Backstory: Of Infinite Jest

Backstory: Of Infinite Jest

Gabrielle Idlet (

Laughter Offers Relief, Breaks Down Defenses

Humor is lifeblood. Thank god for it. When a sense of bleakness blankets me, which can happen a little too often, humor saves.
At a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn, a perplexed middle-aged Verizon employee agreed to step back outside the door.
“Knock knock,” he said.
“Who — who is it?” my friend Lil and I (both 35) asked timidly.
“But our pipes are fixed.”
“Um, flowers.”
“We don’t know anyone who would send flowers.”
“Listen, we didn’t order a pizza.”
“Free stuff,” he offered.
We relented and opened the door.
The stranger reenacted the “Saturday Night Live” classic, roaring and clapping his arms together: “Land shark!”
When I teach rhetoric to college students, we talk about the way humor destabilizes readers, opens them up for a blow. In writing, humor can clear the way so meaning can penetrate. Your defenses drop. You simply can’t think critically and bust up at the same time.
The best funny writing exploits that cracking open of the reader to communicate truths that might otherwise be hard to hear. There’s a reason David Sedaris is beloved. There is poignancy threaded through the gaps in his ironical musings, and often we are invited to reflect on our lives.
Sometimes funny is just funny, and that’s a grace. I grew up on Cheech and Chong and lose it over their dopey humor. Even though, in my experience, it’s males who tend to have total recall of amusing film lines, I can recite any scene from “Zoolander.” And I would submit that “The Other Guys” is one of the best films of 2010.
We turn to humor in literature (or film or television or comics) for relief from our burdens, and if we’re lucky we get more than that. This week, I wish you relief, and more.
The following story by Kendle Young is a response to this prompt: Write a piece in which you are searching for a lost thing or person. Try to include an interaction with an animal, a period of confusion and a gift. Kendle played with the requirements and came up with this rumination.

By Kendle Young

There’s a series of books out. They all start with the title Harry Potter. You may have heard of them. Anyways, in the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Harry goes on a magical journey to find something that he doesn’t fully understand, but that he knows he must obtain — The Sorcerer’s Stone. Actually, this scenario somehow takes place in all of the books, but I’ll just use the first one as my example because I’m assuming that it was/is the most widely read, or that you’ve at least seen/heard about the movie.
Anyways, in this particular story, Harry and his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, have to go through this maze that includes this three-headed dog/beast in hopes of finding the so-called sorcerer’s stone.
I feel like Harry. Only, I’m journeying through this maze called life in hopes of finding a so called “sense of peace and fulfillment,” my two best friends are re-runs of “Sex and the City” and french fries and the three-headed beast is men.
I mean, how am I supposed to “find myself” when I don’t know what the heck I’m looking for?
In addition, I live in the Bible Belt, which is very unfortunate because the people around here traditionally feel that a girl of my age should be in a “serious relationship”/married or on a religiously tied trip to a country where the water is brown. These people also think that one should not pollute the mind with heathen filth such as Harry Potter and “Sex and the City;” so, I’ve already failed.
But, as I lay in bed thinking of all the bad dates, I feel that my sense of peace is greater than that of (insert name of girl from church) who got married last spring and is now permanently forced to share her bed, make pot roasts and act appropriate in public. I also feel that my sense of peace is greater than that of the girl drinking from anything other than a Brita filter.
That being said, I have optimism. It may be a half-empty glass of optimism, but at least it’s somewhere in there.

Writing Challenge

Pick someone you know whose way of speaking amuses you, someone who can tell a good story that makes you laugh. Next, think of an event from your own life that you struggle with, something difficult inside or outside of you. Tell the reader about that struggle in the other person’s voice. See if you can transform misery into something funny, i.e. something manageable. Feel free to write autobiography or fiction.
Send your story to and it may be featured in a future issue of TFW.

• No portion of Kendle Young’s story may be reprinted without permission of the author.

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