by Marc Kaye
I asked myself, “Self, are you resilient?" I heard a voice. He sounded a bit like Kevin Hart. He said, "Hell, ya! You raised two teenagers, didn't you? And don't forget about that whole adolescence thing you went through yourself." So, I guess you could say I am somewhere in the resiliency neighborhood.
When Lise asked if I would write a blog about this topic, I was honored. Then, I was panicked. I thought, "Well, am I really resilient?" To be fair, I was brought up to keep moving on no matter what happened. My family wasn’t the type to really talk about our feelings, but my sister and I got the memo - just keep moving forward.
Even the night my mother died; she was sending me a reminder from the great beyond. After eating takeout with my dad, sister and aunt and uncle, we cracked open our fortune cookies. "Never give up", mine commanded. Really? Can a guy catch a break and meltdown once in a while? My mom had to get the last word in, even then. Now that's never giving up.
I wouldn't characterize myself as a super strong guy, physically, or emotionally. I work on it, but both my physical and emotional resiliency workouts are very similar. I'm gung-ho until I am suddenly in search of a convenient distraction from what is uncomfortable. Sometimes it's an overstay in my bed. Sometimes it's Netflix. Sometimes it's a full-size family pack of strawberry Twizzlers. Occasionally, it's all three, at the same time.
So, to be honest, I consulted Merriam-Webster. There, resilience is defined as "the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness." That's when I started to doubt myself. I recover from difficulties but quickly? Let's just say I'm still getting over being picked last for kickball in 4th grade. To put it into context, I am the slow cooker crock-pot version of how one goes about processing feelings. In contrast, I think everyone in my family is the microwave variation. This probably explains a lot.
Maybe I’m just "resilient-curious". I've heard about it. I know people who have it. It's something I've been thinking about. Maybe I’ll try it one day.
The one thing I am is funny. Or so I've been told. Let’s just say I’m “re-silly-ence” and leave it there. As a stand-up comedian and a writer, much of the humor comes from dealing with rejection and discomfort and, in general, trying to understand my place in the world. It's painful sometimes. And I don't just mean for the audience.
At some point in high school, dealing with a less-than-stellar 4 years, I learned that humor could be a coping mechanism for dealing with life's challenges. To some, it looked like being wacky or weird or just plain thinking too much. This disposition helped though. It didn't make pain magically disappear, but it did provide a path toward recovery that hadn't been within my grasp otherwise. It's a coping mechanism that sustains me through today.
This idea of a path toward resiliency is an important concept that I think often gets overlooked. It could be overwhelming (for me at least) to read or hear stories of people who overcame incredible hurdles through resiliency alone. I don’t know how to simply “will” myself to do anything, especially to find a way to toughen up and “just get through it”. Like anything of real value, it takes a path. For certain people, it is a strong religious or spiritual practice. For others, it may be a creative or physical commitment to keep moving forward. In my case, it is through a healthy sense of humor.
Humor is touchy, though, even for me. I had been putting off writing this blog because when one uses humor, there is always a risk (especially in today's day and age) that someone will be offended or misinterpret something. Many times, people confuse the use of humor to work through an issue with using it to simply diminish or dismiss. It's a fine line, often prone to different interpretations based on one’s upbringing, experiences, and overall demeanor.
That’s no reason to not rely on humor and its superpower, though. Recently, in an interaction with a friend over a few hours of talking and laughing about everything from white privilege to extreme "wokeness", she turned to me and said, "Thank you for the laughs, you have no idea how much I needed that."
That's what humor does. It helps get you through stuff and there's plenty of stuff to get through. Isn't that what resiliency is all about? Many times, it's little things. Sometimes, however, it's overwhelming challenges and it will take a lot more to find the humor but it's there. (Divorce, anyone?) Therein lies the recovery and the toughness part of resiliency. It might not be quick, but does that really mean you are any less resilient? It just may be time for a chat with both Merriam and Webster to see if we just can't tweak that definition a bit.
Here's the obvious truth; by the time you reach a certain age, you've probably been through some challenges. (Points to me, by the way, for using the word “challenges” instead of my word of choice which starts with “sh” and rhymes with “fit”.) By all accounts, I am an incredibly fortunate guy with two fantastic kids, my health (at least physical), a job that sustains us and a family and few close friends that love me. The rest is gravy. In the process of getting here, though, there's been bullying, divorce, break-ups, poor haircut choices, lapses in judgement, plenty of embarrassments, job loss and death.
Sure, these can dissolve the fabric of one's identity rather than help it to evolve. This is where resilience is most exciting; the growth that is the result of that stubborn fortitude. Have you seen any of my work performance reviews over the past couple of decades? I dare you to find one that doesn't have the word "persistent", "steadfast", "determined" or "stubborn" in it. I may not be on the radar for the next promotion but if we're ever in a hostage situation, I just may be your guy.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not some sort of Black Belt of resiliency. Occasionally, you might find me in the back yard, engaged in a cathartic primal scream. Eventually, though, I find the humor. Once I can find the funny, I start to gain perspective, which for me, is a key tenant of being resilient.
In case you’re wondering, don’t fret, you don't need to be funny to be resilient. So, go ahead – find your path. However, if you’re thinking of a career in stand-up comedy, resiliency is a must. If you've never questioned your life choices before, try an open mic night one of these days. It's humbling.
I've had an audience member call me an asshole during my set for reasons I have yet to uncover. And it turned out he was the next comedian to take the stage! I've been told I was more of a "fundraiser comic" than a "club comic" whatever that means. I've had negative comments about my jokes, my jeans and even my face. I've been brought to the stage where the host unenthusiastically pronounced, "Our next comic coming to the stage is Marc Kaye. Let's hope he's funny. If not, don't worry, we have a bunch of other comics after him." And these were some of my more successful gigs!
The point is, if you can't laugh about it, it makes the whole thing so much more difficult. There are things, for sure, that are just too painful to cope with using humor, at least for a while. This is where it is imperative to dig into our resiliency toolbox and see what else we have in there, meditation, exercise, prayer, or a pen and paper.
But, if it is applicable and you can find your funny bone somewhere cramped in a corner of that toolbox, dust it off and try it on. It might not speed up the path to developing a thicker skin or recovery, but it sure will make it just a bit more fun.
Thank you to Lise for the opportunity to contribute to her blog. I am grateful to find inspiration from her journey, writing and outreach.
About the author: Marc Kaye is the author of several articles and blogs featured in Working Mother, Stage Time Magazine, Chutzpah Magazine, Bucks County Alive and Green Energy Times. A Content Strategy and Engagement Leader by day and comedian, actor, and songwriter by night, he has developed several screenplays, short plays, web series and featured skits. His series of essays is set for release in 2022.
Marc received his B.S. in Biology and Psychology from Binghamton University and his M.B.A from Temple University. He is the founder of Eliro, www.eliro.us, a company that leverages the discipline of marketing and creativity of humor to help companies with employee engagement, brainstorming and strategy. A long-time resident of the Philadelphia region, he loves music, Swedish fish and babbling brooks (but not babbling people). You can find him online at www.marckayetoday.com.
Lise Deguire's gold award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.