Lynne Tillman
Photo: Electric Literature
My mother and I used to watch movies on TV, especially "The Late Show." We both loved movies. One night, when I was about ten, we were watching The Sun Also Rises, based on Ernest Hemingway's WWI novel. It wasn't stated, but the hero was impotent from a war wound, so he and his great love couldn't consummate their affair. At the end of the movie, I turned to my mother and said: "Maybe he should get an erector set." My mother nearly fell off her chair, she was so speechless with laughter. Sex was almost never mentioned in our household, but through a joke, we were able to connect over it.

These days, when my musician husband, David Hofstra, and I become annoyed with each other, humor can change the weather. It started at the beginning of our relationship, when I said, very seriously, "I don't know how to introduce you to my friends. Boyfriend sounds stupid." David said, in his understated Kansan way, "Tell them I'm your insignificant other." How I introduced him didn't matter after that. Between David and me, I think laughing is a form of love.

Maybe it’s also my form of self-medicating, because I need it most especially when I'm feeling down. Writers can never really know if their work is good or meaningful. It's depressing. People say: "Don't worry. When you're dead, your books will become classics." Thanks a lot, I think, and imagine my tombstone, "Now Enjoying Her Popularity." "Dead Author Here." Gallows humor cheers me up. After all, death is life's great punch line.

Sigmund Freud wrote, in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, that jokes come along to help us; we laugh because we need to. He theorized they were as necessary to life as food, sleep, and dreams, because they provided release from stress we don't even know we’re feeling and offer relief from all kinds of suffering.

Without my joking my own petty or very sad thoughts, I might survive, but I don't think I'd care to. I like laughing hard and long until my muscles ache. I call this "Extreme Laughter," the only exercise I want to do.

More on the Importance of Laughter