Thursday, January 28, 2016

You Can't Spend Winter Waiting for Spring

A window with star shaped frost on it, with the soft shape of snow drifts and a small brick house bathed in rising sunshine.
©2016 Noreen Braman

 It's cold.

It's dark.

My clothes are full of static.

I have to leave my faucet dripping so my pipes don’t freeze.

There are wet boots in the living room.

There is a wet dog in the house.

My shoulders ache from shoveling.

I slipped on the ice and fell on my butt.

I could probably keep going on and on with my list of winter misery. I am not a skier or a sledder or a snowboarder, so there isn’t anticipation of that fun to bolster me. I don’t have a roaring fireplace to snuggle in front of, and no Scandinavian relative or friends to teach me the art of going from steam room to outdoor hot tub when the weather is below freezing. No wonder people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. See the list above.

Jagged frost on a window reflects rising sunlight with trees and a small house in the background.
©2016 Noreen Braman

But, you can’t spend winter waiting for Spring. Here in New Jersey, winter can possibly be with us from November through March – and snow in April is not unheard of.  Five months is a long time to mourn the loss of warm temperatures and long days. So what’s a non-snow bunny to do? For me, it is looking for the beauty of winter. Looking for  vistas and scenic shots that can’t be had in the warm weather. Looking for the sparkle and clarity that only comes with cold air.

Things that make me smile, even when my teeth are chattering.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Family That Laughs Together

Some of the family demonstrating their smiling skills. ©2016 Noreen Braman
This weekend I attended a surprise 75th birthday party for my Aunt. This party gathered together relatives and old friends from my mother’s side of the family; many people I have been woefully out of touch with since my mother died. I actually reconnected with this side of the family at a surpise party for my 60th birthday last year. That was a wonderful, emotional gathering of extended family from all sides and longtime friends. We smiled, we laughed, we cried. We vowed to not let another 20 years go by without seeing each other.

This weekend’s party was a joyful reaffirmation of that promise. This time, my aunt’s side of the family was there; people I haven’t seen since I was a teenager and even younger. All we needed was to hear the names and out came the stories. The “party days” of the innocent times when I was just a toddler. Memories brought back by some recently scanned photos from 50 and 60 years ago. Comparisons of how all the families have expanded and the amazing similarities discovered.

At least three generations were represented, and photos of the fourth generation, currently being brought into the world, were shared all around. Cellphones snapped pictures, Facebook connections were made and the hugs and kisses continued all day. It was, indeed, a massive lovefest and I felt so lucky to be there.

It was also very obvious how comfortable everyone seemed to be. It was as if the years of separation for some didn’t exist; it was as if we had all been together just last week. As I sat there and took it all in, I could see that, yes, the threads of family and love were there, weaving strongly through the group. But also there was laughter. Deep, hearty laughter and soft gentle laughter. Smiles on the faces of both the young and old, passed back and forth through touch, eye contact, and conversation.

Recently, I’ve seen stories of how laughter is helping refugees, victims of human trafficking and those dealing with mental health issues heal and cope. I feel fortunate that I come from an extended family who has naturally developed the use of laughter as a way of sharing, communicating, and loving.  May we continue to share the joy for a long time, and pass it along to the next generations.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It Only Hurts When I Laugh

One week ago, I had oral surgery behind my bottom lip. Six stitches and some hardened packing material later, I went home with serious limitations on my ability to eat, talk and smile. Laughing was painfully out of the question, even a slight giggle caused me to grab my chin to try and stop the shooting pain.

I have since realized that being unable to smile or laugh without pain is a big deal for me. In fact, despite my qualifications as a Laughter Wellness Instructor and Laughter Yoga Leader, I was not really aware of how often I smile or laugh. Even before my laughter training, it was an embedded part of my personality; something that is born out by a lifetime of grinning photos (and believe me, at many times my life was nothing to smile about). My nephew once remarked, “I like Aunt Nor, she is always smiling.” It seems that I instinctively knew something that I now share in many of my presentations. Studies have shown that smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, fools the brain into thinking that there is something to be happy about. Feel-good endorphins are then released. This scientific fact is part of the whole reason for laughter wellness and laughter yoga.  The whole reason why I prefer to live on the Smile Side of Life.

But, having smiling and laughter as an intrinsic part of my personality makes me take it for granted. It is possible that I have expected it to be a part of everyone’s makeup — buried perhaps — but in there somewhere. This week, while smiling and laughing continues to be a painful thing for me, I have realized that for some people it may be painful all the time. Maybe not causing shooting pain across their faces, but causing inner pain, turmoil or confusion. Suddenly, I understand more clearly why some people at my presentations don’t “get it.” 
I don’t expect that everyone at a laughter wellness presentation will enjoy it or understand what it is all about.  Like any group activity, sport or exercise class, it is not for everyone. What has puzzled me, until now, is how strongly emotional the negative reactions sometimes are. In the same group I have gotten reviews of “we need more laughter in our lives!” to “the laughter [session] was a total waste of time, TOTALLY TOTALLY a WASTE of time!!!” From “Love the laughter training!” to “We are not children! I did not sign up for group therapy!”

The first lesson I learned from this is that there are more negative reactions in groups of people who are attending the session because it was mandatory, or it was just part of another educational presentation for their particular profession. In sessions where Laughter Wellness is the only topic, and a description of what will happen in the session is presented beforehand, this doesn’t seem to happen. And that is because the people for whom laughter is a painful experience will not come to a laughter wellness session. They are not going to laugh or smile in a group no matter how good it is for them.

The second lesson is, if there are people in the group for whom smiling and laughing is painful, they will let you know, in a strong and clear way, that this was not for them. And because it was not for them it is a ridiculous, stupid or frivolous idea. Sadly, these are people who would probably benefit the most from laughter.

And the last lesson for me is the realization that, once, a very long time ago, I also found laughter painful. Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood I lost much of my ability to laugh or see humor. Laughter had become a weapon in my house; used to belittle and punish. Bullies at school knew the power of laughter to intimidate and hurt. I remember being at a Mel Brooks movie once, wonder what the heck everyone around me was laughing at.

Maybe it was that intrinsic part of my personality that brought the laughter back. Maybe it was just part of growing up. Maybe it was reading about smiling to fool your brain long before anyone ever heard of laughter wellness. Whatever it was, laughter has been with me and I have been sharing it as much as I can for many, many years. However, the experience of this past week, and the continued pain I get when laughing or smiling, has been a good thing. It has reminded me of what it feels like to be physically or emotionally unable to laugh; helped me understand why some react so negatively to a laughter wellness presentation; and it has motivated me to find some information, exercises or alternate pathways to help those I meet who cannot laugh.
Meanwhile, hold the jokes and memes, I am almost healed. It only hurts when I laugh.


Monday, January 4, 2016

The Funny Thing About Glasses - My first blog entry of 2016

Wishing us all a New Year full of peace, love, and laughter.
Wearing glasses adds an additional dimension to life, and not only the fact that they make the world more visible. They create their own ridiculous and sometimes hilarious world of rituals, products, and “situations.”

For example, consider these observations:

1.     No matter how diligent one is about putting glasses down in the same place every time; we spend a decent amount of time looking for those glasses.  This is a ridiculous chore because depending on one’s visual acuity without the glasses, they can be right there in front of you, but you don’t see them. They can also be, on top of your head, in between the nightstand and the bed, inside your shirt that you tossed into the hamper, under the couch cushions, next to the computer keyboard or on the floor (and hopefully, not found by the sickening crunch of glasses being stepped on). It almost sounds logical to have a pair of glasses to put on specifically for looking for your glasses.

2.     Nothing attracts filth, fingerprints and smudges like a pair of glasses. Dust, rain, pets, children, makeup, clothing and just air are attracted to your glasses, which exert the same gravitational pull as a black hole. There are cloths, wet wipes, and special tissues for cleaning them. More often than not, breathing on the lens and wiping with your shirt sleeve is the cleaning process of choice. Using the special spray solution on your glasses puts you at risk of actually spraying yourself in the eye, because, of course, once you remove your glasses to clean them, you really can’t see which way the sprayer is facing. And while I may not see the teeny type on the side of my eyebrow pencil, a speck on my glasses looks like a 16-wheeler about to hit me head-on.

3.      Unless they are made of titanium and you are some kind of ultra-careful superhero, glasses are constantly getting out of shape. Wire frames bend and collapse. Plastic frames warp and break.  Tiny screws loosen and fall out. Lenses wobble. For those of us wearing progressive lenses, there is a constant battle to keep the glasses on the right part of the nose so that all the various regions of magnification stay lined up correctly. I think more of us are walking around with damaged Harry-Potter-reminiscent glasses than the shiny pristine glasses worn by all those sporty people in the eyeglass store advertisement.

4.     Eyeglasses also interfere with a multitude of things that many people take for granted. Haircuts must be designed around the glasses; not so short on the sides that the glasses make the hair stand out from your head like a porcupine quill. Hats and caps can put uncomfortable pressure on the earpiece of your glasses, and a motorcycle helmet can just about implant those earpieces into your skull. Hugging someone will just about guarantee a huge smudge or even a nose injury. I’ve had pet birds who, while sitting on my shoulder, absolutely could not leave my eyeglasses alone (babies too!) And there is always the debate when swimming as to whether or not to wear the glasses and just sort of doggy paddle, or leave them off and risk paddling nose-first into the side of the pool.

5.     Glasses do have magical properties. They make Clark Kent unrecognizable as Superman. According to the back pages of some comic books, they can bestow x-ray vision on wearers, and now, computerized glasses can keep you in constant contact with the Internet as well as photographing everything you see.

As I write this on my computer, I am wearing my special computer glasses that allow me to see the screen better, let me read things on my desk, but blur the heck out of my eyesight when I try to look around. For non-computer work I have lenses that gradually change strength from distance, to mid distance, to close distance. That pair has a matching pair of sunglasses so I can see the road and the dashboard clearly. And then there is the pair of glasses with the bushy eyebrows and mustache attached. Those might not help me see better, but in many ways they increase my vision. In fact, they may be the most important glasses I have.

Read more humor, including my story, "Tracker Panic" in "Your Glasses Are On Top of Your Head." There are also lots of funny books here, including my book, "Treading Water." If you buy from this link, the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor benefits.