Making Light in Dark Times


Listening to a re-broadcast of a 2013 Margaret Atwood interview on NPR yesterday made me laugh. In a dark-seeming world that is America today, with news of sexual harassment and abuse by men in power coming to light almost every day, a lot seems grim. And yet, laughing at Atwood’s humor made me realize how much humor is needed in the world that seems to have gone (or has always been) crazy. An excerpt:

“Rico Gagliano: Do you remember a moment – because you’ve been doing this for quite a while, these kind of books – a moment when you realized the fragility of civilization?

Margaret Atwood: Oh I think about 1948, the decade when humanity was introduced to the atom bomb.

Rico Gagliano: Oh of course.

Margaret Atwood: So people of my generation, it wasn’t plagues that were on our mind quite so much, although for an earlier one it was because they’d been through the 1919 influenza, which killed a lot of people. For us, it was the silly instructions we were given about, “hide under the desk!” The atom bomb goes off, just get under the desk, it’ll be fine.”

Atwood’s book ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’, now made into a movie, is a story of “women in subjugation to misogyny in a patriarchal society and the various means by which these women gain individualism and independence. ” Have just started to listen to her book, timely as it seems in our dystopian times…

There’s a thread here. In my last post, I wrote about a project I am working on that involves loons, endangered birds known for their calls that sound like maniacal laughter. I think that these birds know something of the nature of this world, of humans, and perhaps that explains their mad laughter. Even as we take things very seriously we have to be able to laugh at the world’s absurdity and strangeness. It is perhaps necessary for our psychological survival.

Speaking of laughter and authors, reminds me of one of my favorite humorous authors Mark Twain. I thoroughly enjoyed Twain’s humor as I read his book as a young reader growing up in India. Here’s an excerpt from a piece I read recently of Twain’s “At the Funeral” suggesting dos and don’ts of good manners at a funeral.

“If the official hopes expressed concerning the person in whose honor the entertainment is given are known by you to be oversized, let it pass — do not interrupt.

At the moving passages, be moved — but only according to the degree of your intimacy with the parties giving the entertainment, or with the party in whose honor the entertainment is given. Where a blood relation sobs, an intimate friend should choke up, a distant acquaintance should sigh, a stranger should merely fumble sympathetically with his handkerchief. Where the occasion is military, the emotions should be graded according to military rank, the highest officer present taking precedence in emotional violence, and the rest modifying their feelings according to their position in the service.

Do not bring your dog.”

Truth telling in these dark times needs humor to make the medicine palatable as it rushes down our throats hopefully bringing with it cellular transformation of consciousness as we (hopefully) evolve as humanity. Bring on the daily dark news, and some humor along with it, please!


Amir Taqi,

Ruven Afanador for Time,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s