Editor’s Chair: The end of the year…

Tracy Wuster

While the “end of the world” (again) proved to be a time of revelry and mockery, the end of the year tends to be a time of reflection–from public year end lists to private catalogues of our year (regrets and retorts–otherwise known as resolutions).  Well, I don’t want to.

One, I am a private person, generally, or at least private when it comes to the public.  And, second, this year has been tough, in many ways–personally and professionally, so my reflections might have little place in a humor blog.  When asked at recent holiday parties and happy hours the academic version of “How’s life?”–“How was your semester?”–I could respond, “I can talk about death and I can talk about teaching writing to engineers.”  Both topics are not ones most people want to talk about.

During such a semester, I kept thinking the explanation that Mark Twain gave when he gave up writing a monthly humor column in the Galaxy Monthly in 1871–his time’s version of a humor blog.  He wrote:

I have written for THE GALAXY a year. For the last eight months, with hardly an interval, I have had for my fellows and comrades, night and day, doctors and watchers of the sick! During these eight months death has taken two members of my home circle and malignantly threatened two others. All this I have experienced, yet all the time been under contract to furnish “humorous” matter once a month for this magazine. I am speaking the exact truth in the above details. Please to put yourself in my place and contemplate the grisly grotesqueness of the situation. I think that some of the “humor” I have written during this period could have been injected into a funeral sermon without disturbing the solemnity of the occasion.

The MEMORANDA will cease permanently with this issue of the magazine. To be a pirate, on a low salary, and with no share in the profits of the business, used to be my idea of an uncomfortable occupation, but I have other views now. To be a monthly humorist in a cheerless time is drearier (April 1870).

Not that we are ceasing the blog, but in a cheerless time, both personally and publicly, with illness, death, and politics of such a dreary variety, it is sometimes unpleasant to be cheerful.  Although as Sharon McCoy reminded us, painful humor is often the best kind (Matt Daube discussed another response in relation to recent, horrific events).

And while I would love to provide a Top Ten list of Humor Works of Whatever Variety here, I only have one.  In 1997, Kurt Vonnegut did a series of short radio broadcasts for WNYC in which he interviewed a variety of dead figures in the blue tunnel leading to heaven–via controlled near-death experiences assisted by Dr. Kevorkian.

Kurt Vonnegut letters from the afterlife

Many of these broadcasts are available to listen to at WNYC.  Sadly, they will not embed here.  Go listen to them, if you like. Subsequently, they were compiled into the book, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman.

Kurt Vonnegut God bless you dr. Kevorkian cover death

The book reminded me of one thing, by way of reflection.  Vonnegut wrote:

I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishments after I’m dead.  My German-American ancestors, the earliest of whom settled in our Middle West about the time of our Civil War, called themselves “Freethinkers,” which is the same sort of thing.

Same for me.  Germans, Middle West, Freethinkers, Humanists.  Happy New Year’s humans.  Be kind to each other.

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