?

Log in

Apr. 19th, 2005 @ 01:21 pm Do the Math
About this Entry
Self Portrait
thekenosis:
Current Mood: curiouscurious

Woody Allen, who - believe me - I am loath to quote, snuck a line into "Crimes and Misdemeanors" which I have remembered since the day I heard it seven years ago. It's not so much a quote as a formula, I suppose, which makes it a little more memorable. In the film, the line is read by Alan Alda - another good reason to remember it. Alda says, "comedy is just tragedy <dramatic pause> plus time" or "(C)omedy = (T)ragedy + (t)ime" for the mathematicians among us.

I've chewed on this quote a good seven years, and still it strikes an ambivalent chord inside of me. Simplified, it looks like little more than Woody Allen coopting a far older adage: "Time heals all wounds." Insofar as that's the case, I largely agree with the sentiment. It's been my experience that nothing gets me on the mend better than time. It's always a factor in my recovery no matter how intractable the wound appears. And time is available over-the-counter, too!

But I am still troubled by the formula "C = T + t," especially by its claim on mathematical certainty. I stumble over the rule when I look at its converse. Is "(T)ragedy = (C)omedy - (t)ime" equally true? Is a tragedy just a laughing matter we haven't had time to fully appreciate? That thought sure makes me nervous.

As I look at the so-called tragedies of my life, which, frankly, have been relatively minor, I still have a hard time laughing at them. Yes, I've done plenty of ridiculous things that felt like the end of the world when they happened but faded into satirical farce with age. But there's still quite a bit that defies comedy.

A far more likely explanation is that tragedy doesn't become comedy, but comedy subdues tragedy. Chris Duff, a sea kayaker and every bit as unlikely a source of wisdom as Woody Allen, writes about this phenomenon in his book, On Celtic Tides, a log of his circumnavigation of Ireland. He notes how "time has a way of erasing hardship and coloring memories with sunny days and the promise of adventure." Tragedy doesn't disappear so much as we paint over it - and with brighter colors and broader, more confident strokes. That idea I like not only because it's more true to my experience, but also because it's thoroughly Irish!

[User Picture Icon]
From:lotta
Date:April 19th, 2005 12:03 pm (UTC)

Wounds and scars

(Permanent Link)
Well, mathematical certainty my ass. I don't think you can flip the equation on its head like that. As for, "time heals all wounds," that may be true, but one could also say that "many wounds, though healed, leave a scar." I think we all have emotional and physical scars that can attest to this.

I have a scar on the inside of my left wrist made from the edge of a large pudding can. We were on a girls' choice date and for some reason, we thought a pudding fight should be in order. My date said, "Only two hours with me and you've already tried to slit your wrist?" The point is that every time I look at that scar, I am reminded of that date. Now, this was certainly a comedy (in hindsight), but it certainly didn't feel like that when I was watching all the blood squirting out, mixing with the pudding.
[User Picture Icon]
From:thekenosis
Date:April 19th, 2005 12:34 pm (UTC)

Re: Wounds and scars

(Permanent Link)
Actually, simple algebra lets me flip the equation on its head. I think Jeremy will back me up on this one.

Do wounds leave scars? Yes, most do, but scars don't hurt. Not like wounds anyway. Besides, chicks dig scars and glory never fades. I fancy most of my scars as quite beautiful, though none have ever been caked in pudding.

As for your story, does it not prove Woody Allen's point? The opening of your wrist and mortifying embarrassment on your date was, indeed, a great tragedy. Now, after the passage of time, it's a hilarious tale. If the very same incident played itself out tomorrow on one of your "Swedish Dating Experients," how would you frame it? Would you again consider yourself victim of a tragedy or would your past experience lead you to chuckle? That's the real question!
[User Picture Icon]
From:lotta
Date:April 19th, 2005 12:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Wounds and scars

(Permanent Link)
First, I hope to god there will never be any pudding fights on any of my dates...Now, chocolate syrup, that's another thing all together... (here i am remembering a conversation we had freshman year while i think on our way to cafe paridiso...)

But, my point with scars is that they are always with you, no matter where you go, or how far away you get from the initial experience. The story behind my scar is, in hindsight, whimsical. However, there are still some scars (and likely those that are not visible to the eye) which can still ache, and still cause pain. I don't think some of these will ever be funny.

Maybe humor can be looked at as a coping mechanism. If you are able to laugh at something, maybe it helps take some of the ache and pain away. Maybe its like emotional tylenol.
[User Picture Icon]
From:thekenosis
Date:April 19th, 2005 12:51 pm (UTC)

Re: Wounds and scars

(Permanent Link)
If you had a "scar" that was still causing you pain, could it be that it is just a wound you haven't managed to heal? I don't think this is a difference in semantics, either.

To my mind, when you get over a wound - and I mean really put it behind you, not keep it locked away in case of emergency - you don't ever go back to that particular instance. You might get wounded again, perhaps in a similar circumstance, perhaps by the same assailant, but those are fresh wounds.

Scars are the marks left by wounds that have completely healed. Thanks to them wounds are never forgotten, but I refuse to believe they can be a source of perpetual pain.

Your pudding tale seems like a legitimate scar - you're way past it - but check yourself to see if you don't have a few open wounds you've written off as scars to save you the time and trouble of tending to them. They'll do far less damage if you call them what they are.

Laughter doesn't take the pain away. I think laughter is what we can do after the pain has already subsided.
[User Picture Icon]
From:lotta
Date:April 19th, 2005 12:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Wounds and scars

(Permanent Link)
I think there is also something to be said for laughing through the pain. But I truly believe there are scars that can still ache. Or, maybe you're right, they are still wounds that haven't healed properly. Think, for example, about a man who continues to limp 50 years after the war because it never was possible to fully restore his knee.
[User Picture Icon]
From:thekenosis
Date:April 19th, 2005 02:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Wounds and scars

(Permanent Link)
We're getting dangerously close to having to define when we're using scars and wounds as physical realities and when we're using them metaphorically.

One or both of us are mixing the two - consciously or otherwise.