By Wanda Potrykus
PROMPT—During Covid-19 ...
“Make it funny,” said the presenter at the online writing workshop. The topic under discussion was writing about Covid-19. Please can someone tell me what is funny about that subject? There's hardly a country or an island in the world that hasn't been affected in some adverse way by this global health and economic catastrophe.
Well, perhaps there's a sparsely populated atoll somewhere in the Pacific maybe, but who's been to check on them recently? Not me. I'm in the high risk category (over 70 years of age) so I'm firmly locked down in my apartment on Montreal island, and dreams of a South Pacific island holiday are merely that ... lovely dreams. I'm doing a lot of that, dreaming that is, as there's not much else to keep me occupied.
Me, my Covid universe has been reduced to walls and balconies, as yes, I'm lucky, I happen to have a tiny, one-bedroom apartment in terms of size, but it comes with two good-sized balconies. I possibly have more balcony than bedroom. Maybe I should hold a party? Since I'm allowed another person in my Covid 'support bubble' the two of us could enjoy a balcony each. They even have different views being completely around the corner from each other, the epitome of 'social distancing.' The public health people would be proud of me.
The only full-time entity in my Covid world with whom I share my home is an extremely large Tonkinese cat named Big Guy, well, because he's big but frankly he's not a great conversationalist, or jokester, though of late he is trying his best.
Pre-Covid, his 'conversation' cat-style was mostly to tell me to refill his food bowl or change his litter; however, in Covid times he has several more things to fret and be vocal about. Most specifically during my online Zumba® class when he goes frantic at the sight of me gyrating Latin style around the living room on Saturday mornings. During online yoga class he tries to prevent me from getting up from the floor (not a pretty sight for anyone to witness I assure you) by sitting on me. Some of you will have heard of goat yoga or dog yoga, well, I don't advise you to try cat yoga. I get to wondering if those tiny doggie booties one sees the Montreal dogs of winter wearing on icy days could perhaps be adapted for yoga participating cats? Maybe then the claw marks I get in yoga class won't hurt quite as much.
I also question if attempting 'the bridge' exercise with a 20-pound Tonkinese on one's ever expanding 'Covid tummy' (yes, it's a thing) builds any more ab definition? It certainly means I don't get more than a few centimeters off the floor, but alone in my apartment, who's checking? That's one of the biggest benefits of my online Y exercise classes. No one gets to view me on floundering valiantly on my improvised yoga mat, desperately trying to keep the Covid pounds from creeping any higher. I have to admit, it's a losing battle for the most part, or else my bathroom scales are lying, which I doubt.
My formerly busy, pre-Covid social scene has been reduced to dining out once a week across town at the home of my chosen 'support bubble companion.' We single persons are permitted one friend with whom we can share the isolation. I choose to trek across town from the west end of Montreal to the east end to give myself the illusion of actually getting in the car and driving to a destination more than five minutes from my apartment. Such excitement when I can report seeing an accident in the Ville-Marie tunnel or a police radar trap on Notre Dame Street East, with the resultant delays and traffic tie ups. It gives us both something new to talk about.
Plus speeding to beat the curfew deadline on the way home, also adds some adrenaline, or a pop of excitement to my night out on the town, especially when “Halfway Home”, or another song from the Canadian band Broken Social Scene, comes on the radio. Way to go guys and gals! How very prescient you were to give yourselves a name we can remember and a song we can all relate to, especially during this pandemic. Definitely one for the pandemic playlist!
My Covid support bubble partner and I, we also trade coping tips with each other, as well as some of our other locked down singleton friends, to help us survive the bluest of days. They include instructions and details on how to make a “Funny Bone Laughter Jar” containing such helpful suggestions such as: “A glass of wine in each hand makes it impossible to touch your face” and “I may not have caught the virus, but I've managed to catch a few pounds, some anxiety and a taste for social distance.” One of the most useful is: “Got something you need to remember to do on daily basis (such as taking medication)? Start giving your cat a treat at the time you need to do it. You might forget but your cat certainly won't.” We also added some titles from the mix of simply hilarious Covid parody songs on Youtube and our Funny Bone jars were full in no time at all.
But my other weekly Covid reality is, I only creep outside at odd times when I hope there won't be too many people around and the grocery store won't be too crowded, which means I can find an isolated parking spot. I'm fully masked, of course, and also wear gloves. They're my newest pandemic fashion accessory, since mostly everything else has gone by the wayside. Remember lipstick anyone? Once 'de rigeur' for anyone over a certain age leaving the house. I never felt completely 'dressed' without it. How times have changed.
Plus I do like to keep up with the changing trends. It seems skin tight gloves have replaced tight jeans, although one doesn't have to lie down on the bed to zip them up. Thank goodness for some small mercies!
Furthermore, all those absolutely lovely nitrile gloves come in a whole slew of gorgeous fashion colours: green, yellow, lavender, white, light blue, dark blue, and yes, even black. Very attractive. I also colour coordinate them with my face masks. The height of Covid chic I think!
But trying to smize (or 'smile with my eyes') at the cute guy in yogurt aisle, doesn't seem to be working, even though I practise hard in front of the bathroom mirror, which means there's no Covid generated 'romance', as yet, on the cards. But there's still time. As the saying goes: 'hope springs eternal', as does Covid-19, aka the Novel coronavirus or SARS-Cov-2, and all its multiple and seemingly never-ending numbered variants along with their relevant VOIs, VOCs and VUMs. Trying to remember them all in the correct order is like being back in math and Greek class, especially since it's now more politically correct to call them by their number names, and not country of supposed origin names, to avoid Covid-variant shaming, with its resultant global pariah award status.
“Make it funny” she said. “It doesn't have to be 'funny ha-ha', it can be funny ridiculous, funny quirky, funny ironic, funny sarcastic, funny dry, funny wry, funny black.” Black humour being very popular with those serving in all roles on the front lines of this pandemic, along with all the comedians of course. The most talented ones can make a joke out of anything it seems, even Covid.
In essence, the underlying message from the workshop speaker was “think about writing funny on anything you want really, since at times like this, it's good to laugh”. At that advice, I (and others on screen) shook their heads in disbelief. What can anyone find funny about Covid? We'll have to wait a few years for that, or maybe a few decades.
Speaking of time passing, have you noticed as the months go by we are all tending to drop the 19 part of the Covid name? Who wants to think back to 2019 anyway? For most of us it's the last year we remember when the world was the way the world always was, or at least how it was in the second decade of the 21st century. Not perfect by any means.
“Thank goodness” I say for the TV reruns of some of the best pre-Covid comedy shows to help take our minds off the more depressing reportage on the nightly news shows.They, at least, are still funny.
Like the comedy shows though, it seems the Covid-19 virus has no respect for anyone, and it's obviously also totally apolitical. Unless you believe some internet sites claiming it was created by China in a Wuhan lab as part of that country's plans to dominate the world. I won't repeat the other 'theories' circulating out there as they're not funny, simply sad, but I've definitely dropped raw bat meat from the weekly menu choices.
So what could one possibly write about Covid that would tickle anyone's funny bone on such a depressing subject? Since the writing workshop session I've been reflecting a lot on that. Then the Ever Given container ship got stuck in the Suez canal and became the subject of internet memes.
Meme—now's there's a funny word for you—a humorous image, video, piece of text, video copied and spread by internet users. Suddenly, the world, even in the time of Covid, became kinda funny again.
It's only a small thing. Well no, the Ever Given isn't ... it's gigantic. I had no idea such ginormous container ships were traveling the oceans of our world bringing us mountains of stuff that in Covid lock-down times we aren't permitted to go to the mall to buy. But the memes people produce are really funny. Or at least they strike my funny bone, and for the first time in a long while I laughed and laughed.
One of my favorites is: “The cat (aka the Caterpillar digger machine) didn't work so they're trying the dog” combined with a montage of a big dog digging desperately in the earthen bank of the Suez canal dwarfed by the huge ship. I found it (and others) hysterically funny and l giggled harder than I have for a year (and startled my poor cat yet again).
For those of you who still have no idea what a 'meme' is. It's a purely cyberspace invention. People combine words and images (photos mostly, many featuring animals as well as some humans, but sometimes it's only a colored background with words superimposed) with quirky, and at times down right ha-ha funny, comments. I wish I was that witty.
After the spate of Ever Given memes, each day I now need a healthy dose of laughter I find myself some memes to chuckle over. They say, “Laughter is the best medicine” along with vaccines of course, and “Laughter is good for soul.” Well it is. But if the soul's not your thing, it's good for the psyche too. There are home schooling memes, often bittersweet, there are Covid stockpiling memes (most often featuring toilet rolls). Who knew that a sanitary grocery/pharmacy store item could generate so many smiles or outright guffaws? Not me, at any rate.
Another favorite is: “What if they close the grocery stores? We'll have to hunt for our food ... and I don't even know where Doritos live!” Silly? Yes! Corny? Of course! Funny? Indubitably. At least for some, me included. And I don't eat Doritos, so shouldn't even care where they live.
Consequently, I have got to wondering what it would take to become a 'memester'? Yes, that's a word. Supposedly the opposite of a hipster, since a memester celebrates the mainstream. Well my hipster days are long gone. Maybe I could aspire to being a memster? Failing that maybe a memester accolyte? Reviewing a few memes is going to be one of the ways I give myself permission to summon up a laugh a day, or at least crack a smile (or a groan) when things seem to be particularly dreary as these pandemic times drag on.
“Make it funny” she said.
Well, courtesy of the slew of memesters out there, I am going to do my best to try and chortle the more depressing of the Covid years away.
Thank you to all the meme and video creators and sharers. You've managed to make Covid-19 funny, for a short while at any rate.
Or maybe I'm simply going bat or is that rather Covid crazy? Perhaps it's time for that South Pacific dream trip again?
Wanda Potrykus is a writer, editor, translator, and poet. Although born in the UK, she was well named choosing to explore and travel the world, eventually settling in Canada. A graduate of McGill University, she spent much of her career in marketing and corporate communications, and event and media relations specializing in international aviation, telecommunications, and the marketing of the arts. In Covid times, she is exploring a myriad of writing styles including magazine, memoir, fantasy, and fiction writing. Wanda writes from in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.