finding amusement in something (I have some ideas for you at the end of this blog) might help you connect with a part of yourself that is buried right now. Sharing this amusement with others close to you, might also be a way of having a shared connection with them outside of tougher feelings we are relating on much of the time.

There is certainly no dearth of those tough feelings right now. One nurse on the frontlines in a large metropolitan area put it this way, “Just like everyone, I’m anxious and stressed out by what is happening. I’m also really angry…I push past these feelings every day and I keep working, because that is what nurses do. But I may be bitter about this for a long time.” She is working to protect us, while risking her own health without the support and supplies she needs. A teacher, here in Austin, who is preparing to try to teach pre-k students over video said, “It’s like I can’t move forward, because I am first trying to make sense/see a way out of this chaos. I want to have answers for my little people’s questions.” And articles like this one from medium.com, “It's Time To Emotionally Prepare For What's Coming” (https://medium.com/@popchassid/it-is-time-to-emotionally-prepare-for-what-is-coming-d2c2ddc34b9e), tell us to prepare ourselves for increasing personal and community grief. If you read that one, heed the trigger warning it starts with; I’m serious.

But perhaps there is still room for you to respond to that last sentence with a “Surely you can’t be serious” and really want me to say in return “I am, and don’t call me Shirley” (from the movie Airplane). And perhaps now more than ever trying to lean into the humor we can find during these times is more important than ever.

It can be hard to find levity when there is so much uncertainty around what was normal life just a few weeks ago. Laughter can produce a positive effect though, both physically and mentally. The Mayo Clinic gives some possible benefits of laughter such as stimulating our organs and causing an uptick in the release of endorphins in our brains. They say it can calm our stress response and also sooth tension by increasing circulation in our bodies. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456) An article in Time stated that laughter can quell the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. This is a helpful tool when feelings of grief can increase those hormones in our bodies. (https://time.com/3592134/laughing-health-benefits/)

Since it might be hard to find much to laugh about right now, we might need to ramp up the absurdity of what we read, watch, listen to, and do. Just as you would with say your morning coffee… still dozing off during those pantless Zoom meetings on two shots of espresso? Double it. You might not be able to dip into silliness much, but it’s worth a shot or four, even if it’s brief.

Here are some ideas that are personal favorites of mine–

· We’ll start with low hanging fruit – media. For the last few weeks I have found comfort in Conan O’Brian’s podcast. He’s smart, yet absurd, self-deprecating and pretend mean, yet obviously thoughtful in reality. He talks to a broad range of other media stars.

· In a different, but lovely, category are silly animal videos, of which there are literally millions on YouTube. There’s also a subcategory now of professional sports commentators calling play by play on everything from dogs wrestling to eating dinner.

· If you want the actual fake and hilarious news, try The Onion for hard hitting stories like, Violently Bored Americans Begin Looting Puzzle Stores”. (https://www.theonion.com/violently-bored-americans-begin-looting-puzzle-stores-1842429517)

· Moving on up – books! Any of Roald Dahl’s books for children fit firmly in the absurd category, and don’t lose their charm if you’re aging willingly or unwillingly into adulthood. NPR published a lengthy list of funny books last year. Like the streaming choices on Netflix, you might find it an embarrassment and irritation of riches. (https://www.npr.org/2019/08/20/752044550/we-did-it-for-the-lols-100-favorite-funny-books)

· A lot of us are turning to video services to stay in contact with our loved ones. If you want to take it up a notch, try FaceTiming with someone in the toddler age range. Mostly this will just involve you needing to yell gleefully to the child as they run through their house waving the phone around violently. Pro-tip: much like swimming, do not eat for a couple hours before trying this one.

· In the same vein of staying in touch, send any absurd thought or question that comes to you to a close friend or relative and demand an answer. Like, in a time like this what is a hardened gangster or tough cowperson (you don’t have to be a boy to be macho) doing? Are they also carrying hand sanitizer as they round up cattle on the plains? And further, how do you think a hardened gangster would go about rounding up cattle on the plains? Or the classic question we all have, are female daddy long-legs offended by their own names?

· If you prefer some darker humor, there are many excellent parodies being created, like this one of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lr_tEdQvFcc)

Good luck out there. I hope you find moments of levity that are nourishing. If nothing else, you can smirk at the absurdity of someone writing a blog about leaning into absurdity in the time of a pandemic.

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© 2020 by Andrea Butler, LPC-Intern, CRC

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