Back when I was but a wee Katie Mack, my writing professor (and all-around unknowing life coach) explained the phenomenon of the written tickle/punch. Essentially, if you want to make someone hurt, make them laugh first.

While they’re busy laughing over the (obviously) oh-so clever humor you’ve expertly spun in their direction, they won’t be waiting for the gutpunch. There’s no prep time, no bracing for impact, no sense of, “This is about to become emotionally heavy, I should get ready for it.”

Trust me when I tell you, it makes the emotion you’re attempting to convey resonate that much more. It becomes amplified by the surprise of it all. Not only does it feel more, it feels more real.

Because that’s how real life works, isn’t it?

With some merciful exceptions, the most emotionally catastrophic events in my life have come without warning, on a personal level as well as on a larger scale. We tell these stories later, and they almost always start (or at the very least include) where we were and what we were doing when we found out.

I was in my college cafeteria eating a buffalo chicken sandwich when I found out that my grandmother would be dead within a couple of hours. I was sitting up in my bed at 3am on the phone with my future best friend when I found out that my boyfriend of two years had been dating someone else (namely her) for almost a year of it.

What makes those details such an integral part of the story?

We feel an intrinsic need to explain that up until the Big Thing That Happened, it was just like any other normal day. We do this to stress the anomaly of it. Apparently, the sheer fact that life was rumbling on as normal before the Big Thing makes the Big Thing bigger. Because, of course, it isn’t big enough all on its own.

At some point, it’s easy to start living in fear of the next big thing that’s going to happen to you. We all grow up (physically if not mentally). We all go through our share of hurt and disappointment and loss and pain and fuckeverythingwhyamIevenhere. Eventually it’s hard to not live your life waiting for it all to fall apart.

We think that if we can see it coming, it will hurt less when it happens. And maybe there’s a little bit of merit to that, but not really. Bracing yourself for impact won’t make a car crash hurt any less. At the end of the day, bracing is really just a piss-poor exercise in futility while we try to do the only thing we think we can do. Be ready. Be on guard, on alert, a paragon of  preparedness in the face of uncertainty.

Good for you.

I used to teach my detox patients that you can’t numb the bad without also numbing the good. If, even if (and it’s a big if), you can manage to temper the acuity of the pain by always being as ready for it as you can be, you are directly impacting your ability to feel joy. How can you ever relax and be happy if you think the sky is going to fall on your head at any second? You can’t.

I guess what I’m getting at is that, yeah, the tickle/punch is a motherfuck. But that’s life. Life is a motherfuck sometimes. But it’s a beautiful motherfuck. Instead of never letting yourself be happy because it’s fleeting, let the impermanence of it make you that much more appreciative of it when you can get it.

The littlest things usually end up being the happiest for me. The bliss of a perfect scone with a hot cup of tea. A few minutes on my couch with my cat, no TV, no nothing, just snuggles. Sitting on my fire escape watching the river across the street from my apartment. Those things are so simple, so lovely, so wonderful. Find what those things are for yourself. Actively seek them out. Cultivate your own little moments of happiness.

The sky may fall. It may not. Who knows. But I’d rather learn to laugh when I can than spend my whole life waiting for the punch.

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