My sophomore year of high school, I was cut from the baseball team. Before this moment, I had no real idea what career I wanted to pursue. But in a moment of extreme desperation — a moment in which I had no idea how to keep my pride intact — I wrote a humor column for my journalism class.
“The baseball coach posted a list. There were two columns. I assumed the left was the list of kids who made the team, and right was the kids didn’t. But there was whole other list — a very special list that only existed in his mind. And that was the list of people he entirely forgot to include on the sheet. Which was a list of one. Me.”
The kids in the class burst out laughing.
“So I asked the coach: Hey, why aren’t I on the list? And he said, ‘Because you didn’t make the team.’ I was puzzled, so I asked why I wasn’t in the right column — you know, the list of kids who didn’t make the team? And he said that was the B team. The left was the A team. And I was cut.”
I was addicted to the laughter and the attention. I was short. My voice was squeaky. But when I wrote, people listened. They read. They thought I was funny and clever and brave.
So that’s how I headed down this path.
But obviously something changed between then and now. Because I’ve often been accused of only writing sad things. My defense is that conflicting emotions are largely the inspiration for writing. Writing is a tool, and you only use tools when there is something you need to fix — a task to accomplish. I started to write snooty, high-minded sentences like this one, and the one before this one. Instead of being “funny,” I decided I wanted to be “smart.” And as I’m realizing now, I’m not smart enough to be “smart.”
I’m thinking a lot these days of how to make work more enjoyable, and I’m thinking back to how I used to love school. It was because I was a class clown. I said things that made the entire class burst into laughter.. I thought life was about laughter, and my favorites moments in life were filled with asphyxiating laughter.
In fact, my crowining moment at D.B.C. preschool was the first day I stayed for afternoon school, which was for the kids whose parents didn’t pick them up until 5 p.m. This meant that, for the first time ever, I was eating lunch at school.
So I’m eating my rice and beef and kimchi, like a good Korean boy, when I decide to tell a joke. Now, I don’t remember the joke, but I do remember the reaction: milk flying out of everyone’s noses, one kid projectile-laughing half his PB&J. And one girl, Heidi — oh, Heidi — just sitting in her seat and smiling as her chocolate pudding dripped out of her mouth. That was a good feeling. That was also the last day I went to afternoon preschool.
I always thought, as a kid, that I would always have this desire. But it turns out that as we want things — like for girls to like us instead of viewing us as the martyr who makes Spanish class go by faster — we change. We decide it’s not important to be funny, but rather to be smart or cool. And one day, you look back at the last 10 blog post you’ve written, and they’re all a depressing pile of emo that smells a bit like stale saltines. In fact, this one is starting to smell like that too.
I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed writing as much as I did that very first time I wrote a humor column. I used to take joy in making people cry when they read my writing, but unless there’s something that is legitimately sad — like Heidi from preschool, who had problems keeping liquids in her mouth — then I suppose there’s no reason to try to make someone sad. Rather, if I want to write, I should try to make people laugh.
There are lots of sad things in the world, but I’m not sure I remember the last time I laughed so hard that I couldn’t breath. I used to write with the sole purpose of making someone laugh. I would go through each sentence and, if it wasn’t funny by itself, I would add a clause. It was a really terribly habit that was came to a screaching halt when I tried to make a pun out of the name “Kenaniah” during my “History of the New Testament” class. That was a bad class.
So as I go through whatever I’m going through now, perhaps humor is the better way out. Perhaps I should stop trying to ignore the 75 hours of video games I’ve played in the last two week, but rather find the comedic value in my uncontrollable urge to lick my facial hair as I kill virtual terrorists. I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to be on the third list — the list of kids whom the coach forgets to list on the tryout rosters. But I’ve been there once, and it’s not such a bad list to be on. It’s the list that brutally says, “You suck at this. Go do something else.”