Mental Health Monday–A Joke Is An Epitaph To An Emotion (Nietzsche)


This is a post from 2010, when I first started blogging! I came across it the other day, and it resonated with me, so I decided to share it again with you. 🙂

On Friday, I had the honor of meeting a trusted colleague and friend for tea. I must say, he’s one of my most reliable coaches on my writing journey. Whenever I’m discouraged, I know I can go to him. He offers me unconditional support, sound advice, and tactful critiques. And he pays for dinner!

Halfway through my cup of Earl Grey, I realized not only does my friend have a knack for producing fascinating topics to explore, he also has an encyclopedia’s amount of information cataloged in his brain. One of his most remarkable talents includes an incredible penchant for remembering quotes and lines from songs and poems.

Anyway, during the course of our discussion, we touched upon emotions and how people cover them with jokes in order to suppress the pain of their impact. (In “psychiatry speak,” humor is considered a mature defense mechanism. It’s something relatively healthy people employ in the face of hardship and stress.)

My friend aptly pointed out this quote from Nietzsche:

“A joke is an epitaph to an emotion.”

What an important idea to remember. Not only is this pertinent to my work in psychiatry, it is also useful to keep in mind when I’m writing. For the most part, anger and sadness come relatively easy to me as I construct a scene. It’s simple enough to describe yelling, slamming fists, and storming out of rooms. I’ve used several terms for tears and grieving too. What I get stuck on is humor. I can do the subtle stuff, sure–the puzzled expression, the dry joke, even the comical slip and slide on an icy sidewalk. But true laugh out loud humor eludes me.

As a good friend should, my literary cheerleader triggered a cascade of thoughts leading me to action from that simple quote. So often in my writing, I am in the moment explaining the direct, raw emotion. I’m left to wonder, where is the space to incorporate a humorous reflection, a comic relief character, or a joke to lighten an overly negative mood?

My new task, then, is to scour my writing and look for spots where humor can be incorporated. I am certain including little punches of laughter and happiness will make my characters more well rounded, more dynamic, and more human.

Epitaphs don’t only have to be on tombstones.

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12 comments on “Mental Health Monday–A Joke Is An Epitaph To An Emotion (Nietzsche)

  1. Lydia Kang says:

    What a great and valuable friend you have! That is a very true quote, I think.

  2. Leigh Moore says:

    hmm… that’s an interesting quote. I’m not sure I completely understand it–LOL! 😀 Mostly because my brain immediately goes to knock-knock jokes, which leads me to the interrupting cow joke, which … wait. What were you saying? 😀

    Great friend~ ❤

  3. Karen Lange says:

    Now that’s interesting food for thought, isn’t it? I like the idea of looking for ways to inject humor into our writing.

    Have a great week!

  4. Jessica Burde says:

    I take this thought in a somewhat different direction. Not injecting humor into writing, but as an important point for building characters. Perhaps because I know so many people ho have developed ‘battlefield humor’ as a defense against the horror in their lives.

    So my thought would be, which of my characters would use humor in this way? How would they do it? Which topics and situations would bring out this side of them?

  5. E.Arroyo says:

    My cousin and nephew are like that and sometimes I want to knock their lights out. It’s hard when everything becomes a joke. And then you don’t know if their serious when they finally say something serious. Drives me nuts. =)

  6. What a great idea. Now the question is: can I pull it off??? 🙂

  7. Donna Hole says:

    I have problems incorporating humor into my dramatic writing too, To often it comes across sarcastic and people don’t get it. I guess you have to be a “glass half empty” person for my humor 🙂

    That’s a good quote to keep in mind though. Humor can be short, a one liner type. I need this quote in my day life too, lol.

    …….dhole

  8. Linda Gray says:

    Great quote from Nietsche, and I like yours, too: “epitaphs don’t have to be only on tombstones.” Perfect. As for the laugh-out-loud joke in writing, I think that’s tough, and more the purview of serious (heh) comedy writers. Subtle works in other writing!

  9. Catherine Johnson says:

    He sounds the opposite of me, I have nothing catalogued in my brain lol.

  10. aparnanairphotography says:

    There are a lot of big words in this post that I do not understand. I might have to stop by in person to ask you to translate into lay person English.

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