[PODCAST] Advocating for Introverts, Online Community Building and Creating Relatable Content on “Josie and the Podcast”

I am so pleased to share with you the first 2017 edition of “Josie and the Podcast,” hosted by my dear friend and outstanding scholar Josie Ahlquist, featuring yours truly! As the title would imply, we talk a bit about empowering introverts both face to face and in the online space, why I think creativity is so important, and some of the wizardry that goes into developing useful and engaging content. Also, Questlove and Hamilton come up. Because why not?

And to Josie, my partner in “defector-style” work: thank you so much for having me on the podcast- happy to do so again anytime!

Listen to Episode 9 of Josie and the Podcast Here!

[INTERVIEW] 820AM Tampa Bay: On SNL, Trump, and Immigration

Earlier this week, I was invited on 820AM Tampa Bay’s “Your Wake Up Call” to talk about my recent Interrobang article, “Time to Dump Trump on SNL?” In it, I talk with hosts Chris Fisher and Kurt Shriner about their portrayal over the course of his campaign, what it represents, and why I chose to take this stance. Later on, we talked about the early chaos of the immigration ban and how it played out for me as an immigrant and as the child of immigrants.

Listen to the full interview at NewsTalkFlorida

 

Coming This Thursday: NILC Readathon

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Donate now to the NILC Readathon

The Goal: Raise money for the National Immigration Law Center, an organization

exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants.

At NILC, we believe that all people who live in the U.S.—regardless of their race, gender, immigration and/or economic status—should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Over the years, we’ve been at the forefront of many of the country’s greatest challenges when it comes to immigration issues, and play a major leadership role in addressing the real-life impact of polices that affect the ability of low-income immigrants to prosper and thrive.

The Method: As with so many other things, to me the answer was in a book.

For the month of February, I’ll be doing a readathon to benefit the National Immigration Law Center, a group seeking to defend the rights of those needing legal representation on their path to becoming American.

My reading will seek to center the voices of:

-Female and GNC writers;
-Writers of color;
-LGBTQ+ writers;
-Writers who identify as immigrants or first-generation Americans; or
-International writers whose work has made an impact in the United States

I invite you to donate whatever you can to this project. You can donate a “per book” number or a lump sum, and I’ll aim to keep the fundraiser open for a few days of March in case anyone wants to donate based on how far I get. Will you join me?

THE LIST

Here is the goal list of books I hope to carry on my journey with me. If you know of any books I should add to this list, let me know via the form at the bottom!

  • Amistad, Walter Dean Myers
  • Einstein on Race and Racism, Fred Jerome
  • Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
  • The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
  • I Am Malala, Malala Yousefzai
  • Immigrant America, Alejandro Portes
  • My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor
  • Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, Angela Davis
  • No Land’s Man, Aasif Mandvi
  • Trans* in College, Z Nicolazzo
  • Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz
  • Zeitoun, Dave Eggers
  • The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
  • Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
  • Yes, My Accent Is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You, Kunal Nayyar
  • The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  • The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
  • Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
  • Sons and Other Flammable Objects, Porochista Khakpour

My Best Reads of 2016

Over sixty books this year. Whew. No time to review them all, but I did want to share a few recs for my most impactful and enjoyable reads. Click on each book for more about why it made the list, let me know what you enjoyed, and check out the full list if you’re looking for more!

My Best Laughs of 2016

The summer of 2016 brought me a silly but welcome challenge: writing a joke a day for 100 days as part of Elle Luna’s 100 Day Project. Despite being a prolific (if nothing else) writer, writing with the aim of humor has always proved to be a considerable, but always worthy, challenge. Writing on days where I was tired, or busy, or not feeling funny, gave me even more respect for some of the best jokes I know and giggle at.

So, as a means of rewarding the hard – and superior – work that surrounds me, I am sharing with you my list of outstanding laughs that 2016 put forth. I can’t/don’t want to play favorites, so they’re in alphabetical order. Check them out!

Ali Wong, Baby Cobra (Netflix)
The press would have you believe that the revolutionary part of this special is that Ali performs it while seven months pregnant. And while that’s true, it’s among the less interesting parts of her hilarious hour. Her jokes about bathroom stall dominance, countering Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” argument, and wishes to eat mango sliced by white people are hysterical.

The revolutionary part of this to me, as someone who knows several women who have struggled to have kids, was for her to write and tell jokes about those struggles. The revolutionary part wasn’t that she did this while pregnant, but that she used such a public forum to talk about how hard it was to get that way. And that matters. Infertility is both fairly common and wildly underreported, so I appreciated – and laughed at – her successful efforts to make these circumstances funny. As she says, “it’s super common, and I wish more women would talk about it so they wouldn’t feel so bad when they go through it.” Glad you did, Ali, and in such an accessible way.

Aparna Nancherla, Just Putting It Out There (Secretly Canadian)
Aparna Nancherla speaks for me. Her ruminations on struggling to work from home, moving awkwardly within office norms, and struggling with anxiety were a comforting reminder that other women out in the world are ill-at-ease in their own skin, but managing to do big things and make their mark on the world anyway. It’s especially comforting to know that this is true of another woman of color; we don’t typically get that opportunity.

I was familiar with her writing and supporting work, including the criminally underwatched Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. But this album was an exciting discovery. I look forward to making a live outing to see her part of my 2017.

Atlanta– “B.A.N.” season 1, episode 7 (FX)
Atlanta is something special. In a year that has given us a few examples that confound black TV portrayals and black humor (see also: Insecure), the surrealism and quiet humor of Donald Glover’s brainchild hit me just perfectly. Of the ten episodes released this year, “B.A.N.” is my favorite for its stark departure from its surroundings. Beyond a “bottle episode,” “B.A.N.” moves into “concept episode” territory, taking on the gestalt of a public access show about black issues. And as the sole thread between this alternate format and the show’s regular happenings, Brian Tyree Henry (as Alfred “Paperboi” Miles) plays it perfectly.

The humor is niche, to be sure, but it’s also spot-on for those familiar with the genre. It takes on the falsely combative nature of talking head television, while also poking at cultural and identity appropriation. Like the invisible car or black Justin Bieber from other episodes of the show, Atlanta cements its status as newly representative and wholly original with this episode.

Chris Redd in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
There aren’t a lot of people who have paid money for a Lonely Island album. There are even fewer who have done it more than once. But that’s who I am. So from the first mention of Popstar, I was already sold. Combine that with the fact that my honors thesis was on documentary filmmaking, including mockumentaries, and you’d think they basically made a movie for me.

This was a midweek, midday movie outing with my sister- one that allowed us to be alone in the theater, and therefore react authentically. Turns out, our authentic reaction was heaving, sobbing laughter for the duration. And the surprise source of many of those laughs was Chris Redd’s Hunter the Hungry, a bombastic and underhanded (or is he? I don’t know!) rapper who joins Connor 4 Real’s tour. I need Redd to go places. There were rumors he’d be joining SNL this year that, sadly, proved to be untrue; let’s fix this, Hollywood? Please?

Dan Soder, Not Special (Comedy Central)
When your favorite comedians recommend someone’s work, listen to them. This is how, in early May, I happened upon Dan Soder. I listened to it for the first time during the intermission of a hockey game, and got caught up enough in the laughs to miss parts of the game. And those who know me recognize that that is a big deal.

This album is comfortable in the best of ways, like a hoodie- a comparison I’d like to think Dan would appreciate. It’s my go-to album when I need a giggle, and anyone who’s been in a car with me over the past six months has been made to listen to it. You can ask, I’ve got references. As someone who loves stories and appreciates their power to bring people together, Dan’s easy conversational style appeals to me. You’ll feel the same. How do I know? Try listening to Not Special, and then seeing how many daily occurrences make you giggle afterward. Guys in tank tops. Abandoned cell phones in cabs. Crying at videos of unlikely animal pairings.

Dave Chappelle monologue, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
I believe my exact words projected to the world via Twitter when I learned that Chappelle would be hosting SNL were “AMMA’S NOT HERE ANYMORE SHE IS DEAD.” After so many years of following Chappelle – yes, even when we lost him to Africa for a bit – it was a dream come true to see him take on Studio 8H (serious question: did they lure him there with the promise of A Tribe Called Quest, or was their appearance part of his terms to do it? Anyone know?).

His monologue had the feel of his standup, which wasn’t a given when you consider the nature of his language and what the FCC tends to allow. It felt unfiltered and true to him, and that tenor was precisely what I needed on the Saturday after a historic and earth-shaking election.The full episode echoed with his frank and critically observational style of writing. I needed his perspective, and I’m so glad that SNL gave him the freedom to provide it in his own way- and I’m so glad that Netflix will be giving him the stage three times in the years ahead. We need you, man.

David S. Pumpkins, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
I can’t explain why this one tickles me as it does. I have no explanation. All I know is that the song was stuck in my head for a solid week, and I laughed harder every time I watched it. And the fact that it was Tom Hanks’ actual Halloween costume? My God.

Hasan Minhaj, Homecoming King
This is one of two live performances that made this list, which is likely remarkable given how much live comedy I consume. And Hasan earned it. The Daily Show correspondent crafted an engaging, emotional, and incredibly funny one-man-show talking about his experience as a first generation American. And from the transformation of his relationship with his younger sister, to dismaying experience “dating white” in high school, the full ninety minutes felt intimately familiar. It stuck with me for days. Because while I hear relatively few stories like his, or like mine, they exist in huge numbers- and I love that Minhaj created a companion space for those stories online. If you have the opportunity to see this show, get there. It’s amazing, no matter who you are.

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Josh Gondelman, Physical Whisper (Rooftop Comedy)
I consider myself to be a  reasonably kind person, and Josh exceeds my kindness by an embarrassing measure. And whereas most stereotypes of comedy imply shades of rudeness or even meanness, Josh manages to be wildly funny and profoundly nice at once. Wherever his writing is – Last Week Tonight, Twitter, or a terse email to a nemesis – is a happier place.

Physical Whisper is a pleasure of an album to listen to, touching on the quirks of family members and our friends at fancy events in a way that is so relatable.  As an example, I haven’t been to a wedding where this bit didn’t come to mind since the first time I heard it. So get it, listen to it, love it. It comes on cassette!

Lady Dynamite, “Jack and Diane”- season 1, episode 4 (Netflix)
I’ve written before about why I love what Maria Bamford did with Lady Dynamite. It was something I needed to see this year to deal with my own stuff. And there are so many episodes that caught my attention that could have landed on this list (give “White Trash,” “Bisexual Because of Meth,” and “Mein Ramp” a watch). But I love the episode in question (a) because it explicitly calls out how introverts fake fun at parties, and (b) a relationship ends because someone doesn’t find farts funny. Farts are funny. I’ll carry that opinion to the grave.

In a larger sense, I needed to see Maria Bamford joke about her mental illness for the same reason I and so many other women needed to see Ali Wong joke about infertility. It legitimized humor as a viable way to cope and heal for me, in a way that I desperately needed. And being able to count jokes about my anxiety as part of my hundred, came in large part because of what I saw them do. And going into the year ahead and years to come, I plan to continue laughing through it. Why the hell not, right?

Last Man on Earth, “You’re All Going to Diet” -season 3, episode 3
Last Man on Earth is a quietly hilarious staple of FOX’s Sunday night lineup- but anything that allows the minds of Clone High creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller to run free, I’m on board with. It challenges the viewer by blending legitimate drama and serious topics, with a silliness that allows it to hold its title as a comedy.

This moment, from earlier this fall, brought me to sobbing, gut-cramping tears. Easily my heartiest laugh of the 2016-2017 TV season to date. Like David S. Pumpkins, I couldn’t really explain why if pushed to use my words. But it’s the fact that moments like this can exist on a show that’s about a civilization-ending plague and the loneliness that presents, that forced my hand in adding it to this list (and yes, it was the last one added despite its relative middle positioning). So watch it. Love it. And keep it from getting cancelled because I have terrible luck in that way.

Matthew Broussard, pedantic. (Comedy Central)
I’m smart enough to recognize that most of the jokes that we see on specials or in albums originated long before we see them. And the benefit of a line of work that lets me watch comedians develop, is that you get to celebrate when they get the recognition they rightfully deserve. Whip-smart and wildly talented Matthew Broussard got that this year, and I refuse to stop talking about it.

pedantic. is an accurate portrayal of the Matthew I’ve come to know: self-aware and unapologetic in nerdiness, and yet accessibly hilarious. Yes, he knows that his face makes it a surprising development. But stick with him- you’ll laugh AND most assuredly learn something.

Michael Che, Michael Che Matters (Netflix)
Most people’s Black Friday was dedicated to a hasty return to Stars Hollow. Mine was spent watching this special, more than once. As a longtime SNL fan, this was going to be a must-watch for me regardless, but those only familiar with Che through the Update desk will find something new and hopefully entertaining about his one-hour outing with Netflix. His “Black Lives Matter” and 9/11 joke has gotten all the attention, but I’m a bigger fan of his arc on women taking hats at clubs to dance.

Che’s matter-of-fact delivery and willingness to tackle tough topics is in some ways like his Update stints that come into our home on a weekly basis, and yet there’s an element of freedom from his surroundings that feels palpable as he tackles topics like Jesus’ carpentry record, his desire to be best friends with Donald Trump, and phrases that only white people can say. For me, it was a welcome addition to my go-to stable of standup specials, and I recommend you give it a watch.

The Characters, “Natasha Rothwell” season 1, episode 5 (Netflix)
“Riddle me this! Why are you dressed for the job you have, instead of the job you want?” Tynesha, the precocious kid sent home from school is only one of the fantastic personas that Natasha dons during her half-hour turn on The Characters. Her outspoken and well-read hobo, her cadre of jury duty candidates, and willing girlfriend of “Black Bernie Madoff” Tyson Beckford pack her episode with so many outstanding moments, I can’t even name them all here. Rothwell just got upped to series regular on Insecure, and I can’t wait to see more of her. She may identify as a basic bitch, but I’m fine with it- she’s a genuine joy.

Two Dope Queens podcast (WNYC)
If you’re reading this, Jessica and Phoebe, couple things. Thank you for Two Dope Queens- it’s a welcome refuge for a black female standup geek, which up until you hit the block I was made to believe was on par with being an actual unicorn. Thank you for hitting upon the challenges of my late twenties and early thirties with equal shares of humor and critical truth. Thank you for introducing me to some of my new favorite comedians, and for introducing some of my favorite comedians to the rest of the world. And do you want to hang out when you’re in Boston? We can get nachos and walk around near the water.

I had the opportunity to see Two Dope Queens live in August, and it was such a fun experience. There was a dog there! I laughed so hard! And I got to watch Jordan Carlos crush a set- on the day that he learned of The Nightly Show’s cancellation. As odd as it might sound, that was the best part to see. Eight hours after crushing news, Jordan got onstage and killed it. Blew me away. It was a great reminder of how powerful humor can be- yes, when it’s easy to be funny, but also when it’s hard. Can’t wait to do it again in January!

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt– “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” season 2, episode 3 (Netflix)
I won’t say much more about this one, because I have written about it before. But I bring it up to reinforce the idea that some laughs can be explicitly designed to encourage you to ask questions. What was designed to be a throwaway joke about Aisha Tyler on Friends, thumped me in the chest hard. This conversation ensued (internally):

“Whoa.”

“What’s going on with you?”

“That felt weird.”

“Yeah? Why?”

“Doesn’t feel weird to assume Aisha Tyler was white.”

“Why?”

“Because she isn’t!”

“Yeah, I know. But why would Kimmy have come to that conclusion?”

“Oh, I don’t know, the whole rest of Friends’ run? There weren’t many other black people, so her reasoning was that they must have just assumed she wasn’t”

“Yup. And what was that about, by the way? Where in New York was that even possible?”

“Not now, you’re watching something, remember?” 

As I go into 2017, particularly since the grant work I’ll be doing means I’ll be watching A LOT MORE COMEDY, I plan to engage with it in ways that lean into the challenge of tough jokes. More from the previous post:

I think problematic comedy can be good. Now, unlike the Internet commenter refusing to get to the end, hear me out here. Well crafted jokes, ones not purely out for shock or amateurishly slapped together, can provoke thought and encourage the listener to examine their behavior. A joke that you struggle with is telling you something, whether you’re ready and able to hear it or not. But there are two sides to that process, and that means the listener has to be willing to rumble with it a bit.

Special Commendation: Rogue Island Comedy Festival
This past October, I spent three days in Newport, RI, watching a fantastic and diverse slate of comedians show their best stuff in one of my favorite cities. I would’ve spent four, but I had a thing…never mind. The brainchild of comedians Doug Key and Rob Greene and supported by an incredibly kind and competent support team, RICF attracts top-level local talent while also bringing national acts to a town that doesn’t always get to see them. And frankly, the commendation designation is only because I can’t identify a favorite moment. Too much good to rank! Only in its second year, I can’t wait to see how it’ll continue to grow. Try and get rid of me, guys. I’m just gonna keep coming 🙂

Coming next week: this, but with books. Stay tuned!

BONUS: a few of my favorite #100dayproject jokes. Maybe not the best ones, but my favorites!

From “You Had to Be There” to “You Have to Hear This”

We’ve all said it, and I’m sure many of us have fallen victim to it. A friend, family member or colleague comes to us with a story they’re eager to tell. They start strong (or not, that happens to), but the story starts to fall apart as they forget things, stumble over the delivery, or leave out crucial details, finally trailing off with “you had to be there.”

When I started working with the students at Startup Institute Boston over the summer, I decided to harness the lessons of this infuriating phenomenon for good. I see these students in the fifth week of their eight-week bootcamp program, just before they start making contact with prospective employers and network with people who could be their future colleagues and bosses. And as I think about the nature of these “you had to be there” stories, they have some instructive elements that could help those who struggle in networking, job interview, and other scenarios dependent on connection.

I have them break into groups (typically the ones they use for a separate project they work on), and have them rotate telling the story of something funny that happened to them. I focus less on having them tell a joke, and more on a funny occurrence, because many are intimidated by the burden of having to be funny on command. After they move around the group, I have them designate a “winner” in the circle, and talk through why that person’s attempt was so successful.

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This is where the connections start to come together. All the stories we tell one another, no matter the goal (educational, entertainment, informative) are sensitive in a number of ways. And the best ones are brief enough to hold the listener’s attention for their duration, detailed but not exhaustively so, and invite minimal clarifying questions. I encourage students to tell stories with humor as a goal, because funny stories are especially sensitive to missing details; in the absence of these details, they don’t “land.” For anyone desiring to make a good impression, being able to master sharing information in this fashion is crucial; as such, I like this exercise for students (or anyone!) needing to be compelling because it can help them refine strategy.

This conversation, for them, is framed in terms of temperament because each “side” can help the other when participating in this refinement. Introverts, with their natural neural proficiency for listening, can invite meaningful clarifying questions and encourage their extroverted counterparts to include key details while leaving out or changing less important ones. And extroverts, who find more comfort in verbal expression, can coach their introverted counterparts on details of delivery like tone or accompanying body language. Together, working to practice and prepare in advance of high-stakes scenarios, each side can prove highly advantageous to its opposite.

If you’re interested in doing a version of this with your friends, classmates, colleagues, or students, here are a few tips to harness the power of “you had to be there”:

  • Provide individuals time to come up with a story; this story can be about anything, but I find that the exercise is particularly effective if its goal is humor. The few minutes of think time will reduce the particular conversational tics that come with a lack of preparedness. Further, this underscores the idea that one should not go into any scenario where an impression is being made – an interview, a networking social, even speed dating – unprepared.
  • Let each individual tell their story, noting their tone and body language. Sharing focus across words, tone, and body language is crucial for first impressions, because those meeting you will have little else to judge you on.
  • After the story is told, share the questions that arose during it. The storyteller can choose to answer them or not, but it’s important to note the nature of the questions and the bearing of their answers on the final results. For extroverts, their “external processing” tendency may mean that they talked past an important detail without realizing its role in the understanding of the story. Conversely, for introverts who process inwardly, they may have skipped a crucial detail verbally while addressing it mentally. By sharing the questions that arise during these stories, we can pinpoint our individual weaknesses and address them in service of a good final story.
  • Continue to refine the story, addressing questions that arise along the way, and checking in with your “counterpart” or “wingperson” to assess clarity and effectiveness.

What are the qualities of a good storyteller that you admire? What is your favorite story to tell, and why?

Laughter Through Tears, Laughter Through Fears

My face still tight and salty with tears, trying to negotiate nearby luggage and an airport dinner of tacos and rice, I clumsily fired off a text:

I just cried on a plane. Are we ever going to be funny again?

It was Thursday, November 10th, and I was flying to California for a conference- a day after learning the results of the US presidential election in a crowded room from Between the World and Me author Ta-Nehisi Coates. From Wednesday morning up until that flight, I hadn’t felt much of anything. My body hadn’t yet decided if it wanted to cry or throw up (and it made its erratic uncertainty quite public while I was at another conference), but finally settled on crying as I journaled over the Mountain Time Zone, prompted by Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State.

Even as I talked out my worries with this friend, my mind raced to think of the jokes yet to be written, the hot takes waiting to be served to an at times bewildered, at times emboldened citizenry. And as a child whose family spent late Saturdays playing Scrabble and listening for Don Pardo’s signature “Live from New York…” I was of course curious about how Saturday Night Live would handle this reality, one they didn’t seem fully prepared for. Their approach delayed a ruling, which prompted me to share this question the following week:

The “tweetstorm” that followed this entry into the debate revealed some complicated feelings I have about humor in this specific instance but also humor as a whole, and I warn you that this post holds no solutions about the conflict.

Now. On the one hand, you will find few greater proponents of humor as a coping mechanism when things get tough. I’ve spoken on this publicly, and few who know me would deny it. I regularly joke about difficult things to get through them- anxiety, fear, heartbreak, and other dark moments all need to be infused with humor to make them manageable. Without this type of comedy, I’m not sure where I’d be. Surely somewhere far darker and less productive, as these hard things threatened my peace of mind and perspective. And for that reason, as a political climate emerges that unquestionably provokes many of these same feelings (anxiety and fear for sure, and also even a sense of grief), I think that this type of comedy needs to exist. It allows the marginalized to maintain some sense of power in a situation that renders them otherwise disempowered, in some cases even powerless.

However, I’m struggling to consume it. 

It hasn’t always been this way. You will find few bigger fans of Donald Trump’s SNL 2004 parody ad, “Donald Trump’s House of Wings.” I wish I could link you to it, but the powers that be have erased its existence from the Internet. It was a really catchy takeoff of The Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (For My Love),” and I still remember the slight mimicked dance my mom did around the house in the days after it aired. The very second I find it, I promise to share. What’s the difference between this 2004 turn, and the one he made as a presidential candidate, some might ask? Fair question. My honest answer: 2004 was benign. 2015 wasn’t.

This next bit involves theory. You’ve been warned, so here we go.

FastCompany recently did a rundown of comedy theory from past to present, providing a number of frameworks by which to evaluate comedy and its effectiveness, a way to decide objectively if something is funny. Their most current metric, one that I use often when explaining comedy to colleagues and students, is the Benign Violation Theory. To sum up:

Broadly, benign violations theory asserts that all humor derives from three necessary conditions:

  1. The presence of some sort of norm violation, be it a moral norm violation (robbing a retirement home), social norm violation (breaking up with a long-term boyfriend via text message), or physical norm violation (purposefully sneezing directly on a child).

  2. A “benign” or “safe” context in which the violation takes place (this can take many forms).

  3. The interpretation of the first two points simultaneously. In other words, one must view, read, or otherwise interpret a violation as relatively harmless.

As someone with an extraordinarily high burden of offense, I’ve been able to fit most things into this framework; that is to say, I find a lot of things funny. Far more than most people, and often more than is professionally advisable. I like being able to find humor in hard things; again, it’s a coping mechanism and one that I believe in strongly.

So it feels odd to be this person that consciously, willfully, turns away from jokes.  I haven’t watched an SNL cold open since the second presidential debate. I’ve seen Alec Baldwin’s Trump impersonation maybe twice. I have seen other successful approximations of Trump that do the difficult work of making this public figure funny (most notably UCB’s Anthony Atamanuik). But I can’t find the laugh. I’m finding myself in a wholly different territory from where I normally live – not only can I not find the joke, and not find funny the jokes that are out there…but I’m seriously questioning whether those jokes should exist at all. And the overly analytical part of me – the part that can generally be quieted by comedy when needed – is starting to see why.

We have a norm violation. In a big way. We’re about to see a presidency that defies convention in innumerable ways. Sometimes groundbreaking ways. And as an advocate for creativity, that’d be exciting…if the norm deviation weren’t so dangerous. Therein lies the problem: we have violations, but they’re not benign. They’re past malignant, into the realm of toxic. Those who can laugh are likely in a position to frame some of these violations as benign. And I envy them for it, because I can’t yet. Yes, some of that is based in identities that I hold (Black, female, immigrant), and the perceived threat to them. For the first four days, I didn’t laugh because I was too afraid. But much of it is also grounded in identities that I don’t hold but don’t believe should be treated as dismissively or wrongly as they are (Muslim, LGBTQ, undocumented, Latinx). 2004 Trump is laughable because he’s not a threat. 2016 Trump demands gravity because the consequences of his actions are grave.

In that regard, I’m genuinely having a hard time believing (a) that the scenario in which we find ourselves can be funny, and (b) that any attempts should be made to lighten it. This post has no answers, and I truly welcome your feedback on which side you take. Can we joke about this? Should we? What do you think?

So back to that question I posed, taco in hand, tears still drying: are we ever going to be funny again?

To quote associate professor of education Tom Miller, “it depends.”

I talked to a friend several months ago who was having a hard time writing a joke about a difficult relationship. I told him that things can be hard to write about when you’re in them, but the laugh will come when the open wound has healed. Joking from the proverbial eye of a storm is possible, but incredibly hard to do. The jokes can come later, when the threat has passed. I’d like to think this counsel applies here too. In the event that we move past this threat unscathed, the current state of affairs will be easier to laugh about. If we don’t…well, this post will require a follow-up.

This mindset requires a few things, though. Most importantly, in my estimation, it requires allowing those with complicated and unpleasant feelings about all that’s happening to feel them fully and recover from them in their own time. This may be longer than some might expect, and provoke calls to “move on,” “get over it,” or accept the fact that a side “won” or “lost.” This notion is already being challenged in conversations I’ve been a part of, and at times loudly and rudely in my presence. Such a mindset is coded in so many challenging elements – who gets to mourn, for how long, and who gets to decide – but ultimately delays the process of healing to the point of humor.

It requires the understanding that there are circumstances that will definitively keep people from laughing. The jokes we tell can’t please everyone. They’re not puppies, Nutella, or shirtless photos of Idris Elba. (Incidentally, I’ll take any/all of those as I continue to heal). And there is a difference between the joke critic who “has something to add,” and the one whose life story doesn’t allow them to laugh. One of those demands considerably more respect than the other; as we cope with humor, keeping that difference in mind is essential to the community that comedy can build.

And finally, it requires the desire to bring people to a place of brightness again. As I fumbled toward jokes, any jokes, after the election, I had to hold tightly the idea that it was worth it to laugh. I know how much I need it, and I know how hard life can be when I don’t create space to. So if you’re funny, keep doing it. We need you. If you like to laugh, support the folks who make that their life’s work.

Where do you find laughs in difficult times? How do you decide what’s okay to laugh at?

The Defectors: Erika Lamarre, To Be Determined (And That’s Good!)

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Today’s Defector is searching for a new next place, after seizing an unexpected opportunity by working in a position of change. The experience, working on a political campaign, provided new challenges and a wholly new environment. I am so thankful to Erika for reaching out with her story, and admire the freedom with which she is pursuing her next steps. Read on to learn about her experience as a “reluctant Defector,” and what it’s taught her about herself and her larger goals.

Not sure what we’re doing here yet? All is revealed here.


I’m unemployed for the first time in 20 years. This job loss was an abrupt, and slightly messy affair- the result of the shifts in upper management when a new Vice President or Dean comes on board. Oddly enough I find myself at a hard-fought peace with it.

This was THE job I’d been angling toward for the past 3 years. It met all of my perceived professional needs and played to all of my perceived professional strengths. It was my preferred institution type, in the geographic area I wanted and most importantly had THE title. It was my next step up and I gave it my all. I upended my husband’s and my life and moved us to a different state. We bought a house because I was in for the long haul. I made sure my business cards, nametag, and email signature featured this snazzy new title as prominently as was prudent. I worked long and hard for this role and was rightfully proud. After a full year that culminated in praise and promises of promotion, my professional potential dried up within a couple of weeks of the arrival of the new manager.

The warning signs during my short tenure were there- newer president on chilly terms with the current management, a completely new and inexperienced team who were squeezed in with a disgruntled staffer who had clearly been there too long. Optimist that I am, I embraced these challenges as opportunities to prove myself.

I proved myself alright. I was an excellent relationship-builder, had a good reputation across campus, and went the extra mile to give struggling staffers a chance. It’s that last part that always gets one into trouble. You see, the higher up you go the more exposed you are to the whims of the next administration. The relationships of the past don’t mean as much, and any inadequacies in your team are your fault. One year in, and I was out (along with two others).

My unceremonious and unexpected ouster meant that I missed the usual higher-ed hiring season. I was stuck with plenty of time on my hands before an opportunity in my now very narrow field might present itself. On a whim and with a little luck, I was able to land a temporary job working on a political campaign. To participate in such fulfilling, meaningful work, without the burdens of being the boss helped ease the pain of my lay-off and gave me new perspective.

There are many lessons I can take from my campaign experience and current unemployment situation. The biggest benefit of my situation has been the freedom to try other things and time away from the stresses of student affairs. I’ve learned the skills from a career in higher education are beyond transferable. The office politics, schedules and stresses that we endure on our campuses prepared me well for work in real politics. The laws and policies we navigate are the same at any secondary or prep school, and the communication skills we must have to build partnerships with the diverse agendas of students, faculty, parents and service staff make us an asset to any office.

IF I remain in college student affairs (it’s very freeing to not feel I that I MUST return) it will be as a wiser, and more self-assured woman. No more will I ignore my instincts in the name of positivity. I also refuse to accept the model of ‘do more with less” and I object to student affairs’ lower status in the ivory tower. That is no way to treat an entire field of dedicated  educators. My presence in higher-ed will also be as someone far more interested in fulfilling work than finding the right title for the resume.

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For the next month, proceeds from The I’s Have It and Light It Up are going to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Dedicated to addressing incidents of hate and infusing justice into American lives, I am proud to support their important and essential work. 

I deal with words a lot, and yet the past few weeks have left me at a loss for them. It has been an emotional and anxious time for me as I grapple not with the loss of an election, but the loss of safety and security that plagues me and many of my friends and family members. I’ve struggled not just because I normally have the words, but because words didn’t seem like enough here. Trying to respond honestly when people ask “How are you?” doesn’t feel like enough, nor does trying to pick apart the reasons things went as they did.

But this use of words, the ones I’ve already written that I know are coherent and have value, feels right.

So for the next month, I’m proud to donate all proceeds from my two books on introversion and higher education, The I’s Have It and Light It Up, to the Southern Poverty Law Center. For those needing a primer on what they do:

The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.

Proceeds from both the digital and print editions will be eligible for this donation, so feel free to choose what works best for you. And if you already have them? (a) Good work, and (b) consider purchasing a copy for a friend, colleague, or graduate student you work with, or donating a copy to a departmental or campus library.

In the meantime, take care of one another. Be kinder than normal. And listen – really listen – to the people around you.

Good Books Doing Good

PODCAST: On Creativity, Humor, and Podcasting with Why I Social

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Last week, I attended and presented at GSMI’s Social Media Strategies Summit for Higher Education. This gathering of social media professionals from across campuses – admissions, marketing, student programming, and alumni relations – was a great breath of fresh air, as I got to work with and meet professionals who use social media in their everyday work. In addition, I got to meet face to face some new Twitter friends, including Chris Barrows. He was nice enough to feature me on the SMS Summit edition of his Why I Social podcast. Give it a listen (click above), and thanks so much to Chris for the chat! I had a lot of fun 🙂