Here's my column from this week's Observer...
Every Friday at lunch I cry. Not because the week is over. Oh no. I cry with laughter.
Friday is one of the days my improv team and I meet to work on skills and scenes. We participate in the annual Kingston Improv Games and perform at school functions. Lately, we just meet for fun.
Sometimes, my group embarks on a journey to change a light bulb in the style of a Greek Myth. Other times, they tell the story of an everyday invention. The stories can be silly, divergent, random, and entertaining, but there's always one thing in common: they are truly in-the-moment. Anytime the scenes become too rehearsed or when we try to recycle an idea, the energy is lost.
This is the joy of improv. Other than the time spent developing team dynamics, the students create spontaneously. There are magical moments where someone says a perfect pun or a scene ties together seamlessly. There's no preparation, no paperwork, no stress. Just the power of the present.
They say that people who laugh live longer. I also find that these little pockets of humour in my week allow me to cope with other stresses better. After all, if we can laugh at ourselves, we can forgive ourselves. Laughing together unites us, makes us appreciate our shared humanity. We learn that humour doesn't come at someone else's expense (unless it's a re-enactment of a certain political leader being hit by a shoe).
I think it's good for the kids too, to just have a good belly laugh and then go back to worrying about marks and homework with a lighter heart. As adults, sometimes we like to diminish the problems of youth. They have no bills, no kids, no responsibility. What could they have to worry about?
I'm one of those people who saves all of my journals. When I look back at my writing from high school, I'm amazed at the fear and insecurity of my teenage self. In photos from those days, I looked so confident, with my black eyeliner and spiral perm. In my graduation photo, I'm ready to save the world. I'm glad I have these journals to remember the reality of my problems. I wrote about the Gulf War and how sick I felt about it all. I raged about nuclear weapons. The night of the Montreal Massacre, I wrote pages of stilted prose about how I never wanted to leave home to attend university. I wrote about feeling misunderstood. Not to mention the heartbreak of young love. Sigh.
So, I'm glad I know that my fears were real. And that the anxiety was real. Today, as a high school teacher, I try to remember that. That's why I make a place for laughter in my week. In the face of academic and social pressure, we need it. Awareness hurts and adolescence is a time of increased awareness of both self and society.
My point is, we all need a good chuckle. We aren't ignoring the bigger problems that need solving. While my improv team pretends to be a herd of rabid goats or sings mock Broadway show tunes, the earth still needs saving. Genocide devastates nations. People starve. But I think that taking the time to laugh gives us the energy to go back out into a world that can be awfully darn depressing. Maybe it even gives us enough fuel to do some good.
So I must say that I'm grateful to my band of improv-ers. They remind me of the importance of the present moment. They remind me of the power of stories. And they give me an excuse to laugh out loud. Thanks to them, I'll grow older with laugh lines rather than wrinkles.