The Story Economy Blog

I Went to the Woods to Find My Sense of Humor


I’m normally not a scaredy-cat, but a few Saturday nights ago, I found myself terrified. I was staying alone in a big, dark house full of creaky noises. When a storm came up around midnight and started spanking the trees around outside my window, I pulled the covers over my head, the way I had when I was a little girl. Get a hold of yourself, child, I told myself. I eventually fell asleep, but my nerves were frazzled the next day.

I was on my annual writing retreat at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I adore this place. But normally, the colony is full of other writers. This year, there were only two other writers, and they left nearly as soon as I got there. I spent the majority of time alone. Alone is great. I love alone. Except when it gets lonely. Also, the past two years, I’ve gone there to work on my fiction. This year, I was working on a non-fiction book about honesty. I was in my head so much of the time, swimming through pools of my own complicated ideas, as well as a boatload of research. One morning, I spent 90 minutes on the phone with a philosophy professor. When I hung up, I felt like I couldn’t hold anything in my hands anymore. So much of my writing time felt like a wrestling match between these different ideas of truth.

Don’t get me wrong. I love writing about this heady stuff. Every moment there was a gift. But still, as the storm blew in that night and the house got even creepier, I was like, oh motherfucker, are you kidding me?

Sunday morning, I knew I needed something, I just didn’t know what. Getting away from my thoughts and the lonely house seemed like a good start. In the past, I’ve never let myself take a day trip when I’m at the colony, because it feels wasteful—like I’m not using this precious time away from family and clients the way I should. (Have I mentioned that I could not make this 10-day trip every October if I did not have a supportive partner at home? My husband doesn’t necessarily love that I go, but he loves that *I* love it.) Anyway, that morning, I officially decided to break my self-imposed restriction against sightseeing, and make the 45-minute drive to Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville. I had heard from another writer that the Chihuly in the Forest exhibit was spectacular. I love Dale Chihuly’s colorful glass chandeliers and sculptures, so I made a mental note to check it out.

It was still raining when I left in the early afternoon, and the drive there wound me through a grainy snapshot of Arkansas hill poverty. Guilt woke me into gratitude, just in time to catch the sun peek through the Ozarks. I could physically feel myself loosen. Within about 10 minutes, the day went from gloomy to majestic—all blue sky and autumn color.

Once there, I hiked from the overflow lot to the museum entrance. I didn’t understand the oddly shaped building before me. The adjective to describe it was on the tip of my tongue. Hmm, I thought, what IS this place? I worked my way through a few of the indoor galleries toward the Chihuly exhibit, which was outdoors. Soon, I was brightening. I knew I had made the right decision to play hooky. This will inspire me, I told myself, wrapping my pretty plaid shawl around me and feeling very artistic.

And then I stepped into the woods. Maybe this is a testament to me leading a rather boring life, but I feel like so few things literally take my breath away these days.

The Chihuly in the Forest exhibit took my breath away.

It was gorgeous. I mean, my god, Chihuly! I guess you could say I was awestruck.

But it’s more that I was smiling. Really, really smiling.

As I peered at pieces like Fiori Boat (above) and Sole d’Oro (right), I was struck with the amazing sense of humor of it all. The sculptures and surrounding landscape were in on a glorious joke, mimicking each other, and reminding each other not to worry about being too precious. In fact, the whole museum had that same wonderful humor. It’s the adjective that had been on the tip of my tongue from the moment I pulled into the museum complex: funny.

Nothing here took itself too seriously.

I had been taking myself very, very seriously.

When you have a “soul” project you are excited about—especially one that takes you away from your less-than-soulful bread-and-butter work—it occupies a place of reverence. It feels like you against the world to create this thing that you believe in, so you better pay it the respect it deserves, especially if you are making sacrifices to work on it.

I was so serious about everything I was doing that I forgot to have a sense of humor. I was scared of a storm, and I gave it the weight of seriousness! I was writing about honesty as if it was this fragile thing that required speaking in hushed tones. I had such a furrowed brow! No wonder I was wound up in knots.

I just needed to laugh. Not ha-ha. But rather, ha-wow.

Ha-wow! You know what I mean?

I’m wired to take things a bit seriously. I’ve always been this way. It’s okay. It’s an asset. But sometimes, it’s really great to be able to look at a rowboat in the middle of the woods, brimming with pieces of colorful squiggly glass, surrounded by a sea of grass, and just smile.


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