946: Crackerbell

946: Crackerbell

946: Crackerbell


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

In one of the darkest periods of my life, I found myself in a small grey room with ten strangers, laughing. The “leader” inhaled deeply before releasing into fake, loud laughter. The effect was contagious. Laughter immediately spread between us, like a clownish virus until everybody was gripping their bellies or doubled over. Cracking up, wiping tears from my eyes, there wasn’t really space to think, which was perhaps the point. Desperate times call for Laughter Yoga.

Fourteen years later, when I reflect back on that moment of forcing laughter in a room with wet-eyed strangers, I don’t feel embarrassed or pitiful. It was a time when I felt no agency––illness had happened to me, hijacked my body and mind, upended my post-college plans, demanded a stay at a mental hospital where I was at the whims of doctors and staff who were not always ethical or compassionate.

Once released, I stayed in a friend’s living room hundreds of miles away from my estranged family. A stack of cardboard boxes created a makeshift wall for privacy. My friends moved with carefulness at the periphery of my pain. Then they were off to work, or school, or a boyfriend’s house. Off to live their lives, as they should have been. I spent my days and nights alone.

Then, some survival instinct kicked in that told me: you need to be around other people. I scoured the website Meetup for something, anything. Laughter Yoga popped up on the screen. I was in the layer of earth beneath rock bottom, and I thought What the hell.

My life was quicksand swallowing my ankles, my knees, my waist. So I chose a room filled with people. I chose ridiculousness. And through the scientific promise of a strange practice called Laughter Yoga, air stormed my lungs, I laughed among others, lightning cracked the dark.

Today’s poem confronts the fork in the road where we are pushed to change. And though this push is ruthless and confusing and total, the speaker humbly persists. I learn a lot from that persistence, which could also be called self-love.

by Mary Ruefle

I grew up

I became myself and 
was haunted by it

and I loved to wander, utterly alone

listening to the sound of tears 
striving to guess my own secret 
and racking my imagination for 
a dream

everybody else knew my story 
and there was not one of them 
who would give me so much as 
a bird dropping

so on I wandered
with arms and nitric startled eyes, 
nitpicking my way through the world 
when the electrical current 
that runs in all directions 
deep beneath the earth 
shook me

and at once I felt
there are so many years to fail 
that to fail them all, one by one, 
would give me a double life, 
and I took it.

“Crackerbell” by Mary Ruefle from DUNCE © 2020, Mary Ruefle. Used with permission of the author and Wave Books.