Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Charles M. Schulz, The AstroBeagle, and Me - UPDATED 8-21-19

In 1989 I wrote a short article for a tiny publication about being thankful. My article, “Why I am Grateful for Charlie Brown” detailed how I had carried around a tiny book of Peanuts comic strips entitled “Everything I Do Makes Me Feel Guilty.” I thanked Charles M. Schulz for creating in Peanuts, an assembly of characters that not only entertained me, but spoke to my troubled teenage years as well as my (at that time) young motherhood.

I treasure the letter I received in return, and his wish for me: “I am pleased to know that the Peanuts family has been helpful to you down through the years, and hope they will continue to have a place in your home in the future.” Those who know me, know how true those words were, and still are, to this day, 40 years later.

This weekend I will be traveling to the Midwest, to be with my son, his wife, and their children, to provides support and love as their youngest undergoes brain surgery. There was no doubt what I would bring with me for this baby full of smiles and laughter — a Peanuts gift. The choice was apparent the moment I saw it, a stuffed Astrobeagle commemorating Snoopy’s role as NASA’s safety mascot. Astronauts and ground crew would even “beep” Snoopy’s nose for luck, and carry a silver Astrobeagle medal on their journey, to be gifted to a special ground crew person on the return. I’ll be carrying the stuffed Astrobeagle on the plane and on the train, asking strangers to pose with him and smile, so he can bring all their good vibes to the one who needs them most next week.

And while I am at it, I’d like to thank Charles M. Schulz again – he probably never realized how his words would come true like this – that Peanuts has had a place in my home and my heart in all the intervening years since his letter.

And so, I posthumously award Charles M. Schulz a Smile Starter Award for all the smiles he has brought to the world. I know, somewhere in the great beyond, he is beeping Snoopy’s nose for all of us.

UPDATE: 8-21-19

I opened up the plastic frame with my Schulz letter in it, and found ANOTHER LETTER, from 1991 - in this letter he says "When a person sits in a room by himself day after day trying to draw something funny, and sometimes meaningful, he has no idea as to the affect it might be having on his readers." What a wonderful thing to find after all these years! Also in there, a 1995 postcard from Dave Barry when I thanked him for the "eyes" of his audience that fell on something I wrote that was published next to his column.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

August is Supposed to be Happiness Happens Month

Image by HOerwin56 from Pixabay
I am posting this on a day that is full of horror and sorrow. A day which once again finds families making preparations to bury victims of violence. Violence that is happening too frequently to chalk it up to a homicidal sociopath with motives that cannot be explained. Homicidal sociopaths have always existed among us. However, they have now been joined by homicidal ideologues who have been emboldened by hateful rhetoric. Rhetoric that aims to normalize divisive tribalism in order to centralize power, control and the money that goes with it.

Today, as I feel almost without hope, I remind myself, as did Anne Frank, that there IS good in the world. Good that is not owned by one group or another, but that lives in the hearts and minds of many people. People who must now, as we did after 9-11, bind together to keep the darkness at bay. 

Once I wrote "we will laugh again" during a time we never thought we could. Since that time I have learned how necessary laughter is to human survival. From primitive times when a smile or laugh between two neolithic strangers was a sign of harmless intentions, and a willingness to
"all get along," to the survival-enhancing and bonding purpose of the laughter of a baby; laughter has sustained humanity.

On the evening of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January, 2015, I was scheduled to give a presentation on laughter. I was despondent, I could not imagine asking people to laugh on such a horrific day. But after expressing my concern to other members of the Association for Applied & Therapeutic Humor, I understood how very important it was to go on with the program. Not only to share laughter in a safe space to ease stress and release endorphins, but to help the attendees build resilience to help them through the difficult days. Difficult days, that now, in 2019, are still being repeated.

My wish for those in mourning is that happy memories — times of laughter and smiling — will help sustain them in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. That they may gather with others who loved the persons lost; to weep together, grieve together, share memories together, and eventually laugh together.

And I will continue to look for those people who help us build our resilience through their smiles, laughter, hopefulness and giving spirits. And I will be thanking those near me in Central New Jersey, who share this gift with others. Not just because it is a nice thing to do, but because we need it for our survival.