Laughing at Halloween Is A Treat

We all face stress every day of our lives. Much of that stress is caused by sources beyond our control so it doesn’t help to stress over that stress.

During this scary fun time of year, we can disguise ourselves for just a bit. Step out of our usual roles to become someone or something else, like a witch or a superhero or a princess or a pirate.  Halloween gives us an excuse to leave our everyday selves behind and explore new personalities and possibilities.

I encourage you to be creative; use your imagination; have fun and LAUGH!   Everything is made better with the treat of laughter.

Watch this short video message from me and learn how you can put more ha ha ha into your Ha-ppy Halloween!

Good People Exist

Person 1: “Did you hear about that shooting? A cop got shot.”

Person 2: “Which one? The one in Texas?”

It’s sad that tragedy has become so common. So when I encounter really nice people, it not only restores my faith in humanity, it reminds me to keep from becoming a cynic. It does matter what we do. The positive things we do – no matter how small – do make an impact on other people’s lives.  I also believe in karma. We do get back the good that we put out, like a boomerang. This weekend in my home city of Scranton, I met people who took a bit of my hardening edge off.

Saturday morning I ran. Naturally I encountered cheery people at the local running group, the Barrier Breakers.  When people  come together with a shared interest, especially running, you’re bound to have smiles, nice conversations and supportive comments. After I put in 8.5 total miles (2.3 by myself and the rest with a group), I decided that was enough. Even though I set out thinking I would do 9 miles, the heat had not been so kind to me and I felt that I could live with myself if I walked home the initial 2.3 that I ran to the trail head in Scranton.

On my walk home I encountered a man weed wacking and cutting grass. My first thought wasn’t a thought. It was a sensation. I love the smell of freshly cut grass. It makes me smile and think of 6-year-old Jeannine playing in the back yard for the summer wearing some 70s plaid Healthtex matching outfit.  I was already feeling positive when the man greeted me with, “How was your jog?”   I told him it was good but that I was kind of spent so I was going to walk home. He smiled and went back to his work but I was pleasantly surprised.  A complete stranger actually inquiring about my morning. That was nice.

I walked up the hill that I’ve run and cursed at many times – twice during the Scranton Half Marathons – and kept on walking through the “Bull’s Head” section of North Scranton when I encountered an elderly gentleman who wore a big smile and twinkle in his eyes. He asked, “How many miles did you walk?”  Mind you, I think he was asking so that he could tell me how many miles he walks but that was fine by me. I explained about my run and then my cool-down walk home. He proudly told me that he walks 5 miles every day. Then he turned to point toward downtown Scranton to tell me one of his routes. He grinned and said, “Not bad for a 72-year-old huh?”  I told him that must be why he looks so great.  Then he came closer and told me, almost as if he was revealing a secret, “At my age, there’s only two things I worry about: the man upstairs and my health.” After a few seconds, he turned again toward me to say, “Oh and avoiding stressful people.” He then talked about a woman who used to live in his building who was very negative. He said he was glad she moved because she was stressful but he added, “God love her.”  I told him to keep up the good work and that I hoped I would be as active at his age. Then I walked on.

My third encounter came when I was within blocks from my home. It was at that bridge that has been closed since Truman was in office. Okay I’m cracking wise. The Leggett Street bridge has been closed for about three years and I would not be surprised if it was never fixed. We folks in North Scranton have learned to adapt. We had to.  Anyway, this gentleman in his 40s or so, who was wearing a baseball cap and holding a big cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, was staring into Leggetts Creek. As I came closer he said, “There’ s a lot of fish down there.” I told him how I believe it’s spawning season or at least it’s coming soon because I know that no work is allowed on the bridge during that season. He seemed genuinely interested in that information and even more interested in appreciating nature. He looked content, smiled and turned back to see all the fish.

There’s nothing remarkable about these conversations but I was struck by the humanness of them. I was glad that people were being so neighborly. It felt nice because that’s not always the case.  Sometimes when I go or a walk or run through the city, my impressions are less than positive. Cigarette butts are a permanent fixture on our streets, along with litter and some people drive like they would earn points for hitting you. Many speed up when they see a runner coming…or it feels that way some times, even in cross walks.  Or there are the lovely foul-mouthed kids on bikes or cat calls from men in trucks and cars who feel brave as they drive by.  To be spoken to with courtesy, respect, and genuine friendliness was such a nice reinforcement of what we need to do more often.

My final example of proof that good people exist, is the story of Charlotte. Charlotte was a solid young woman in her 20s wearing a hoodie, glasses and a big big smile of warmth that you could tell was a regular accessory on her face. After watching two movies at the Circle Drive In Sunday night with my boyfriend, we were left with a dead battery in my dad’s Equinox that I borrowed (because I thought it would be fun to sit in the back with the hatch up).  After some grumbling expletives from my boyfriend and a sense of dread starting to creep into my belly, this young woman came to our rescue. She explained how this had happened to her once at the Drive In – just once – but ever since she has remembered to bring jumper cables.  We were all hooked up and we didn’t have immediate results – which wasn’t helping the demeanor of my boyfriend or I – but that didn’t affect Charlotte. She said she didn’t mind waiting if it took a while to charge. Oh, and she also offered to give us a ride if we needed it. Thankfully, the SUV battery charged and we were positive again – at least the vehicle was. Thanks to Charlotte. I thanked her heavily, asked her name, and thanked her some more. I hope that Charlotte receives a dose of help 10 times over when she needs it most. She and others like her are helping to make up for every piece of bad news we read.

Please don’t ever give up smiling at strangers, holding doors, offering change to someone at a meter looking frustrated. Our world needs you to remind all of us that we are connected and we do have the power to make humankind kind!

 

All Aboard the Trainwreck

 Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the laughs.

I did my first open mic while visiting a friend in Houston about 11 years ago. I had been writing jokes and ideas for jokes on anything that I had in front of me at the time: napkins, tissues, business cards, toilet paper – a practice I still follow today- but I had never had the guts to get up in front of people and say some of these jokes aloud. On my first visit to Houston I chickened out, even though my friend, Sahn, was very encouraging. It was on my second visit that she more or less threatened if I didn’t do the open mic at Laff Stop this time, I couldn’t board the plane to return to PA. I remember being so nervous back then that when I practiced in the dining area of Sahn’s townhouse, I made her sit in the living room facing the TV. Fast forward to that evening and my pregnant friend and her husband, Dave, were there to support me. My jokes – one about the baggage claim area of an airport being viewed like a ‘carousel’ and another about grown-up Happy Meals for depressed folks, – landed pretty well but listen for yourself. (Hang in there. It’s a bit rough being my first. Give it until minute 2:00.) I felt relieved. I felt proud. I felt beyond happy – no meal needed.

Taking the Stage

Fast forward a few weeks and I am driving about two hours from my job in Wilkes-Barre, PA to Northeast Philadelphia’s Comedy Cabaret to do open mic. I had some off nights and some really on nights. I got laughs that made me feel exhilarated.

Excuse me, can I have your autograph Ms. Schumer?

Fast forward about a year or two (I admit to not keeping a diary so the dates are not iron clad; don’t quote me on them) and I’m doing a seven to 10-minute comedy set at a club called the River Street Jazz Cafe in Wilkes-Barre on a Sunday night. It was this new weekly thing that my comedian friend Tony LaJeune organized. I performed with fellow comedians Brad Todd, CJ Hood and a few others. The crowds were sometimes light but I was getting stage time. I was learning. One night Tony brought in Jessica Kirson to headline the show. She had come to Wilkes-barre before. She’s got a real presence on stage. She’s funny! Well…she brought along a friend from New York City to open up for her. And that friend’s name was Amy Schumer. If I only knew then what I know now …

Courtesy of Citizens Voice

Courtesy of Citizens Voice

Amy was funny but a little too edgy for me. Let’s face it, I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic School from kindergarten to 12th grade. Oh, and I was a good little Stepford student. I listened to the nuns, had plenty of guilt, fear and remained a virgin until my senior year in college. So her abortion joke gave me pause. Even though I was not quite ready to appreciate her humor then, I knew that she was a professional and seemed very confident on stage.  But I am shy and this was long before everyone took selfies of everything with everyone, everywhere they go. So I have no proof that evening performing on the same stage as Amy Schumer existed. Technically I could put on my resume that I opened up for Amy Schumer but that’s not completely accurate and the nuns’ voices still haunt my mind like insomniacs roaming the hallway of an asylum.

Militia of Sisters

I’ll hop aboard that train for laughs.

Fast forward another eight years or so and Amy Schumer is comedy’s ‘it’ girl. And while I have to say that I haven’t watched her comedy show and never thought too much about whether she was funny or not, I now have an opinion. She IS funny. She IS smart funny. And it IS a big deal that the movie SHE wrote, Trainwreck, is hilarious and being very well received at the box office. I went to see the movie Saturday night with my boyfriend and we – and the entire audience – laughed out loud, a lot! The jokes were funny to both genders because they were real. Yes, some of the subject matter is risque or crude, but it happens. It is honest. And parts of the movie, particularly about her relationship with her father, were very touching.

Real Trainwreck

Spoiler alert. Don’t read if you haven’t seen Trainwreck yet.

So here it comes. My but. I enjoyed the movie. I laughed a lot. I am thrilled that a female comedian (I hate adding this description, but this is the reality. There is still a lot of “Women aren’t funny,” B.S. out there.) wrote a funny, smart movie that is receiving financial and popular success.  But … I was slightly disappointed that the movie had what I’ll call a Hollywood, formulaic ending. Amy’s character could be viewed as a hot mess who sleeps around and then ‘gets her life together’ when she meets the right man. Or, she could be viewed as a woman who just wants to date and not get serious. I think the bigger point is that regardless of the man situation, she IS a talented writer and a good, caring daughter and sister who is funny and perhaps just afraid to get hurt so she hides behind a sarcastic, ‘whatever’ attitude. I applauded when she yells while watching gyrating basketball cheerleaders, “You’re gonna lose us the right to vote.” Then by the end of the movie, she dons the same cheerleader costume, learns a choreographed dance and gyrates to music to prove her love to her man.  Don’t get me wrong. I think it would be fun to do a group dance and I get why she wanted to do something nice to patch things up with her boyfriend. But it’s okay to get annoyed or miffed at the sight of half naked models, dancers and actors, etc. and believe that they are not helping women’s rights. And, it’s okay to express a thought or opinion about that to someone you are close with, like your boyfriend or best friend. If we have to stifle gut reactions and feelings in our bones, that’s not very healthy. With that said, I do believe that as a true ‘feminist’ (whatever that word really means), we must support choices made by every woman, no matter what they are. As long as they are not hurting themselves or anyone else, it’s all good.  I know this.

How Pat Roberts defines feminism

The other disappointing scene in the movie came when Amy spoke to her sister, apologizing for things she said to her and explaining that she does want what her sister has – a husband and kids – but is defensive about it because she doesn’t know if she deserves that kind of happiness.  (I am paraphrasing but that’s the idea.) This scene in the movie is harder for me to accept because it’s a cliche, like every other RomCom out there. In the end, all Amy wants is to be loved by a man.  I wish she relished the fact that her career was bright – her article was published in Vanity Fair – with as much earnest.  All in all, I still give this movie an enthusiastic two thumbs up because it was fun and it made me laugh.  I guess after reading the hoopla about Amy Schumer being the feminist comedian, I was expecting a different ending. In all fairness, no one, neither Ms. Schumer, nor anyone else, should have the burden and responsibility of representing or speaking for our gender. And… if Ms. Schumer’s happy ending in real life is to marry and have children some day, that’s great.  And… if Ms. Schumer is smart enough to know that happy RomCom endings are what will put money in her bank account, even better!

 

Wo Money

 

 

Glad They Didn’t Serve Tomatoes

A Missed Call I Wanted to Return

Last week I received a phone call out of the blue. I saw this person’s name pop up on my phone after coming out of the shower. I knew him for years but not very well and I couldn’t imagine why I was getting a call at 8AM. After listening to his message I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he wanted to hire me to perform/speak to a group of seniors who were ending a week-long scholar program at a local university. The even better part was I had already presented programs at this university on about eight other occasions so I knew the concept of paying speakers for their time and talents was familiar to them. I also always enjoyed their vivacious audiences that had included hundreds of nuns, students, alumni and seniors. But for some reason, I was extra nervous on Friday. I will chalk that up to all of the anxiety that I am feeling lately in my personal and professional life for various reasons – all things that I am working to better manage.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

When I arrived Friday night the campus looked beautiful in the bright sun of late afternoon and smelled of freshly cut grass. I walked into the building where the dinner was being held and I saw just a few servers for the evening’s event, a few students and one or two seniors milling around. I did not see my contact so I sat down and wrote some notes about what jokes I would do and what laughter yoga exercises would follow. I am always a bit more cautious and concerned about jokes for seniors but I probably shouldn’t be because I tend to do very well with mature audiences who always give me smiles and rave reviews. When my contact did not appear and no other representative from the college approached me, I chose a table where I would sit for the dinner being served before my presentation. I introduced myself to the couple seated there as being the presenter for the evening. In a loud voice, the woman who we will call ‘Sue’ to protect her identity, asked “Oh, are you the comedian?” At that question my shoulders dropped a little as well as my head. I don’t do straight up comedy performances much anymore and I prefer not to be billed as a comedian. I do tell jokes or humorous stories, as I prefer to call them, before I talk about the value that humor and laughter add to our lives and before asking the audience to stand for interactive laughter yoga exercises but I’m not doing a full stand-up act.  I am a writer and an observant person who pays attention to details. I love words and I think they need to be used and interpreted correctly (keep in mind that I say correctly through the eyes of Jeannine, as in: correct grammar, accurate facts, descriptions and information being shared, proper details, etc). I am in the minority perhaps. While it is true that people will interpret as they want to and they will latch on to what they want to, it does make a difference how a message is communicated to determine how it is understood. When people hear that there is going to be a “comedian” after dinner, they prepare mentally to sit back, relax and be entertained. Because I want to engage them intellectually with information about research and anecdotes and I want them to participate physically, it is important to prepare them for what is expected. So I worried that they may not be into my program.

It’s Not the Piano That’s Out of Tune

As more seniors arrived and sat near me, I began to feel comfortable…that was until they ganged up on the poor piano man.  Sue had already commented once to her husband that the piano sounded like it needed to be tuned and they both shared their bad reviews of his playing with one another. Then as dinner went on, another woman, let’s call her Candi, responded to her friend’s question of “What song is he playing?” with “I don’t know but whatever it is, he stinks.” This was the confirmation that Sue needed. She now had her  ammunition to go ask another woman who had been helping with details of the conference all week to make the piano player stop playing. This other woman explained that it would be offensive to ask the piano man to stop playing but she would ask him to play softer to make Sue happy.  All the while an older woman seated to my right, had been commenting about how lovely the songs sounded, but she had a much more subtle presence at the dinner than Sue. As I sat there listening to them trash the piano player who was fine for my layman’s ears, fear rose up from my toes. I thought to myself “I’m glad there are no tomatoes around or they just might throw them.” I worried that they might look for a hook or get up and leave if they didn’t think I was funny.  I was roused from my daydream in which Sue was literally tossing me to the curb by Sue’s soothing statement of “I hope the others don’t mind that you’re not doing all comedy.”  I had thought the same thing but didn’t need Sue commenting on it as well. I told her that hopefully they would use humor to manage their disappointment since that was the point of my program.  Then, more reassurance came from Candi, “YOU are the comedian?” asked with such a degree of surprise that I wondered if I should be the one taking the microphone or if perhaps, Sue might be better suited for the gig. I foolishly began to explain that while I was going to tell some humorous stories, there was more to the program that would require audience participation. Then Candi persisted with “You mean we’re not gonna laugh?”  To that I wanted to answer, “Dear God, I hope you do,” but instead I said, “Yes, you will laugh, not to worry.”

And Now for Something Completely Different

A young, meek college student who had just explained the details of the survey that had been passed out and that the movie being shown after my program was going to be “Wild,” – a movie that Sue told us at dinner she had no interest in seeing – gave me an introduction like none I’ve received before. In her defense, she is inexperienced and was not given proper information or notice. She basically said, “You’re going to have a comedy and laughter program by Jeannine and she’s here with us tonight.” Then she walked away from the mic and all eyes – and bright cafeteria lights – were on me. I started off a little slowly and felt particularly nervous wondering what my table mates from dinner were going to think of me but then I kicked it into high gear and started getting laughs. I even saw Sue and her husband smile and laugh (controlled laughs) a few times. Candi looked like she might have preferred the piano player but that was okay with me because her friend to her right was beaming. Her eyes were laughing.

When it came time to do laughter yoga exercises, all but about four people stood to join me. And among those participating, all but a handful looked like they were into the practice and really enjoying it.  After my program I felt relieved, happy and less stressed. There is something to that feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you succeeded with an audience but there is also the fact that laughter really does work. It makes us feel good. That’s my message. And I am proof that I feel better after laughing and helping others to laugh.

I felt elated to hear comments like “That was just amazing how you got all those people up on their feet laughing because they… well some of them… are kind of glum.” And another woman added that she could not believe I got her husband to participate. More positive comments followed that made me feel very proud and pleased with my ability to be a conduit for laughter and a positive message. I didn’t see Candi after my presentation and Sue and her husband talked to one another while I gathered my belongings, but I know the truth. I saw them smiling. I saw them participating. And I saw them having such a good time that I don’t think they would have thrown tomatoes even if they had them. I’m not so sure about the poor piano man but he’ll have other gigs to play again. Friday night I was happy they were letting me sing my tune and happily singing along with me: Ho ho ho. Ha ha ha. Hee hee hee.

With Humor Fueling Our Steps, Let’s Trail Together

Trails are simple in nature but can lead to a robust lifetime of benefits for the community in the form of healthier residents, booming businesses and renewed pride. Here in northeastern Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have The Lackawanna River Heritage Trail (LRHT), which is part of a 70-mile multi-purpose trail system that follows the Lackawanna River. The trails have grown in popularity with residents and that’s great! We have a place to exercise, enjoy nature and come together. As with any passageway that gets congested, we all need to follow some rules for safety and a good experience.  Consider these tips to get the most from your trail experience while letting others do the same.

 

• Group Think – Everybody’s Doing It: Having friends to walk with is helpful. They can keep you accountable. Just knowing that you’re supposed to meet for a walk helps to motivate you. And…it’s fun. You chit chat while you walk and time passes quickly. You don’t even realize you’re exercising. But, even if you feel like you’re joined at the hip with your friends, there are times when you need to separate … like walking on a trail. There’s simply not enough space for people to walk four or five-across when someone is running, walking or biking toward you. Be polite and tighten up to let the oncoming exerciser pass without having to run through foliage.

•Not A Place for Free-range Dogs or Kids: I do not currently have a pet and I am not a parent, but I am affected by the way pet owners and parents manage their charges. Please take no offense. I am not putting children in the same category as Chihuahuas. Those yappy dogs are much more obnoxious than children and much fussier about the sweaters they’ll wear. I’m kidding. Dogs will wear whatever sweater you put over their little heads. Seriously, children and dogs are equally delightful but in obviously different ways. And both can get in the way if they are not being supervised. Even if your child is the most well-behaved on the planet, and even if your dog is the calmest, most obedient pet on Earth, you are the adult humans in charge of both. Children are carefree, as they should be. That means they tend to run, bike and play as kids do – all over the place. When I’m out for a run or bike ride, I am prepared to stop as needed, but… my planned exercise is better when I don’t have to zigzag, stop short or brake so hard that I fly over my handlebars. Please exercise control over your children and your pets, which need to be on a leash – the pets that is.  Your cooperation and courtesy is appreciated.

•When Poop Happens, Clean it Up: It seems ridiculous that this would have to be said and yet my Berber carpet knows all too well that some people ignored the first memo about what to do when poop happens. These are folks like my careless, inconsiderate neighbor who lets her dog roam and conduct business on my property and other free-range pet owners who leave organic “gifts” along our trails. I don’t care if your dog is small enough to fit inside your Coach purse. If it poops, you clean it up. Unless you were nabbed and forced to take your dog for a walk by some odd healthy lifestyle kidnapper, you know when you are taking your dog for a walk, so plan accordingly. Carry a plastic bag with you. Remember that you are not the only one using the trail. My Berber carpet expects to be walked all over, but doesn’t like $hitty days any more than you do.

•Do Your Creepin At Home: The word leer is only appealing if it’s spelled lear and has jet after it. No woman feels comfortable with a man standing  along a trail oggling at her in her shorts and sports bra. I can tell you that I don’t take it as a compliment to see your tongue wagging while I’m trying to catch my breath on a run. And I don’t believe you are at the trail for a workout in your jeans, brown socks and polyester shirt. If it’s lap jollies you’re after, watch porn on your laptop like most other red-blooded American men.

•That’s Not An Angel Getting Its Wings – I have a bell on my bike. I like it because of its nostalgic feel and I get to save my voice for my business presentations. But when I use that bell, it’s not to communicate that an angel has gotten its wings as said in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it’s my way of indicating that I’m behind you so stay alert. I usually add something like “on your left,” but I find that can add a new level of confusion for people who forget which is their left and their right. Those folks tend to scurry in all directions like cockroaches when the light’s turned on. Just keep in mind that you’re not alone on the trails so stay aware of your surroundings.

•The Eyes on the Back of My Head – I am not a grade-school teacher or a mom so eyes have not grown on the back of my head. That means that I cannot see behind me. Please be courteous and let me and other runners know when you are approaching. Say something like “excuse me,” “coming your way,” or how about something flattering like “looking good.” If you are a person of few words, simply cough or clear your throat loudly. Last week a man in his 50s whizzed by my left shoulder and had me spinning like a top.

Forgive me if I seem to be lecturing. I do have that “Bad dog…” tone when I write and talk some times. In my defense,  I studied under some of the best lecturers around – the Sisters of the IHM – as a grade school and high school student in Catholic schools.  Now, please follow these rules on the trail or you just might see me out there running with a ruler in my hand.

Yes, and… Five Rules of Improv Help in Work and Play

I used to get a knot in my stomach on Monday afternoons as I anticipated that evening’s comedy improv class about nine years ago. I wanted to be in the class and loved performing in the shows at the Comedy Dojo in Scranton (when people laughed at what I did on stage) but I was still a ball or nerves before class. I was doing the exact opposite of what improv represents. I was not being in the moment. I was worrying ahead of time about what I would say and do, what interesting choices I would make that night in class. But to quote my instructor at the time, Chris Barnes, (and I believe he was quoting someone else when he said this) “You have to walk through the fire to get to the cooling water.”

No matter if it’s an improv class or some other activity or event that takes us outside of our comfort zones, we need to get through the pain, discomfort, difficult stuff to get to the other side where we get to feel cool, calm, relaxed, even proud and let out an “ahhhhhh.”

As I prepare to present a workshop at a conference for administrative professionals using improvisation to address communication, conflict resolution and collaboration, I’m reminded of the valuable lessons the rules of improv can teach all of us… for life.

  • Yes, and… is the one unbreakable rule in improvisation. It means that we say “yes” to what our fellow actor has given us. We accept their words as a gift or treasure and we add “and,” which shows our commitment to contribute something just as valuable that will help us move forward.  Consider saying “Yes” in life more often. Imagine the possibilities. Too many times we disagree with ideas and just say “No.” Or, we want to appear agreeable so we say “Yes, but…” which is basically saying, “I hear what you’re saying but my way is better.”  So the next time your coworker asks “Are you looking forward to that meeting?” Instead of rolling your eyes and saying “No,” try smiling instead and say, “Yes, and I think I’ll suggest we start the meeting by each sharing something fun we did this weekend so we can start on a happy note.”
  • Make unusual or unexpected choices. This improv guideline isn’t something you can apply to every part of life. Attempting to pay your bills with magic beans is not likely to work but there are many instances in which you – and people around you – can benefit from a choice that is different from the status quo. Instead of complaining that it’s Monday and you’d rather be in your garden or on the golf course, CHOOSE to be happy that you are working and doing something that not only affects people’s lives but also allows you to buy that new driver you’ve been scoping out online.  Or, instead of putting in your headphones at your desk so you can tune out your loud, gossiping coworker in the cubicle next to you, listen! Maybe you can learn something that will help you improve your relationship. Take an opportunity to engage her in conversation about a movie, new local restaurant or any topic other than the number of different cars she sees in her neighbor’s driveway on the weekend.
  • Be in the moment. This popular advice is key to the success of improv performers on stage because the scene they create for their audience is so much more interesting when it happens right there and doesn’t reference a past that the audience cannot see or a future that has yet to unfold. Search through any list of self-help books and this theme appears. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” effectively addresses the value and absolute necessity of living our lives in the present. It boggles my mind how simple an idea this is but one that eludes so many of us. It just makes sense that we can only live in the present moment but I can’t tell you how often I live in the past as thoughts in my head (usually negative) race around as if on a track like horses trying to win the Triple Crown. All those hooves galloping kick up quite a bit of mud. I am far, far away from mastering the concept of being in the moment. It takes effort to make sure you are in the moment. Practice it. If you’re like me, you can read a magazine article and not know the full meaning because your mind went somewhere else by the second paragraph. “I have to call to reschedule that doctor’s appointment. I wonder if the new “Orphan Black” is On Demand yet; I want to watch that tonight. Oh crap, I forgot to get gas last night, that means I have to leave the house early today so I’m not late for my meeting.” Practice being in the moment!
  • Show. Don’t Tell. When improv actors create a scene on stage, this is key to believability and much more interesting to the audience if they show activity rather than talk about. For example: Actor A says, “I am not going to walk toward you, place my hands around your neck and pretend to choke you.” Actor B responds, “I’ll stand here and wait for you to do that and as you approach I will bug my eyes out as if I have a look of fear on my face.”  The scene should just happen. If you see it, you will have a much better experience than if you hear about it.  In life this comes in handy when we communicate. Many of us have different communication styles and we may not get someone’s wordy explanation but if they show us how to do something we might have a better time understanding.  And at a higher, loftier, Ghandi-esque level, it’s a good idea to SHOW, not TELL in the manner in which we live our lives. It’s great to teach your children to be honest. It’s good to tell your employees to be productive and do their jobs with integrity but SHOW-ing your children what honesty looks like and SHOW-ing your coworkers what integrity looks like, are much more effective. Ghandi said it simply, “Be the change that y0u wish to see in the world.”
  • Bring something to the party. This is something that improv instructor Barnes used to say to us as we were about to enter a scene. He would remind us that we should bring something to the scene. Yes, it slightly contradicts the idea of not planning what you will do or say in an improv scene but it worked and made sense. He wanted us to think about what we were seeing on stage. What did our fellow actors create already in this scene and what could we bring to it to help it move forward?  When you are hosting a party and everyone brings chips and dip, your menu is going to need help. The next time you enter a room, whether at work or at a social gathering, see what you can add.  Is someone upset, recounting a story about her husband leaving her? Is someone consoling another person who just received bad news from his doctor about cancer? Is someone raising his voice at another person who just offended him?  Your attitude and words can help or hurt the people you are about to engage with. Be aware of other people’s feelings and the situation in front of you and bring something to this party that will help, not hurt or destroy it.

Am I happy that it’s Monday and it’s gray and rain is predicted for tonight when I run a 5K?  Yes, and… I won’t need to wear my sunglasses or worry about getting too hot while I run. The rain will feel refreshing.

Spread Laughter, Better than Ebola

As news of terror groups’ influence spreads like the Ebola virus in west Africa, the need for lighter, laughter-filled moments is obvious. Those who wonder how or why we should laugh while stories of beheaded reporters and deadly viruses top our news, should take a moment to consider a few things.

What happens when the laughter stops? We’re left in darkness. Life can be very serious. It can be sad. It can be challenging, and at times seem hopeless. But we need to make life a laughing matter in order to face the laugh-less times and matters. Robin Willams knew this. Joan Rivers did too. Both of their lights have been extinguished, making  American life -specifically the world of entertainment and pop culture- a bit darker. That makes me sad and a bit worried. The world needs more leaders of laughter and hope to help combat the leaders of terror and dread.

I don’t want to sound dramatic but I fear what will happen in a society with less laughter. Imagine a dark field filled with people just sitting, waiting, wondering, feeling scared, confused and growing more worried.  Now imagine one person lighting a candle and turning to light the candle of the person next to her. She lights the candle of the person to her right and he does the same. This continues until the field is illuminated and people feel safe, warm and comforted to see and talk with the people around them. This is what laughter does. It lights the way, making it easier to see potential pitfalls. It doesn’t remove all of life’s bad stuff but it does help us to deal with it better; it reinvigorates us, giving us the hope and strength to continue to fight whatever battle we are waging.

It disappoints me when people, especially those in power, who are decision makers in organizations, don’t see the light that humor and laughter provide. They question how laughter can be introduced to people who are depressed or to families coping with the wounds created by the suicide of a loved one. These people who do not see laughter as a beacon, seem to almost fear it, like it can do further harm. I think that belief is one that stems from fear, antiquated beliefs and/or a closed mind. It is true that laughter has power and that it can create change. We just have to be open to the idea. It doesn’t require a prescription or a House vote or a platinum credit card. Laughter is within each and everyone of us. And once we let it out, it can and will spread like a virus. But this one is the kind you won’t be infected with. You’ll be effected…for good!

Procrastinators Rule…Once We Get Started

I think it all started in the womb (doesn’t everything?). It was Labor Day weekend and my mom’s doctor wasn’t about to have his holiday plans soiled by some pesky little baby girl, so he induced labor and delivered me on Friday afternoon.  That freed up his schedule so he could hit the links on Saturday morning, launch his pontoon boat in the Paupack, or attend a swingers’ convention (it was the early 70s after all).

Like a discovered fugitive forced out from the safety of his hiding place, I was dramatically removed from the comfort of my mother’s womb before I was ready. And I believe that ever since, I have been rebelling, through procrastination. (On a side note, please accept my apologies; this column was actually due last month.)  Nevertheless, I hope you can still appreciate the message here. Maybe some of your best friends are procrastinators; perhaps someone you love wears the scarlet P on his or her chest, or, the procrastinator, is you! If you’re like me, I forgive you for putting the paper down and not finishing this column for a few days. As long as you return soon, I’ll be happy.

The thing about procrastination is, it doesn’t keep us from being productive members of society.  Forgive me for bragging a bit, but I set some lofty goals and even though I take my time getting started, I do achieve them. I’ve written and published two books, ran my first marathon last fall, and left my day job to invest full time in my business: Laugh to Live! But I often wonder what else I could achieve if I didn’t put things off. I can only imagine the challenges I could conquer if I didn’t pause to watch hours of junk TV on Bravo. If Andy Cohen would produce the Real Housewives of Plains Township, I would watch it. The only differences I could imagine from the Real Housewives of New York or Orange County, would be the women in Plains doing their hair pulling and back stabbing at the church picnic instead of the Chanel store.  My name is Jeannine and I watch too much TV. (Here’s where you would say , as a group, “Hi Jeannine.”)

I don’t know why I put things off. Every time I begin a project days before it’s due or I wait until hours before a business presentation to prepare my notes, I seem surprised by my own behavior as if it was beyond my control. I tend to get nervous and worry if I’ll succeed. Well it’s time that I learn to embrace the procrastinator in me and feel confident about what I will accomplish.  The procrastinator in me needs love too. She may be a little tardy for the figurative party (I am actually a very punctual person so I’m rarely late for the literal party) but when she arrives, she’s fierce. The only alternative to accepting and loving the procrastinator in me is to change my behavior, or at least curb it.  I’m not sure how soon I see that happening. I bought a book once about how to change my procrastinating ways, but I only read the first two chapters. That was 10 years ago.  I may not have finished that book, but I’ve completed a number of important chapters in the story of my life.

The Smell of Leather Saddle Shoes in Autumn

I love these August days. Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo and I associate this time of year with many years of happy birthday celebrations … for me, and for years, celebrating with my grandmother, a fellow Virgo.  Another reason could be that I was what one might call a bookish, kind of dorky kid who enjoyed the back-to-school season like any other joyful, colorful holiday. One of my favorite memories is that of the annual event of shoe shopping with my grandmother that took place around this time of year. It was exciting because it was one of few opportunities to express my sense of style. Because I attended Catholic school and wore a uniform from Kindergarten through 12th grade, there was little room for freedom of fashion other than choices like: cardigan or V neck? And white or maroon knee socks?

I also enjoyed picking out notebooks, pens and erasers. I treated those as fashion accessories. A simple joy in grade school was getting pencils and erasers that smelled like grapes, bananas or chocolate. And don’t get me started on the scratch n sniff stickers that were all the rage to put on notebooks. If I close my eyes really tight, I can smell the salty pretzel sticker. I also remember the fun I had getting a notebook in high school bearing the “dancing baby” from the TV show “Ally McBeal.” It was a conversation piece that always made me grin. I think little things produced  much more joy back then.  Today I do gain joy from simple pleasures like a good cup of flavored coffee, a sunny day and the smell of autumn in the air, but I think I recognize these opportunities for joy less as an adult. And when I do my allow myself to enjoy the moment, the moment goes quickly. The good news is that I’m aware and I am working to change that. Or at least I’m aware that I want to work to change that. I’m enjoying a good cup of coconut coffee while I type this. There’s a start.

Today I have the freedom to dress how I want for back-to-school season (as long as it’s in good taste, I am teaching at a Catholic college after all). I no longer carry on the tradition of shoe shopping and I don’t buy notebooks, pencils and loose leaf paper. But this morning I did have that all-too-familiar nervous feeling of knots in my stomach that eventually morphed into excited anticipation as I taught my first ever college class. (I ask for some leeway when it comes to my use of the word “teach.”)  Since it was the first day, I eased students into this writing class. We just got to know one another a bit and talked about the syllabus. I guess, technically, I was teaching them about the course and what to expect, while learning from them what they wanted to gain.

Naturally I took the opportunity to introduce students to the concept of laughter yoga, because that’s what I do, and because laughter works as a great ice breaker and brings the level of stress down in a room instantly. I asked them to stand and take a few deep inhales and exhales of ho, ha and hee. I didn’t want to take them too far outside of their comfort zones but I think this was just enough to loosen them up a bit and elicit a few smiles. I’ll take them farther down laughter yoga lane another day. I expect that we’ll have times throughout the semester when stress will need to be let out of the room so we can relax, re-focus and re-energize.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some coffee-scented stickers for my academic planner.

Laughing Nuns Generate Catholic Flashback to Plaid & Patent Leather

For a long time now I’ve been telling people that I’m either an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert because I can get up in front of hundreds of people to talk about the power of laughter and humor and I can perform stand-up or improv comedy. But when I’m at a business mixer by myself it’s a real challenge to approach a stranger and introduce myself. And if I’m in an audience I will never raise my hand to volunteer or ask a question.  After taking an online quiz -and we know how accurate those are – I have determined to my satisfaction that I am an introvert.

When I was in kindergarten I had some serious social anxiety. It got to the point where my kindergarten teacher called in the big guns. She had the first-grade teacher, Sister Ann Marie, speak to me in the presence of my mother. I won’t forget sitting on the curb in Holy Rosary School’s driveway as Sister told me, “We don’t take cry babies in first grade you know.” If I was a child today hearing that message, my mom could post on Facebook that I was bullied. I’m not so sure I think that it was that serious but it was kind of harsh. But it worked. I entered first grade and I was a champion. I no longer cried. When I donned my plaid jumper and patent leather shoes (alternated with saddle shoes) I became the good Stepford Child. “Yes sister.” “No sister.”  “The answer is …” I was even the kid that was asked to stand in front of the class to keep the peace, so to speak, when sister had to step out into the hall. It didn’t make me popular with the other kids but it did put me in Sister’s favor and I still had lots of friends so I was fine.

Fast forward about 35 years and put me in front of an audience of nearly 400 nuns. That was the scene about two weeks ago when I spoke at a conference for sisters gathered for two days at Misericordia University. I was there to share my message about the power and value of laughter and humor and to lead them in some laughter yoga. Now I had presented to conferences for Sisters there twice before but it had been about three years or more and for some reason I felt extra nervous this time. I felt unprepared and just didn’t have a great feeling in my stomach. I think part of that had to do with some personal things on my mind but I can usually separate that from my business.

When I saw the huge dining hall where the nuns had just eaten I got more nervous because I wondered if all the Sisters would be able to see me and if I would engage them enough.  I heard a few of the women talking in the lobby and one asked “So what’s next? The laughter lady..what’s that about?” And the other woman said, “I have no idea.” At first that made me worry but then I thought, “Hmm, if they don’t know what to expect then I can’t really fail to meet their expectations, right?”

After being introduced I had some technical difficulties with the lavalier mic but fortunately the handheld mic was given to me within a minute or two. I had my index cards and some other papers on the table near me – I tend to use these as a safety net although I rarely ever look at them during a presentation – but I got comfortable early in the presentation and just talked. I started off okay and when I saw the smiling faces of the Sisters and received the warm response from so many of them, something happened that rarely happens.  I relaxed enough to speak from the heart confidently and comfortably. The core of my message is always about the same: laughter is powerful and we need to use it more because it’s good for us. Scientists tell us that and real people validate how good we feel after laughing. And my laughter yoga exercises are usually about the same. But the part of the presentation around that, where I want to engage them and keep their interest with some humorous stories that are about my experiences, changes. This time it felt spot on because the Sisters were connecting and loving it… and I felt truly at ease, in my element.  I told them about my kindergarten order to lose the cry baby thing and they all seemed to go “oh….” with disapproval. I told them how I don’t really attend church these days and added, “I can’t help it, with so many nuns staring at me, I feel the need to unburden myself.”  And they laughed loudly. My personal favorite moment was when I said I earned a Masters of Communication Arts from Marywood University in Scranton and they politely and playfully booed. I laughed and told them I didn’t realize there was this “east coast versus west coast thing” going on between the orders of Sisters at Misericordia and Marywood. I wasn’t sure if they would get the reference but they laughed.

The Sisters were all good sports about getting on their feet and laughing with me and doing chants of “ho ho ho, ha ha ha and hee hee hee.” Many participants came up to me after the presentation to tell me how much they enjoyed it and how important it is to laugh, saying that the work I’m doing is important and necessary.  I felt more than relief. I felt pleased and proud. I felt like these Sisters were my peeps! When I got home I almost slipped into my plaid skirt but decided to just dress myself in the memories of a good evening of laughs and fellowship shared!

The Rabbit Died & Other Funny Stories

It was a packed house on Wednesday, July 9 at the Scranton Cultural Center for an appearance by comedian/actress/author Amy Sedaris as part of the Lackawanna County Library System’s speaker series. The first thing that struck me about Amy when she walked out on stage was how tiny she is. We’re not talking Thumbelina small like Kristin Chenoweth but Amy is small. Her legs were tone but very thin. Her red handbag and pumps designed by friend Sarah Jessica Parker were also eye-catching. She had a comical bounce to her entrance, with her head sort of bobbing back and forth.

For as wacky as the characters are that Amy portrays, she took this interview seriously. She seemed grounded and genuine. Mary Garm, the director of the library system, conducted the interview. Mary delivers what one might expect from a librarian. She doesn’t look like she’ s ever done E at a rave or has tried to get away with checking out 17 items in the “15 items or less” aisle at the supermarket. She looks more like someone who would be happy to sit next to Wilford Brimley on a porch swing enjoying an ice-cold glass of lemonade talking about how hot the summer has been. She and Amy made the perfect pair. My friend Stephanie made the comparison, at points throughout the interview, that Amy and Mary interacting was similar to the SNL sketch “Delicious Dish” (most talked about for Alec Baldwin’s appearance promoting Pete’s Schweddy balls, which were Christmas cookies, of course).  Mary dryly responded to Amy’s answers with “hmm, interesting” akin to Anna Gasteyer’s character Margaret Jo McCullen saying “good times.”

Amy Was Funny And Serious

Amy answered all questions seriously in her regular voice. There were no characters who came out on stage. But Amy was warm, engaging and entertaining as she told her stories. She apparently likes to keep her private life very private but she did reveal her love for cooking and entertaining people in her New York City apartment and she revealed something that I thought was meant to be a joke at first, but wasn’t. Amy is a rabbit whisperer. She goes to people’s homes to help them rabbit proof and ensure the best environment for the fluffy creature.  Amy told the sad story of her 11-year-old rabbit Dusty dying but with a hint of humor. She recalled how the rabbit cried horribly for hours and that she was tempted to move things along by smothering him because she was sure that he was in pain but the vet assured her that he was not in pain. Amy also got laughs when she told the audience how bossy her rabbit was.

You Know Amy; You’ve Seen Her in the Tide Commercials

Amy Sedaris is not a household name but people surely know her if you tell them, “She’s that blonde on the Tide commercials who acts bubbly and kind of cooky.” After listening to Mary mention all of Amy’s various projects, it seems that Amy does a bit of everything. She has written and performed plays with her famous humorist writer brother, David Sedaris. She has done sketch and other comedy on TV. She has small roles in movies. She does voice-over work on TV and in films. She has the whole rabbit thing going on. She has authored books: “I Like You, Hospitality Under the Influence,” which includes recipes and tips on entertaining and how to be a good party guest, “Wigfield,” which she co-authored with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello and of course her latest book she is promoting, “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People,” a funny book about how to create some off-beat craft projects.   She has created a line of quilt fabrics that are going to pop up on other household items like popcorn bowls. And she is of course the face and voice for funny Tide, Bounce and Downy commercials. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things but you get the point. She is prolific and her talents are varied.  With her upcoming break from projects she said she’d love to waitress again but she envisioned problems like other waitresses resenting her … specifically the ones who are doing it to earn a living. And the fact that people might recognize her could be problematic, she said. But she said she loves working with people and finds it so interesting to interact and observe others.

Forget All the World’s A Stage; It’s A Peek Backstage

Comedians need to people watch like we need breathe.  Anyone who writes humorous material must immerse themselves into the world with eyes and ears wide open so you don’t miss anything. (That is not a quote from Amy by the way. I’m saying it. It sounds good though right?)  As someone who has been writing for over 20 years and who has been writing stand-up comedy for about 10 of those years, humorous articles, my funny dating book, “He’s Not Prince Charming When…,” I know how much I owe to the fun observance of people and interpersonal experiences with people. Life is full of material for the next great comedy, sitcom, play, etc.  As Amy shared, her Greek grandmother was the inspiration for one of Amy’s first popular characters. Amy said “She was just so much fun to make fun of.”

What Makes Amy Laugh

When Mary asked Amy what she thinks is funny, she listed things like: people falling (at which point my friends Steph and Michelle looked at me because we witnessed some poor woman fall in the lobby that evening; while she wasn’t injured, none of us laughed because it wasn’t “that kind of fall”), wigs flying off. Eventually she said that she finds “everything” to be funny. She said she’ll laugh at a patch of mushrooms growing together.

As far as people she finds funny, that list includes her mother, Jonathan Winters, her brother David, her friend Stephen Colbert and others that I forget.

What about the Whole “Women Aren’t Funny” Thing?

Before I went to the event I wondered if I had a question that I wanted Amy to answer. I figured that the basics would be covered and beyond that I didn’t have too much I was dying to know. But I did want to hear Amy’s perspective on the whole “women aren’t funny” thing.  Even though I speak in front of audiences for my business, Laugh to Live, some times to groups of a few hundred people in size, I was nervous about raising my hand or shouting out a question. I never feel completely comfortable doing that.  Thankfully, mics were set up on both sides of the stage where Amy was seated so you just had to get in line and address her at the mic. So I did. I asked her what she thought of this whole notion or some-time buzz that women aren’t funny.

Her answer managed to surprise, disappoint and encourage me. It was as if I had asked her about a little-known restaurant down the street. Her response was like “Hmm? What is that?” It had not seemed to make any great impact on Amy’s career. She said that she enjoyed great female ensembles like the one on “Orange is the New Black” and that she worked with a lot of female actors and comedians, especially doing improv at Second City, and it was never an issue. She even asked back “Is that still a thing?” Her response disappointed me in a way because I kind of expected and wanted her to give some fire and brimstone speech about how hard her path had been but how she and other brave and strong funny women need to keep doing it to quiet all of the naysayers. But I was also inspired and encouraged that she was so unaffected by it and possibly even insulated from it. She has made a life and career making people laugh – and doing a host of humorous, creative projects – that is fulfilling to her without any gender angst. When I told her that not too long ago Adam Carolla created a bit of a stir by making comments about female comedy writers being less funny than men, she responded with “Who?” and then after a wry smile, “Oh, and we know how funny he is.” (I’ll make a note here to say that I have nothing against Carolla, not that if I did it would keep him awake at night or keep him from continuing to earn the fantastic living that he does, who am I? but I mentioned his comments because his were among the most recent that I could recall about women not being funny.) While I was at first disappointed by Amy’s nonchalant attitude about it, I am glad to hear that throughout her career she has not felt hindered or discriminated against for being a woman in the funny business and that the whole “women aren’t as funny as men” thing is not on her radar.  Amy strikes me as an explosive ball of creativity who is far too busy putting herself out there through her numerous projects and making people laugh to notice, or even care who is playing judge and jury to what or who should be considered funny!

Ready for Some Funny from Amy Sedaris

Tonight (Wednesday, July 9) I am going to hear actress/author/comedian Amy Sedaris speak in Scranton as part of the library’s speaker series. I am always embarrassed to admit that I am not an avid reader, especially because I am a writer. Allow me the indulgence of mentioning the two books I’ve written and published: “He’s Not Prince Charming When…” and the children’s book “Wartz And All.” Both feature cute frogs.  Learn more here.  I feel that writing and reading should go hand in hand but I just don’t love reading. With that said, I have not read either of Amy Sedaris’ books. I have read the book “Naked” by Amy’s brother David Sedaris.

Going into this evening, my knowledge of Amy is limited I admit. What I have seen, I have enjoyed. She’s quirky and bubbly and entertaining. I enjoyed the role she played on the ABC sitcom The Middle and I loved her on Andy Cohen’s interview show “Watch What Happens Live” on the Bravo network.  I look forward to hearing what she has to share with the audience. I was thinking this morning what question I would like to ask her – assuming I had the nerve to get up and do so. (Yes, I can speak to hundreds of people at conferences, etc. and I perform improv and stand-up comedy, but I have trouble even picturing myself standing up to ask a comedian a question that could provide me with insight. Messed up right?!)   I can’t really come up with any burning questions but that is not a reflection on what I think of Amy Sedaris.  I don’t know if I’m just not the curious type or what.  The only thing that really came to my mind is what she thinks about the whole notion that women aren’t funny.   Of course I want to know what her secret to success has been and how she overcomes challenges but I believe that will be covered. That’s some basic stuff.

I look forward to sharing some of Amy Sedaris’ insights and comments in next week’s blog. I know it’s Wednesday but I should have also mentioned that in addition to not enjoying reading and being shy, I’m also a procrastinator. I will make it worth the wait though, trust me! If you don’t enjoy, I’ll refund your money.

Have a happy hump day and find your funny somewhere tonight. I know where I’ll find mine: listening to Ms. Sedaris!