Who is Holding the Pen?



My high school boyfriend didn’t think I was funny. That is what he told me anyway, that I should leave the jokes to him because he was better at them. I dated this guy for more than two years (an eternity in high school boyfriend years) and for the most part it was a positive experience. We were (mostly) good for each other. But this one thing he said in passing somehow crawled into my psyche and built a little room in a house addressed, “Things That Are True About Abby.” I should probably leave the jokes to someone else.

I was 23 before I realized how much room this offhand comment was taking up in my mind. My husband accidentally attributed some dumb joke I had made to his friend. This was clearly a minor offense.

I lost my mind.

I started using what my therapist sister likes to call “catastrophic language” on my poor husband: You NEVER laugh at my jokes you ALWAYS think someone else is funny you DON’T GET ME AT ALL!!!

Or. Perhaps I was over reacting. I mean. Maybe. A little.

This isn’t really about one tiny misquote. This is about me, realizing that there is a thing about me that maybe, just maybe, isn’t true. See? I am funny. I am really funny. But I didn’t have the dry sense of humor that this particular high school boyfriend favored. I can’t deliver a joke dead pan. I just get too tickled and start giggling before I finish. Less Jimmy Kimmel, more Jimmy Fallon. And Jimmy Fallon makes a living cracking up at his own jokes.

In college I worked as a writing tutor. When we weren’t changing the letters so the signs said, “Writin’ Deks,” mailing people funny mail in the free campus mail envelopes, and getting our magnetic poetry privileges suspended because of the slightly inappropriate poems we created, we would help our peers with their papers. We had to be careful our clients were doing the re-writes. We wanted to make sure it really was their paper at the end of the hour, so we had a very specific rule:

The client had to hold the pen. 

We could make suggestions. We could even tell them word-for-word what went next if we needed to. But they had to hold the pen. They got to be in charge of what went into their paper.

When my boyfriend told me I should leave the jokes to him, he was really just making a suggestion for an edit. But I dutifully copied down every word and kept it as a permanent part of my story.

When I had my little tantrum—I mean, epiphany—I realized it was time to re-write my understanding of myself. So, I went looking for evidence of my own hilarity. I found plenty.

Exhibit A: The first time I ever got published on SheLoves, which was the first time I got published anywhere that was not my blog, I submitted this picture. I tried to find other pictures of my face, but this one looks the most like me. While I now have a more professional head shot, if you see me in person, expect this girl:



Exhibit B: My favorite part of my day job as a high school teacher is photo-bombing my student’s snap chats. One of my students started keeping a running list of these pictures. She showed me. I almost peed myself.

Exhibit C: In high school I was cast for every bit part, every obnoxious side character, every shrieking hysterical commoner. I loved those roles. Now, when the Friday video announcements need faculty to dance to “What Does the Fox Say,” the kids consistently come knocking.

Exhibit D: When my students turned all of their desks on their sides, and remained seated in them while I was in the hallway, I made them stay there until I could get a picture. I didn’t yell; I applauded.

Exhibit E: My favorite way to describe my daughters is hilarious. The day my two-year-old threw her lunch on her head and declared “It’s a HAT!” was one of the best days of my life. They must get that sense of humor from their mom.

When I started inserting these stories into my own story, suddenly it was not a major offense that my husband forgot that funny thing I said that one time. I am in charge of talking about myself and I am HILARIOUS.

I am learning to be very careful about who holds the pen in my life. My sisters, my husband, a few close friends, these are the editors in my life. They get to suggest changes, show me where the tale may need re-written. But I am the pen-holder. I get the final say. At the end of the day, I want it to truly be my story. I get to decide.


Image credit: Jason Rogers