Laughing Journal Challenge

Inspired by Mr. Griffin,
I yearbooked myself.
Frightening stuff. technology
The semester has wrapped up at my school.  Which means I’m inputting grades in the school computer.  As I enter the grades, one by one, I can’t help but feel a certain regret at what I could have done better, seeing missed chances for growth for each student.  A-chan nodded off too often during extended reading time, why didn’t I help her pick more level-appropriate books?  C-kun came to every class except the TOEIC lessons, which he managed to miss with clock-work regularity.  Couldn’t I have helped him connect up the TOEIC work with the other classes he enjoys?  And the list goes on and on.  If it weren’t for the fact that I get to tutor students for the big summer speech contest in the morning, I would probably melt right down into a puddle of despair. 
Then Anne Hendler, a fellow English teacher in Korea, blogger, and friend, wrote up a courageous post about her dangerously high stress levels and how she was going to use a laughing journal to help cope.  Sounded like a good idea to me.  So here is my laughing journal for the past week:


Day 1: Not a big laughing day.  I was working on almost no sleep.  I was a test monitor at school for students taking make-up tests.  I was late getting home and made problems for my wife.  My daughter was cranky and sad.  I spilled some Jello on the floor.  Actually, a lot of Jello on the floor.  And then I went on Facebook and saw it was one of my favorite couple’s anniversary.  So I typed in a message.  This message actually: “You guys still had the best wedding I was ever late for.  Congratulations.  Love you.”  I finished typing and hit return.  But nothing happened.  I hit return again and nothing happened.  Facebook was bugging out.  I pounded the return key with frustration.   Nothing.  So I reloaded my Facebook wall.  There was my friends wedding anniversary picture, only now it had 42 comments where as few seconds before it had only had 6 comments.  I looked at my running list of fourty-two “You guys still had the best wedding I was ever late for.  Congratulations.  Love you,” and laughed about one time for each of the 42 comments.


Day 2: My daughter Luca was working in her Kanji exercise book and she had a question about what she was supposed to write.  Without looking up, her mouth twisted into a half-frown off of concentration, she said, “Mama, what am I supposed to do here?”  And I said, “Did you call me ‘Mama’?” And we both exploded in laughter.  

Later in the afternoon we went for a walk.  Luca was sleepy and wasn’t listening to anything I said and complaining about being hungry.  Basically being a typical, slightly frustrating 4 year old.  So I sat her down and started to give her a lecture.  She looked really sad and serious as she listened to me.  She nodded at just the right times.  I stopped talking and she was about to apologize (I think) when suddenly she farted.  It was a big fart.  I forgot to be angry.  Luca forgot to be sad.  We just laughed.  
At 10:30 PM at night, Luca came downstairs.  She said she woke-up because her tummy was talking to her and she needed to eat.  That was after wolfing down about 11 pieces of sushi at the sushi restaurant earlier in the evening.  So Mamico (my wife) and Luca and I were sitting around the table while Luca ate a piece of bread to satisfy her hunger.  It was cheese and fig bread.  We told Mamico the story of Luca farting just before she could get her apology out.  Luca and I laughed again.  Mamico laughed, too.
(#TESOLgeek memo 1: the second day of my laughing journal had three bursts of laughter entries.  Right before I went to bed I was talking to my wife and I hypothesized that perhaps laughing is similar to language acquisition.  Perhaps the very act of noticing laughter leads to a higher rate of laughter uptake.  I was pretty sure that I would be increasing the number of ‘laughter-events’ as the week went on. Unfortunately, this hypothesis just goes to prove how over-generalizing language acquisition theory to life in general is nothing more than an excellent form of silliness.)
Day 3: We went to Kyoto for an essay reading event.  It was held at a small bar with nice sofas and people in expensive jeans who all managed to look shabbily smart.  We took Luca with us.  Because our friend was reading from her essay collection and you know, taking a 4 year old to an essay reading is often good form.  Or not.  Anyway, Luca was doing great.  She was sat quietly and listened to the first essay about how the naming of a child is the first gift that parents give to their child.  But the next reader started off by giving a color quiz.  A kind of pop psychology thing.  The woman was holding up a color chart which had a lot of little colored balls glued to it and one of the balls fell off.  It was very small.  Maybe the size of a pea.  It was red.  As soon as it fell off, Luca laughed.  A loud, rolling laugh that you don’t really expect from a 4 year old.  And no one expects at a high-class essay reading.  It was, in short, a gloriously incongruous laugh.  And the people on the sofa next to us joined in.  As did the people across the coffee table.  There were eight of us laughing.  The reader didn’t laugh.  But to her credit, she did wait patiently.  
Day 4: We were all laying down on the floor in our living room.  It is very hot in Japan this summer, but we don’t use the air-conditioner.  Everyone in Japan is trying to conserve power.  We don’t like being hot, but we don’t want the government to start up the nuclear power-plants even more.  So we lie on the floor.  And we don’t stand up if we do not have to.   There we were, just lying on the floor, Mamico, Luca and I.  Then Mamico started talking up towards the ceiling and we noticed there was a great humming echo.  You know, like the kind of echo you get in a room with a curved ceiling; the kind of room where you can whisper and the person standing all the way on the other side of the room from you can hear it.  At least that’s what I thought it was like.  I was really excited.  I made Mamico stand up and walk to the corner of the room.  I whispered in as small a voice as I could, “Can you hear me?”  She said yes.  I got even more excited.  I was talking about the interesting acoustic properties of our living room.  I was comparing it to a concert hall.  Mamico said, “Stand in the kitchen.”  So I did.  Mamico stayed in the living room a few meters away.  She whispered in a tiny voice, “Can you hear me?”  I said yes.  “I’m not sure it’s the acoustics,” Mamico said.  “I think our house just isn’t that big.”  That made me laugh.


Day 5: I had a pretty informal lesson observation today.  I video taped one of my classes and sent it off to John Fanselow, and then we spent an hour going through the lesson.  He asked me questions (“Why are you having all the students do the dictation exercise at the same time?” “Why do you explain all the steps of the exercise at one time?” “Why don’t you give your sample sentences a title?”).  One hour of question after question.  Which did lead to some moments of laughter.  But it was more of a desperate laughter of exhaustion.  And it also led to this insight: a good observation starts with a sense of curiosity and ends with the sense of curiosity spreading from the observer to the observee.  At the end of the observation, John mentioned an article I had written about a dictogloss variation I had developed with my students.  He said, “You know, you have this paragraph at the end of page 22 and I have to say, I have no idea what you are talking about.  Why don’t you take that paragraph and rewrite it without any jargon.  And while you’re at it, see if any of your friends will give it a try as well.”  So I rewrote the paragraph.  It took a long time and gave me a headache.  I also posted the paragraph as a Google Doc and invited people on Twitter to give it a re-write as well.  Anne Hendler (@Annehendler) sent out the following Tweet:


my original translation had the word “stuff” in it multiple times #imakenosenseeither”


Which I think was the point John was trying to make.  But the idea of taking an academic article and replacing all jargon with the word “stuff” made me laugh.  A lot.   
(#TESOLgeek memo 2: John very much enjoyed everyone’s translations and said, “This is the exact point I’ve been trying to make for the past forty years.” He also sent me a copy of his article Beyond Rashomon, recommended reading for anyone who talks about teaching English.) 


Day 6: I was writing an article on various approaches in language teaching and realized that while I had watched people use Cuisenaire rods to teach, I had never actually tried to use them in learning a language myself.  So I fired up Youtube and found a series of seven videos which use Cuisenaire rods to teach the Native American language Lakoto.  Mamico and I watched all seven videos over and over.  We were particularly confused by the words “ba-nis” and “jim” which seemed to be very important to the conversation.  We had figured out that “na” was a conjunction.  That “sapa” meant ‘both.’  We understood the basic structure of the sentences.  But “ba-nis” and “jim” remained a mystery.  Until Mamico said, “It’s their names.”  Oh, “Bernice and Jim.”  We watched the videos a few more times and every time I heard “ba-nis” and “jim” I would laugh.  And then have to rewind the video because I had laughed right over the lesson. 


(TESOLgeek memo 3: I ended up using Cuisenaire rods to help one of my students use adverbial phrases and noun clauses in his speech.  The fact that I could easily pick up an entire clause and physically move it around in the sentence proved to be very helpful for understanding.  Sandy Millin also has a must read blog post on Cuisenaire rod use.)


Assorted other laughs:

        Michael Griffin’s (@michaelegriffin) mullet photo which can be seen on Facebook.
        An academic essay on cupcakes http://www.samplereality.com/2012/07/24/on-the-predominance-of-cupcakes-as-a-cultural-form/ (favorite line: “Ontologically speaking, just what the hell are cupcakes anyway?”)
        A series of tweets between Laura Phelps (@pterolaur) and Michael Griffin about toilets, toilet water, and unexpected dangers.

So that’s it.  Six days of things that made me laugh.  So did it work?  Did I feel less depressed about a semester full of missed teaching and learning opportunities for my students?  Not really.  But when I wasn’t busy feeling regretful, I was definitely more cheerful and ready to laugh.  Perhaps there is something to the idea that noticing laughter-events leads to more laughter.  And even if it doesn’t, writing up this laughing journal gave me a chance to laugh at my week again.  So at the very least, a laughing journal certainly leads to recycling of laughter-events and even a certain kind of joyful consolidation.

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6 thoughts on “Laughing Journal Challenge

  1. Thank you! Coming back from holiday today and already getting stressed..your post made me laugh out loud at least twice..love 'jim' and 'baniss'. It's a great reminder not to take everything too seriously. 😀

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  2. Kevin,This is brilliant. A window into a fascinating world. And it's nice to see a glimpse of what an old high school friend is doing these days. Your life sounds lovely. Wish you all the best.Lynne (Cohn) Golodner

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  3. Rachel,Welcome back from holiday. Sorry to hear the stress is already starting. Just so you know, for a while, we were pretty sure that "ba-nis" and "jim" were markers of gender and that the rest of the words probably were inflected to mach the "ba-nis" or "jim". We stuck with that theory for quite a few viewings. Close, but still of oh so wrong.Hope the rest of your summer is a little less than too serious. Kevin

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  4. Lynne,Thanks for stopping in. It's great to hear from you. And congratulations on your new book. Looks like it's filled with some great marketing wisdom. And donuts are also good. I've been enjoying your blog for some time now. Sorry to just be a lurker. But at least I'm a lurker whose also a fan.Kevin

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  5. This is awesome. Thanks for sharing your life and your laughs. And thanks especially for the cupcakes. That made my day. I also love reading about the little things in life that make for the best moments. Noticing that is (in my opinion) what it's all about.

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  6. Hello Anne,Thanks for the original idea and inspiration. The past few days worth of learning diaries has been some of my favorite reading of the year. It great to connect up with teachers and not just be talking about school, classes, and frustrations, but sharing some of the other things in our lives that we also bring to our classrooms and help make us the teachers we are.

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