The other day Melissa and I were watching Lyla run around when she turned to me and asked very sincerely, “Where do dogs come from?” I gave my best “I-knew-this-day-would-come” sigh and began, “Well, when a mommy dog and a daddy dog love each other very much. . .“ I knew Melissa would not think this was very funny – or rather, I knew Melissa would not allow herself a reaction that would betray that she actually really did think it was very funny – but that didn’t matter to me. I don’t really rely on the reactions of others to determine whether something I’ve done or said or written is funny, and this instance was no exception. I nailed it, I knew I had nailed it, and nothing could change that, not even every man, woman, and child on the earth reacting to my joke with this face:
I’m not arguing that the ability to tune out the rest of the world when assessing one’s own sense of humor is necessarily a virtue. I’m simply telling you that the reaction of other people to an attempt at humor on my part doesn’t have any bearing on how successful I believe that attempt to be. If I tell a lame joke and my interlocutors erupt in delighted peals of laughter, I’m never tempted to upgrade my rating of said joke from lame to funny, and the same goes for when I say something I think is hilarious but is greeted by crickets and tumbleweeds.
Don’t get me wrong, I would still very much like for you to think I am funny. I’m sure poor Vincent Van Gogh knew he was a genius, but other people recognizing that probably would have gone a long way towards his not dying poor, alone and with a slight leftward tilt to his head. Life is better when everyone else recognizes and values the gift that you know you possess.
A few days ago I found myself in a high stakes social situation with the chance to make a fairly risky joke – I knew that this particular joke was either going to go over big or fail terribly. I was feeling lucky so I went for it. Pay dirt. I got the hot hand and I just couldn’t miss. The crowd was eating out of my hand. I decided to quit while I was ahead, at which point someone else decided to try his hand. His attempts were easy, obvious, and just not very funny. And yet the crowd – my crowd – went crazy for this guy. They had thought I was really funny, and now they thought he was really funny. I wasn’t sure how to process this information.
I felt like piping up and saying “Guys, you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re still on a high from my time in the limelight, so you’re laughing at things that you just shouldn’t be laughing at. You’re better than this, and you’re now starting to really debase yourselves and the time we shared together.” I didn’t say that, of course, but the experience made me realize that the only thing worse than nobody recognizing your genius is having people treat you like a genius but then treat other clearly non-geniuses like geniuses.
None of this, of course, answers Melissa’s question of where dogs come from. I really feel like I need to give her a good answer soon, though, before she gets bad information from her friends at school.
(PS: In fairness to Melissa, she meant to essentially ask “How is it that dogs came to be domesticated when most other animals haven’t been?”)