Friday, August 19, 2011

HOW LAUGHTER HELPED ME HEAL


There’s an anniversary coming up soon that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Actually, a day hasn’t gone by in the past 10 years that I haven’t thought about September 11, 2001. I remember every moment of that day. I was getting dressed to go into Manhattan that morning. The Duchess of York was touting her children’s book on Good Morning America when the cable went out. At least, at the time I thought it was the cable. I finished dressing, headed downstairs, and flipped on the radio. The first thing I heard was that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I turned the TV on in the den and started flipping channels until I found one that worked, The Financial News Network. Moments later, I watched in stunned disbelief as another plane flew into the other tower.

Afterwards, I considered myself lucky. Although many people who lived in my town never again came home, I lost no family, friends, or even acquaintances that day. However, I do know many people not as lucky. The guy who lives two doors down from me lost his sister when one tower fell and his nephew, her son, when the other tower fell. There are countless other heart-wrenching stories throughout our area.

The lives of every American changed that day, no matter where you live, and we’re still dealing with the aftermath. We probably always will. The world is a more dangerous place now, filled with angry people who have no regard for human life, and their numbers are growing in staggering proportions. No one is immune. When I think about how our lives have changed since that day, the changes go far beyond the inconveniences of security checks at airports, bomb sniffing dogs at Penn Station, and surveillance cameras on every street corner.

For me, though, that day had a profound effect on my writing. Prior to 9/11 I wrote dark romantic suspense. After 9/11 I couldn’t write. Terrorism was all around me. I didn’t want to create more of it on paper. I stopped reading suspense and thrillers and no longer watched murder and mayhem on television or in the movies.

A week and a half after 9/11 I was back in Manhattan. My girlfriend and I had tickets to see The Vagina Monologues. The theaters had reopened, and the mayor was imploring people to go on with our lives. We couldn’t let the city’s economy go bankrupt. We couldn’t let the terrorists see us cowering. My girlfriend was too spooked to go into the city. I refused to let the terrorists win. My husband didn’t want me going alone, so he came with me, one of two men in the audience. Had he realized what he was getting himself into, he probably would have opted to let me go by myself!

I laughed that day for the first time in 12 days. It helped. When I began to feel that I could write again, I thought about that day in the theater. I had desperately needed to laugh. The healing process was long, and the wounds of that day will never entirely heal, but that first time I laughed 12 days after 9/11 was the first step toward healing for me. And that’s when I realized, I needed to write humor.

I discovered that writing funny is a lot harder than writing scary, but for me switching genres made a huge difference in my life. I may go back to writing suspense at some point. I have a few stories parked in the corner of my brain, and someday I’d like to put them down on paper. However, I doubt I’ll ever stop writing humor. I’ve received too many fan letters from readers who have told me my funny books have helped them get through trying times in their own lives. That’s all the validation I need to keep writing funny. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Lois Winston writes humorous amateur sleuth mysteries. She recently finished up the third book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at her website 
and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog.

21 comments:

Angela Roe said...

Excellent post. It was a horrible time and I also remember where I was and what I was doing. I hope we never forget.

Robin Allen said...

Great post, Lois! I used to read/watch suspense and more hard-boiled books/movies, but stopped and didn't know why. I think you may have given me the reason.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Angela and Robin.

Sebastian Stuart said...

Very powerful post. Humor truly is a saving grace.

Irene said...

It's hard to determine which event, Kennedy's assassination or 9/11, had a bigger impact on my life. Both were horrible and both made me realize that the world was not such a nice place. Better to laugh when you can, love when you have the opportunity and live life to the fullest.
(and if you see something, say something)

Kwana said...

Beautiful post Lois and like you not a day goes by...

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Sebastian and Kwana. Irene, that's very good advice. We should all life our lives to the fullest.

Shannon said...

The best complement I ever got was not meant as such. A woman I often refer to as the Alpha Redhead said in disgust, "Wherever there is laughter, there is Shannon Baker." The worse things get for me, the more I find funny--sometimes inappropriately. Keep giving us something to laugh about.

Beth Groundwater said...

I was just reading an article about a visiting band from New Orleans today. They said that before Katrina, people wanted their music, but after Katrina people needed it. That's one function of all types of creative arts, to lift up our spirits in times of trouble.

Lois Winston said...

Shannon, I know there's some psychological explanation for why people laugh at inappropriate moments, but I don't remember what it is.

Beth, that's so true. I find I need to listen to certain music when I'm upset. Or go to the museum and sit in front of some of my favorite paintings. They both have a way of calming and centering me.

Cindy Sample said...

Another lovely post, Lois. We need to honor the memory of those tragic events, but there is nothing better than laughter to help us cope with every day annoyances. My favorite fan comment was from a newly divorced woman who said my book was the best thing to happen to her in a year. I told her to read your wonderful ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN next.

One day and one laugh at a time.

Lois Winston said...

Cindy, thank you so much! I just love my writing community. Everyone is so supportive of each other.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks for sharing, Lois. I know your books are helping people you'll never know, by giving them a laugh and an escape too.

Dru said...

Beautiful post.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Kathleen and Dru.

Chris Bailey said...

Lois,
I'm not sure my breaking point was related to 9/11, but I did reach a point when I realized that life is dark enough without spending my writing hours exploring the dark corners of the mind to create suspense. I keep hearing that various genres are getting darker and edgier, but I'll stick with humor, thanks! I'd much rather read about unlikely (yet crafty!) murders than a fiction built around headline news.

Lois Winston said...

I'm with you, Chris. Let's hear it for CRAFTY murders!

The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick said...

Great post, Lois! I don't think anyone who watched it happen (whether in person or live on TV) will ever forget. Even though I was across the country in Seattle, I still witnessed the live, raw reactions of the newscasters as we all watched that second plane as it happened. But I, like you, have always believed in the healing effects of humor. I can't "not" write humor. It's in every book. That's always been my goal as I work toward getting published...write the kind of books that people can escape into and laugh with, despite whatever stressful reality they are dealing with in their lives.

Camille Minichino said...

Thank you, Lois, for a touching reminder. I remember the first New Yorker cartoons that came after a while, and what relief I felt laughing.

And I'm also glad I stuck to my plans and flew to New York City soon enough after 9/11 that I could smell the ash and renew my love and support for the city and determination not to cower.

Deborah Sharp said...

This is so poignant, Lois. thanks for sharing it. Though I didn't live in or near NYC, I had a similar reaction to the sadness and tragedy of that time. Dark, frightening works didn't hold the same attraction for me, because hadn't we seen the darkest darkness and most terrifying fear in real life? Good post.

Vicki Doudera said...

Fascinating post, Lois. Good for you to take another tack when you found yourself unable to write in a darker vein. Thanks for sharing your story.