1.) Mount Rainier
“Mount Rainier contains the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” – John Muir
My spiritual home. I spent many summers growing up here: wandering, thinking, and deciding what sort of person I wanted to become. It is impossible to describe how beautiful Rainier is, so I’ll just share a few photos from my last visit in 2016. They’re pretty, but they hardly do it justice.
Ask anyone who knows me well: I can find almost anything funny. My tendency for deadpan confuses those who don’t know me on a regular basis, and occasionally those who do. But I’m also cheesy as h*ck and I like bad puns.
Intentional goofiness, for me, is survival. Wait, you say, this post is literally about a sense of humor, and that sounded awfully serious. Hear me out. I’m gonna get super un-funny about humor for a sec, because sometimes, laughter is more than silliness: it is love.
And love is being trapped in a cramped hotel room (where everything is within earshot) during your 12-yr-old brother’s first chemo treatment, while he’s having some very noisy diarrhea, and he’s giggling, because even in this moment of misery, farts are still funny, and soon he’s got everyone laughing until their guts are sore. And even as I’m cracking up, I’m in awe of how he’s choosing to face this humiliating circumstance that marked the beginning of more than 3 brutal years of treatment.
Once, right after Bryan’s diagnosis, a guy from our ward posted a rather puzzling comment for him on Facebook: “Kirk Cameron’s butt!” It was quickly followed by an apology explaining that autocorrect had changed the phrase from “Kick cancer’s butt,” and I’ll never forget how the three of us kids erupted into laughter. Our new encouraging phrase of choice became, “Hey. Hey Bryan! KIRK CAMERON’S BUTT!!”
Death, the void, the unknown – we face it, and sometimes we laugh in its face. Other times we mark the universe with a moment of bravery, when we coexist alongside what we fear, and smile. That’s what my little brother taught me to do.
So about those Stranger Things valentines: I would never give them to Joyce Byers, and I would never find it funny if she was my friend in real life. But this isn’t life here, this is art, a place where we go to deal with our demons, and repackage them into things we can grapple with. Because when we can face hard things and laugh, we have conquered; in that moment we regain control over chaos; we have the upper hand.
That said, we make art out of life, and we have every right to find humor in the darkness of our own reality – as long as that humor stems from a place of empathy and not denial or complacence, we’re healing instead of hurting.
It is not mindless silliness. But sometimes, something just tickles you, and you don’t need to know why, because the act of laughter is joy, because in that spontaneous moment, you feel. And as someone whose depression tends to numb, I intend to feel as often as I possibly can.
“I’m only 19, but by mind is older.” – Alexander Hamilton, “My Shot’
I was 19 when Hamilton first arrived on the Broadway scene with the dumbest premise ever: A rap musical about the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury. Um, what? Turns out, it speaks for itself, but here are a few things I love about it:
The unexpected relatability of its villain, Aaron Burr.
“I am the one thing in life. I can control. I am inimitable. I am an original.” -Aaron Burr, ‘Wait For It’
The masterful libretto with its complex rhyme schemes and its Shakespearean joy in word-play. Its all-inclusive vision for America and its celebration of the immigrant. Its conflicting, passionate driving forces of ambition, survival, and love (for one’s country, for family, for one’s ideals and dreams).
“I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation. Every action’s an act of creation! I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow. For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow”- Alexander Hamilton, ‘My Shot’
And unlike most musicals, the whole plot is there in the album. If you haven’t yet, take a couple of hours sometime and give it a listen. (And pull up the lyrics to follow along when you do!)
When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut. In first grade, I thought Anakin Skywalker was the coolest dude in school because he could fly a pod-racer. I earnestly watched an old videocassette tape about NASA and was blown away by my first IMAX movie, which demonstrated zero gravity in 3D. I love planes so much that in Writers Room, the guys started building Top Gun references into their scripts and would eagerly look at me during table reads to make sure I caught them (I did.) My favorite plane is an SR-71 Blackbird, one of the fastest planes in the world. For reasons I can’t explain, I start to tear up at the sight of a shuttle launching into space. It’s an entirely visceral reaction.
5.) “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie
Two of my all-time favorite artists. One of my all-time favorite songs. Our world could use it right about now:
“Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work.
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why – why – why?
Love, love, love, love, love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?
Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure.”
As a kid, I wanted a skateboard for my birthday. I couldn’t imagine anything cooler than an electric blue skateboard with the Batman logo on it. There must have been some miscommunication somewhere, because I ended up with a Barbie board with a training handle attached to it. How could I show up to the skate park with a board like that?! I thought. How humiliating.
Batman’s always been my hero. On 9/11, I remember waiting to go to school, only to be sent to my room all of a sudden. I’m from Washington, so by the time my parents woke up and checked the news, New York was already in total chaos. I’ll never forget the weight of my dad’s footsteps as he slowly trudged up the stairs from the basement, where we kept our TV. When I got to school, some kid next to me had clearly seen it all and was spouting off about how these giant twin towers had collapsed after planes flew into them. I remember hoping that the people on the planes would be okay, and though I didn’t really believe it, I fantasized that Batman would save them. To a five-year-old from Washington, in faraway New York, anything seemed possible.
To top that off, I also have a weird fascination/fear of bats (long story). Spiders are fine. Snakes, too. But bats?!?!?! Heck no. (But I still think they’re cool!) So I really do relate to Bruce’s thing with bats.
7.) Lin-Manuel Miranda
Yeah, okay, so I referenced Hamilton as one of my cool things and now I’m listing its creator. But guys, even though I’m making a list about things I think are cool, I’m like, the most un-cool person ever. I HAVE NO CHILL. I’m cheesy and intense and sometimes kind of awkwardly pretentious (but not really, I just love The 400 Blows and discussing existentialism). So it’s super inspiring to me to see a great, successful, kind writer who, despite his fame, still freaks out like a little kid when he meets his idols. He’s still got a sense of wonder. I hope I always will too.
8.) Drum Corp
I loved the four years of my life that I devoted to marching band – telling a story with musical and visual elements, dance and shapes formed on the turf under the stadium lights. I know I’m un-cool, but if you thought marching band was just for nerds, check this fantastic performance by Carolina Crown – a drum corp much better than my high school band that nevertheless explains why I had something resembling a six-pack my senior year (I’m not kidding, marching while playing a wind instrument is INTENSE, y’all). Anyway, watch for a performance that spans from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Philip Glass’s trippy, abstract Einstein on the Beach, and explores the eternal nature of love in an ever-changing universe. And get this: All the performers in drum corp are 21 or under.
If you don’t have time for a full performance, check out these short clips from a couple of my other favorites:
I once accidentally caught a banana on fire at 1 AM. Ok, it was a slice of banana, which I was roasting over an oven burner with a fork, because I was bored with marshmallows and wanted to know what it would taste like.
I also once freaked a roommate out a couple of years ago by creating a giant burst of plasma in the microwave, using grapes. (See video clip above).
The thing is, I’ve never Googled how to create the largest burst of plasma, because in my opinion, the fun of it is figuring it out on my own. It’s the joy of gaining knowledge through experience. And it’s much more fun than just eating the grapes.
10.) The Unknown
Of course, with the unknown comes the threat of an end we can’t fully predict or understand. At least for me, though, the hope that we do continue on counteracts that threat, and makes this whole existence all the more thrilling.
“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
– Thornton Wilder, “Our Town”