Laughter- Surgery for the Soul to Rise Above


Laughter – Surgery for the Soul to Rise Above

A Costume Drama in Three Acts

By Jane Tawel

May 27, 2017


Act I


It all began one morning on my way to work.  I had taken a new non-teaching job at the high school my son Gordon attended.  Driving to work with one’s son is, well….. different.  I am a person who goes to work thinking through the day and what I need to accomplish and how I am going to do that and then what I will have for dinner when I am done with my accomplishments.  I am a mental organizational task- maker and a worrier and a “To-Do List” sort of gal.  Sons are not.  Teenage sons, like Gordon at the time, like to start their day by catching up on the sleep they still need.  Teenage sons, like Gordon, like to start the day not thinking for even a nano-second about the overwhelming amount of “stuff” other people like teachers and parents want them to accomplish that day rather than the stuff they would like to accomplish that day, like, well, catching up on all the sleep they didn’t get the night before. So like any good mom, I spent our morning driving together verbally illuminating my son on all the things he had ahead of him that day that he shouldn’t forget about, and by keeping up a half hour streaming version of “Tips on How To Succeed in Your Teenage Day Ahead”.  And, yes, Gordon, “You’re Welcome.”


Finally after about two months of my rattling  on with the To -Do List that GORDON! should be making for his day ahead and worrying for him about all the things he needed to accomplish that day, Gordon quite succinctly and elegantly explained to me the typical teenage boy’s brain: “Mom, I can’t hear you in the morning.”


So for about a month, I honored my son’s astute analysis of our mutal condition, and we rode in silence – unless he wanted to listen to “Papa Roach” or “Eminem” songs to gear up, or unless he broke the sacred silence because he needed to ask me for money.


The job I had started at this time of silent rides with Gordon,  was one that demanded some fancier, snazzier clothes than I had worn teaching  home -schooled students out of my dining room.  I had hustled off to Ross and gotten what I thought was some pretty eloquent business attire, including some nice suits.  I am a dress up sort of gal any way, so no biggie.  But I had perhaps made a few choices in outfits that were, to put it nicely, not exactly “me”.  But I didn’t know that. Yet.


So one morning Son of Silence and I walked to Polly Prius for our early morning commute and I had on a new outfit.  This outfit was one that certain women I know could definitely pull off with aplomb. But then,  there is me.  The outfit has a leopard-print flowy skirt with a matching neck scarf and a brown blazer.  So Gordon and I are taking the usual long completely silent walk to the car, and as we get to the passenger door for me to click it open, Gordon looks at me out of the corner of his eye and mumbling in his best Australian Crocodile Hunter voice says, “CRICKEY! It’s the most dangerous animal in the world!”


And thus, the Era of My Costume Drama began.


Gordon, Crocodile Hunter, and The Most Dangerous Animal in the World, a Mom who Talks too Much in the Mornings


Act II


Of course I had to tell every one I knew this hilarious comment by my son. And every one I told laughed almost as hard as Gordon and I had.  I made the mistake though, or perhaps the serendipitously fortunate game -changing play, of relating Gordon’s crikey comment to my work friend Charles, who happened to be Gordon’s History teacher, Mr. Hampton.  Mr. Hampton has a killer sense of humor and is also awfully smart.  So after the dangerous animal outfit story was related, whenever I saw Mr Hampton and Gordon together, my outfits began to take on new meanings. Suddenly some of what I wore as snazzy business attire, did in fact look a bit like  unintentional costumes.  For instance, when I wore my very chic red suit, I became Miss Scarlet in the Library with a Rope or an Airline Stewardess for Southwest Airlines.


One of my most obvious costumes however, was not a fancy one.  It was one I wore for casual days and really, it was pretty hard not to see this outfit as my “Where’s Waldo?” outfit.

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In fact, one time I went straight from school wearing this outfit to join Verity at an Indie Rock concert in Hollywood.  Not only did I stand out as the most “mature” person standing for eight long hours in the mosh pit, but I was I think the only person not dressed completely in black.  At the end of the concert, a pretty toasted couple in about their thirties, steered through the crowd, to come up to Verity and me.  With delight in his blurry voice and a twinkle in his blurry eyes, the guy looked at me and said, “We wanted you to know we think you have on the best outfit at the concert tonight.  You’re Waldo, right?”

“Why, yes, I am”, I replied, “and you found me.”


Fast forward several years to Gordon at a new school and I in a new job back in the classroom teaching 7th Grade. I missed those silent rides with my son but I still had my Crocodile Hunter outfit and on the day early in the Autumn that  I wore it to my 7th grade classroom, I told my students the story of how it became known as a costume.  I told them to anticipate my wearing other outfits from time to time that might be considered costumes and that if they correctly guessed when I was wearing a “costume” and what the “costume” was, then they would get a point to add to their academically achieved class points to cash in for  candy or stickers at the end of each week.


In hindsight, that might have been a mistake.


Because of course from then on, every single blasted thing I wore to school was in my beloved 7th Graders’ eyes, a costume.  Because costumes meant points. And points meant candy.


So one of them whose parents still had an old Clue game  guessed correctly the Miss Scarlet outfit.

And the Miss Frizzle outfit was guessed by Camille, although I have to say that is an easy one to get with my hair “style” (and yes, “style” in my case is meant to be in quotes).


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This is me on Miss-match Free Dress Day at school, dressed as Ms. Frizzle might dress.


But then the whole Mrs. Tawel in Costumes began to morph into a somewhat consuming attitude on the part of my students.


At first they would politely ask, “Are you wearing a costume today?”  And I would often say, “No, sorry, not today.”  But after a while when a costume had not been worn in many a long lonely Junior High Schooler’s school life, they sort of “ganged up” on me and would rush me when I walked into the building in the morning with, “You look like a flower.  Are you wearing a flower costume today?”  “No, you look like a real estate person. Is that your costume?” And so after a while, all I could do is say, “Yes, that is a good one.  I AM a rose bush today!”  or  “Okay, a point goes to Quincy. I do look a bit like a Peacock  today.”

When on some mornings I had actually managed to sneak into the building without them spotting me, and they hadn’t seen me in the morning before class, as soon as they were sitting at their desks and I took my place by the white board,  the students would rapidly raise their hands, trying to be the first with the correct costume answer.  Some of my favorites were the day I was a “Bowl of Dip-N-Dots”. or the day I was an “Elf Lord from Lord of the Rings”.  And, of course, the day I was “Plankton”.

This is me in my Plankton outfit with Quincy:

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But my all time favorite has got to be the day I wore a truthfully absolutely non-costume outfit which was another kind of eloquent business dress I had gotten for my previous fancy job at Gordon’s school.  It has a black and white herringbone top and a black skirt — all in one dress.  It really is a bit too dressy and businessy for a 7th Grade Teacher but, again, I like to dress up and I never throw any thing out if I can help it.


So I wear my herringbone patterned dress and I stand in front of the class and of course all the hands shoot up as I am getting ready to disappoint them with the dreaded words, “No, this is not a costume.”  And one student says, “Are you a real estate person?” (That of course had become their go-to which makes me wonder why I, who could never sell a house to anyone even if it were going for free, are their idea of a real estate saleswoman?)

“Nope. I’m not a real estate person.”

“Mrs. Tawel, are you a business woman?” “No.”

“You’re an airline person!”  “Nope.”

“You’re a tree!” “Um, I’m not sure how you got that, but nope.”

And finally above all the shooting hands still trying to put off the moment when we really do have to do our grammar, the darling, sweet, tiny, delightful Mia, loudly blurts out:


“Mrs. Tawel – You’re a COW!”



A room full of big scared eyes looking at me for a response.


And I can’t help it.  I begin to laugh and say, “Why, yes Mia, I am a Cow!”


And an eruption of hilarious laughter overcomes the entire room and we all laugh until we are literally holding our stomaches and falling out of our desks. (The boys love any excuse to laugh and fall out of their desks, so…).

And so the legend was born and the story of My People– the 7th Grade Class of Mrs. Tawel was born and soon took on a life of it’s own, much as the now mythologically legendary story of my son, the Leopard Printed Mama Hunter, became a legendary story to tell and retell for years and years.  And years and years hence, these stories will be repeated and told again and again; because  the best mythologically proportioned stories of all are the ones that make us laugh. And the stories that help us understand who we really are in our collective heart of hearts are worth storing up and remembering and retelling to each other and telling to new people who become Your People. And in those days when you need a good story in the silences, they are worth remembering even when you are all by yourself. Even if you laugh all by yourself.

“Why yes, Mia,  I am a Cow!”




I have never seen my Anglophile husband laugh so hard as when I told him this story because of course, after years of watching PBS and British movies, we know that you simply do not call your teacher a “cow”.  But then, haven’t you found as I have recently that we have lost the ability to laugh and we have especially lost the ability to laugh at ourselves?


I learned in the car rides to school with my son that you can’t take some one else’s life captive with your seriousness about what they should do and who they should be.  And maybe we shouldn’t be so serious about our own day’s future accomplishments? Maybe we should just be present in the very moment we have, enjoying the ride we are on right now.

I should have realized that Gordon and I would share a love of laughing together when he as a child designed these matching noses for us to wear together:


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I learned with Mr. Hampton that the very best gift a friend can give is laughter and that if you are not willing for that laughter to be about you, then you are missing out on the delightful lightness of being.  I think about that scene in the movie “Mary Poppins” when crazy Uncle Albert played by the laughable and laughing Ed Wynn, invites everyone up to the ceiling for a tea party.  The only way they can rise is to laugh. Maybe the only way we as people are going to Rise is to go back to sitting around together with all the machines turned off and tell our stories to each other.  Maybe we could laugh together at the things that otherwise might pull us down.  I personally don’t want to spend my life with both feet planted firmly on a ground that could open up before me at any moment and suck me down into yet another horribly serious situation. I couldn’t agree more with Uncle Albert when he sings, “I Love to Laugh”. And if laugher is called the best medicine, then perhaps learning to laugh at one’s self is like a successful surgical operation that just might save one’s life.  Laughter is the “surgery” that removes the bad “heart” and replaces it with  a brand, new good heart. Or maybe it replaces whatever is wrong inside with a funny bone. (Ta dum duh!) When we laugh, we begin to rise above the typical responses to problems or situations. Laugh and Rise Above.

And finally, I learned from my students, that the honest pure  blurtings of a child  are incredibly Freeing and Hopeful. It is after all, a child who blurts out, “The Emperor has no clothes on!  Don’t you all see, the Dictator is naked!”  And the teacher is dressed like a Heifer today. And when every one in the room can see the truth in a child’s happy, hilarious awkward shout, then we are all freed into the wonderful simplicity of child-like truth and wonder. For that moment of shared laughter, we have those eternal things called Hope and Love.  And we Rise Above.

A child blurted out, “Mrs. Tawel, you are a cow.” And I laughed. And we all laughed.

Because honestly? — what does it matter if I look like a cow?  If I can laugh at myself, I just might avoid acting like one.


Dressing up in costumes is a lot more fun that dressing to impress.  I highly recommend it, intentional or not.  And I highly recommend allowing others to laugh at you – and then joining them.  Maybe if we all laugh at ourselves a bit more, we will have less time for being stressed, and worried, and combative.  And we can in sometimes silent companionship, but sometimes giggling together joyfulness, enjoy the ride we’re on right now.

Let’s make stories together — of mythical, legendary proportions! Let’s make some belly-laugh fall -out -of- our -chair moments together.  We so often choose the path of talking our To-Do lists to death and taking each other so very, very seriously in our Emperor clothing. The ride to work seems to be full of anticipated stressful and busy, busy serious moments just around the corner.  We have forgotten that the current path we are walking on is just this moment. The path of joy and wonder in The Now is a path we seem to have veered off from lately, but, if we choose the path of laughter shared, then just maybe, our children and our children’s children and their children’s children will have a future worth making To-Do Lists about and as Robert Frost might encourage us,

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I walked among the people accidentally wearing many different costumes, which ended up opening  different paths for us to talk (sometimes) and walk together.  In the process of path finding with my own children and with my students I found people to share stories with. And we will walk and sometimes talk and often  laugh together. And even when we leave each other, we will pass on to others our stories to help them enjoy The Now and laugh maybe for just that very moment. And in that way,  We will Rise Above.
Even the Cow.


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The Cow with Her Beloved 7th Grade Herd


A Little Dab’ll Do Ya’

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A Little Dab’ll Do Ya’

By Jane Tawel

May 14, 2017

A good while back there was this hair gel –before “Bedhead”, before girls started gelling their hair, before pomades and shaping creams cost as much as small television sets—  This hair product was called “Brylcreem” and only men used it and it made them smell like MEN – just like Aqua Velva or Old Spice did. The jingle for this gel, originating in England but oozing worldwide, was “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya’.  I love the following history as related in Wikepedia:


Brylcreem was first advertised on television with the jingle “Brylcreem—A Little Dab’ll Do Ya! Brylcreem—You’ll look so debonair. Brylcreem—The gals’ll all pursue ya; they’ll love to run their fingers through your hair!”[1]

The Brylcreem TV advertisement included a cartoon animation of a man with initially tousled hair who happily has a little dab applied, and, miraculously, the hair combs and smooths itself.

When the dry look became popular, partly inspired by the unoiled moptops of the Beatles, the last line was changed from “They’ll love to run their fingers through your hair”, to “They’ll love the natural look it gives your hair.”

Subsequent television advertisements used the mottoes “Grooms without gumming” and later, in the 1970s in the UK and Canada, “A little dab of Brylcreem on your hair gives you the Brylcreem bounce”. (Wikipedia May 8, 2017)



This has been a wonderful year as I have been privileged to teach Junior High. For many teachers and parents, the words “wonderful”, “privileged”  and “Junior High” are counter intuitive oxymorons,  but I really enjoy the innocence and open inquiry these young folks still have.  Also – unlike older students (or adults) they know they are squirrely and they own it.  They are  much fun.


The move you see us all doing in the picture is one that we always called “The Noah Move”. One of my students, Noah, always ended a report or a particularly good comment of his with this move. However, unbeknownst to us, this move is known outside my little cocooned class room in Pasadena, CA not as “The Noah Move” but as “The Dab”.  I did not know the real name until one night about a month ago when I was out to eat with my kids and husband.  I was talking about something or other that I guess I was kind of proud of and I did “The Noah Move”. My family looked at me oddly but they often do, whether I am moving or sitting perfectly still, so no biggie.  Our waiter walking by us, though, stopped dead in his tracks and turning to me smilingly said with a great degree of mock shock in his voice, “Did you just DAB?!”  We all laughed in that way you do with strangers whom you are dependent on for your next meal but who have just said something that you have no earthly idea of what they are talking about. “Hee, hee, hee, hee, if I did do whatever you just said I did – Dab was it?—will you still bring me my sushi?”


I had no idea what he was talking about nor did I think too much more about it.  Fast forward a few weeks to the night of Speech Night and a parent who teaches at a public school took this picture for my students and me.  Later he and I were talking and  he rather sweetly but seriously informed me that though “The Dab” is now considered a sanitized dance move, it originated as an indicator that someone had just taken a heightened drug version of marijuana and was coughing into one’s elbow to indicate the high was good to go. (Something like that.  I wasn’t totally clear on the parent’s explanation since I, as this man’s daughter’s teacher was sort of shutting down a bit as my face reddened and pulse quickened and I tried to keep laughing the “hee, hee” laugh to cover my embarrassment and the possibility that he would be upset at me for teaching his daughter to “DAB”.)


So time changes things. A Little Dab’ll Do Ya – once the innocent jingle of a company trying to convince you that using a glue would make your hair feel softer, is now the not so innocent jingle trying to convince you that using a drug (like glue) can make you feel better about yourself.  In hindsight, both products are trying to sell us the same thing – that we are not okay as we are without some product or other.


Maybe you remember when you were in Junior High? Do you know how  almost impossible it is for a 12 or 13 year old  in Junior High School to believe that they are okay? Not great, not amazing, just okay.  In fact, it is daily almost impossible for a young person to come anywhere near believing they are more than okay, –inside and outside. It is almost impossible for a 13- year- old to believe they are beloved by God. This is why our class motto for good and bad times has been, as  the Psalmist says, “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” in the image of a God.


Getting back amongst Junior Highers this past year has helped me realize that at my age, I too am struggling with feeling that I am not okay – inside and  outside.  Maybe that is why I enjoy teaching Junior Highers.  They are a lot like 50- year- old women.  Both of us have to deal with bodies changing without our consent or control, emotions plunging, plummeting and peaking on a minute by minute basis, and the stares of strangers at whatever is happening on our facial skin despite the use of many expensive products. Let me tell you, a little dab may do ya when you are 13 but when you are my age, a dab don’t do nothing!


So the day after Speech Night, and after the kind parent and fellow teacher had pulled me aside and informed me about the origin of the Dab Dance Move, the kids and I had a  little class discussion. I wanted the young people to know at least how this “Noah Move” would be interpreted by some people outside the cocoon of our classroom. And then we needed to discuss the future of our using this move.  Should we keep dabbing now that we know what it signifies?  Mrs. Tawel talked seriously about not trusting people without any regard to safety – safety not just for one’s outside but for one’s inside as well.  I said that now that we know what “Dab” means to some people, if any one offers us a dab we will know to say, “no thank you”. We talked about trusting our parents and good adults and keeping them in the “truth talking loop”, and how important it is to keep learning and growing and gaining confidence in one’s self.


And then with the wisdom and innocence of youth and old age, we decided that we as group who had been through a year of Junior High together,  thought of the move as “The Noah Move” and we liked it and we were going to claim it as our own and keep doing it together.  For Mrs. Tawel’s 7th Grade Class, The Dab is a fun move that speaks to our sense of pride in accomplishment,  solidarity  with a group of very different individuals, and joy in being alive.  It is a move that to us means, “We just did something great and we are proud of it. Hurrah!” We decided that we liked “The Noah Dab”.  It was us. It was our way of saying to each other, “hey, we are a-okay”. And sometimes, we are Wonderful.



Unlike the original Dab Drug Dance Move or even the Brylcreem Dab, “The Noah Dab Move”, requires no product, no money spent, no fixing something that isn’t broken, no changing or altering of any kind. Its only requirement is that you are willing to say, I am not just okay, but I am fearfully and wonderfully made.


I highly recommend that you give it a try.  As you can tell by this picture, I am not perhaps the best person to teach any one a dance move, but if you can’t find any one else, I will be happy to Noah Dab with you.


The next time you are feeling like you are back in Junior High, and your locker won’t open and you are late for class and you have a pimple that is the size of Mt. Everest and you fell and scrapped your knee and got blood all over your new knee socks and every one was laughing at you and you got a C- in Earth Science, and the boy you like ignored you this morning and your best friend went to Disney Land with the new girl who didn’t invite you and your stomach hurt this morning and adults don’t understand you –  Oh, Sorry – I didn’t mean to go on and on about my life right now. Maybe all those things only happen to me?


But the next time you just can’t find the right product to fix your heart – remember Mrs. Tawel’s 7th Graders and try a dance move that is all your own – for you are uniquely and wonderfully made in the image of a dancing, dabbing God.

I can guarantee if you do try it, that “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya”.