Humor theory

humor and memoir hameister notes

Good lord. Two Saturdays ago I took a workshop through Portland Center Stage, “Humorous Memoir with Courtenay Hameister,” which was fan-freaking-tastic in all ways. (If you don’t know who she is, you should defnitely look her up, and you should totally take a class from her.) I have been working on a larger piece about it for over a week now – who knew that the words “humor theory” would set me off in so many directions? Well, you probably did… 

Anyway, for today I am going to cut to the chase because I want to share the piece I wrote there with you, so I will boil it down to this: Humor Theory is the same as Trauma Theory, only jauntier.

What follows is a very raw second draft, as yet untitled, written in 30 minutes and read aloud in class for feedback (which was great, but maybe they were just an easy audience?), edited just slightly here for continuity. – Ed.

This happened the same week I’d looked out my window and noticed a man walking with a baby in one of those front carriers, and I thought to myself, “I bet that is an ugly baby.”

Now you have a sense of the mood I was in.

It was during my Year of Ursula, when I was busy figuring out how to quit putting up with bullshit, which is harder than it sounds (especially since I was not yet the Born Again (and Again) Taoist (<– get it?) I am today. I was still very “peopled-out,” with the exception of a close few, and had become extremely protective about who I would spend my time with. I had grown increasingly distrustful of The Public. I found myself devoting considerable energy to thinking about how I could become agoraphobic professionally.

I was meeting my writer friend, Chad, who I adore, at those food carts downtown that used to be across from Target. It was a sunny summer day, close to noon, so of course it was very busy. Crowds make me nervous, and food cart pods always make me feel like I am going to pick the wrong thing, but I trust Chad implicitly, and knew as soon as he got there I could make him take the lead and I would be totally fine. He was moving to New Orleans in a few weeks, so this was going to be one of our last visits before he left Portland. I was happy for him, and not at all concerned about losing our close friendship, but I was very aware that soon I would not have him to tell me if I wanted the shawarma or the bibimbap, or to have him to people watch in Director Park with.

I was uncharacteristically early, and was just standing there on our designated street corner, being middle-aged and grey-headed, which apparently I am good at. I am aware that no one is afraid of me, and while this is generally a good quality, it leaves me feeling like easy prey sometimes. Yes, I am a person strangers will ask for the time, and also a person who gets cut in front of in line.

Anyway, a group of maybe five or six teenagers crossed over to right where I was standing, and literally edged me out of the space I was occupying, as if I wasn’t even there. I took a couple of steps to the side, but I still wanted to be where Chad could see me, so I stayed as close to our designated spot as possible. The teenagers did not give me a second glance, and stood in a circle chatting animatedly about teenager things. The boy closest to me, holding onto his backpack straps, turned his head and spat right in my direction, and it landed just a few inches from my foot. Gross.

I looked at it and thought, you little entitled asshole. You spoiled brat. You disrespectful little creep. (I became a crabby old woman in an instant.)  I didn’t say anything, but I looked down at his spit on the ground, then looked up at him until he made eye contact with me, narrowed my eyes, and, yes you guessed it. I decided right then and there to do it back.

Only I am apparently a terrible spitter, because it took me a moment to work up enough saliva, and then when I tried to spit, it just kind of hung there from my bottom lip. Not really like drooling, but kind of. I did not trust my aim, so I wasn’t going to risk a “ptooey” that might accidentally get it on him, or me. I wanted it to land on the ground next to where his spit glob had landed, or better yet on top of his if possible, so I ended up leaning over slightly in order to aim, then slowly shaking my head back and forth to get it to swing loose. I was trembling inside, and it seemed to take forever, but by then I could not back out. Finally, it dropped to the ground. Then I looked back up at him, and didn’t say a word.

I kept thinking oh my god, what did I just do? I couldn’t believe myself, and felt a little embarrassed, a bit like a criminal, and like I had really crossed a line of some kind, but basically, I was elated. (What does that mean about me?)

He didn’t say a word, either, and by then all of his friends had fallen silent. The crosswalk light changed, and the whole group walked back across the street, not talking until they were safely on the opposite street corner. I wish I could have heard what they said.

I didn’t even mention it to Chad when he arrived shortly afterward. What was I going to say, “I just spit at teenagers?” “I’ve gone to the dark side?”

Let’s hope I don’t make this a habit, but just to be safe I should probably work on my spitting.


Entrepreneurship, and where the hell have I been since May (series part 1)


entrepreneur: one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise

The summer before fifth grade, I started a small business picking blackberries and selling them to the neighbors on our cul-de-sac for $0.25/pint. The berries grew wild (I did not know the word “invasive” yet) on the undeveloped property adjacent to the brand-new subdivision my dad was building, where we lived in an enormous house with a swimming pool. I had no clue what a bargain the neighbors were getting. Word spread quickly, and business boomed.

My mom would let me go pick alone as long as I would take our dog, Heidi, a Belgian Tervuren (bred for protecting sheep) with me. Heidi came to us as a former stray, already named, found by some customers of my mom’s dollhouse store, after my mom told them how our house had been broken into. Heidi was huge – she looked like a cross between a wolf and a bear, but was, as many large dogs are, completely tolerant and docile with her people. Along with chaperoning my blackberry picking expeditions, Heidi also let my sister and I dress her up in hats, tube socks, and moon boots (remember those?), and pulled us on our roller skates on the Promenade at Seaside. Once Heidi caught on that blackberries were our commodity – and delicious – she learned to pull her lips back carefully in order to not get poked, and would eat the low ones directly off the vine. My mom believed, probably correctly so, that nobody would bother me as long as Heidi was close. I remember her telling me, though, “If anyone comes after you, run into the blackberry bushes. You are smaller and they won’t follow you in there. Don’t worry about Heidi. She can take care of herself.” Nobody ever bothered us, thankfully. 

As business increased, I developed a system for picking efficiently. I would drag a sheet of plywood into the brambles to make an even surface for the 6-foot stepladder I would carry in, as well as a level place to keep the flats of berries from spilling. I wore old tennis shoes, jeans, and long-sleeved woven shirts to avoid being scratched, and tied buckets to my belt loops with rope so that I could pick with both hands. I wore my swimsuit under my clothes so that when I went home (which was usually only after it got too dark to pick), I could strip down and hop into the pool. The chlorine bleached away the stains on my fingers, and swimming around usually got rid of all of the little stickers in my skin, the kind you can feel but not see.

Despite the trauma, my childhood was, in so many ways, perfect. 

I loved picking blackberries. Yes, I did it obsessively, because, well, that is how I go about things. There were always more than I could pick, and the best ones seemed to always be dangling in whole clusters just out of reach. I loved how they smelled, earthy, warm, and sweet.  I loved how my fingers recognized the “give” of the most perfectly ripe ones as they would release into my hand. I got used to the spiders and bees that also love blackberries. I loved filling the pint containers from my belt loop buckets. At home, my mom always gave me free reign of the kitchen whenever I wanted, and I loved making tiny pies in those little aluminum pie pans. My mom used to hang loads of berries in cheesecloth, which she would suspend between two lawn chairs with a large bowl underneath, outside on our pool deck, in order to collect the juice to make blackberry jelly especially for me, because I did not like jam with seeds. 

When I’d close my eyes at night, I would see berries.

When I smell them now, I remember all of this.

Well, that summer when I was ten, I picked so many blackberries that I developed tendonitis in my wrists. My mom took me to the Urgent Care clinic that was close to our house, where I was given a prescription for an anti-inflammatory of some kind and told not to pick for two weeks. By the time I left the office, I had orders from the nurse and the receptionist for a full-flat each, which I picked and delivered as soon as the two weeks were over.

I’ve missed you. I’ve been missing me, too.

I am aware I haven’t published a new post since the end of May, and no, this does not mean I ran away with the homeless guy who made me laugh on my walk to the courthouse, although wouldn’t THAT be a great story? “You didn’t kill me, so I should probably elope with you” is **old** Nicole thinking. (See?? The affirmations are starting to kick in.)

The bad news is I have been in a funk. Or maybe more of a dither. And by “funk” and “dither” (btw “Funk & Dither” would be an excellent name for a law firm), I mean I have been in a cycle of extraordinary worry and despair that has made it difficult to concentrate on many things, especially writing.

I am rebounding, though, or at least finally coming up for air.

I have so much to tell you.

Over the next several posts, let me give you a bit of context about the buildup to this emotional crash that happened to me recently (and fine we can call it “crippling depression and anxiety” instead of “funk and dither” if you want to get technical – I say “tomato,” you say “mental illness”), and then I will be able to share some of the the weird and funny parts of what has been happening lately, too.

There are many.

It is lovely to see you again.