Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Recent Footnotes

Hello Reader
Got footnotes?

One of my favorite scholars, back in the days before black-and-white TV, once broke with tradition to write an entire book without footnotes, after he first excused himself to his fellow academics, saying he was trying to be more readable for the average reader. The book was about a noble ancient Roman, Scipio Africanus, the writer was Captain Sir Basil Liddell-Hart.

During recent times, one of my favorite websites is by web-essayist and book writer Scott Berkun. He once asked his readers about his next book. Question: Would they prefer his footnotes to be at the bottom of various pages, or held back until the end, in a footnotes chapter? The survey results were about half one, half the other. For myself, I prefer footnotes at the very back of the book—then I can read several at once, at my leisure.

Another web-essayist, computer millionaire Paul Graham, was one of the first people to realize that the Web will allow an Age of the Essay, He advised in his essay Writing, Briefly that for essays one can use footnotes “to contain digressions.” Yes! I can relate, for sometimes I just have too much to say. In fact, for about half my posts, my footnotes would become an awfully long list, unless I deleted some.

For a while I kept a collection of my unused footnotes, hoping that some lazy day I could save myself the trouble of composing another weekly essay and just post all my unused footnotes. Bad idea. Big surprise: When I hauled them out to look at them, well, they were as dry as an ancient mummy, one uncovered by a surprise sandstorm out in the Egyptian desert, lying in the middle of nowhere, no context, nothing to say.

Maybe a good definition of a footnote, then, is something time-sensitive and page-sensitive, something that can’t stand on it’s own. Yes, and then maybe the footnote is not worth writing in the first place. Sir Basil Liddell-Hart knew what he was doing.

My own website, Scholar-wise, doesn’t require any footnotes. That’s because I came up through journalism, which means I am keenly aware of how unintellectual the average reader is. Even in my university campus newspaper we (a) took care to explain everything, as if the reader had been away in an Iranian torture-prison, and (b) we used short declarative sentences—and that was for students! As for (b) I suppose graduates would retain their ability to read long sentences.

Footnote: Well, now I know yet another difference between secondary and post-secondary students. Not only are the latter, thanks to the West’s age of enlightenment, into free speech and free thinking, as in being able to study Huckleberry Finn (who uses the word nigger) but they can follow long thoughts: Schoolteachers use short sentences, professors use long. As the college students are hearing sentences with several clauses, they are becoming able to write that way themselves. End Footnote

Speaking of my own website, for the last few posts it has has featured longer, denser essays. Don’t worry, dear reader, my next one will be loose and easy. Call me lazy, call me “in love with my own writing,” or best of all, call me “not willing to waste any of the writing I do” but my next post will be a “sidebar” I have recently held back. Sidebars have more juice than footnotes do: They can go longer without any water.

Here are some footnotes I could have inflicted on you at the end of my previous post, but didn’t. You’re welcome.

Footnotes for U.S. readers:
Yes, I have seen the movie Milk, I know you have had line ups for metal detectors at your city hall at least as far back as 1978, and you even—going at least as far back as the old (1982) Sean Penn movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High—had line ups to get past detectors into your children’s schools, but such things would look silly in Canada. (Except we did put detectors in when we renovated our courthouse)

~ As mentioned two posts ago, the CBC and Canadian Boy magazine would be examples of things still protected under the Free Trade Agreement. Of course we have a distinct culture with lots of countryside—how distinct? Put it this way, our cowboys have never worn six-guns. And hey, country song pioneer Wilf Carter was Canadian, he sang here in Calgary. Nevertheless, our little sprig of a country and western magazine was stomped into the mud by Yankee imperialists who claimed it could not be legally protected because, they claimed, Canada has no Country culture. A pity.

~Recently Netflix was annoyed that the French at the Cannes Film festival were protecting their movie culture. Of course capitalism is good, of course, but maybe market fundamentalism is not qui-i-i-ite so good. Here is a big long article from film critic Roger Ebert’s website (link) called Everything you know about Cannes versus Netflix is wrong:

 ~No cowboy guns were needed because we had the mounted police wearing British army red coats. The North West Mounted Rifles, or N.W.M.R., later became the N.W.M.P., and still later became the R.C.M.P.

~Today in my city, according to a local policeman, you can’t be randomly killed, not unless you go looking for it, such as by consorting with criminals, or by arguing at 1 a.m. in a bar with a madman of low self-esteem. At high noon, even for women, there are no “unsafe” areas for walking in our fair city.

~Next month, if you come to the Calgary Stampede, (rodeo) then feel free to dress western like we do. Just don’t wear chaps or six-guns.

Sean Crawford,
Got Leisure Time?
If so, then here are some leisurely footnotes:

~I can’t resist saying that in a Series (season) 9 episode of Doctor Who, it’s no coincidence (I think) that the doctor finally reveals his first name—something he NEVER does—and it’s Basil!

You see, the episode’s theme was about breaking the cycle of having wars, while Sir Basil’s most famous book, Strategy could be subtitled The Strategy of Indirect Approach. Basil strongly disagreed with the most respected European war thinker of his time. Instead he agreed with ancient Sun Tzu that it is best to not to have any casualties at all, on both sides.

~Archived February 2015, with a nod to Sir Basil, is my long essay of a gorgeous translation of Sun Zu’s ancient work The Art of War. I wrote in the context of modern Chinese students, and, in the footnotes, with appreciation for a splendid Japanese TV series that became a major motion picture this year starring Scarlet Johansson.

~You could easily find on YouTube a four-minute “Doctor Who Zygon speech” of the doctor trying to tell two people, in a “press The Button” standoff, not to break the peace treaty. It’s a good dramatic speech. The scene is a grand metaphor, of course, not merely for “The Button” of the Cold War but for, say, Sunni Muslims living among Shiite Muslims in today’s middle east. 

Here (link) is the same speech, but within a complex, ten-minute version of the doctor struggling to use diplomacy. Many masked-as-human Zygons are, by secret treaty, peacefully and secretly living among humans. The two protagonists are Kate and Bonnie. Kate (older blond) leads the key United Nations armed forces; Bonnie (dark haired with lipstick) is a Zygon commander passing for human. 

Bonnie, metaphorically, is like a Saudi Arabian mullah (priest) who believes western Muslims today (her fellow Zygons) are traitors for believing Islam means peace. I like this clip better than the four-minute piece. (In the background, powerless, stand a human dark haired lady and a scientist-lady with spectacles)

~An application of being indirect:
My favorite science fiction author, Robert Heinlein, once wrote a novel, Sixth Column, where a reserve major, who in civilian life sells insurance or something, is in charge of the few surviving soldiers of the U.S. army. (Come to think of it, in the novel the U.S. lost the war because they expected an invading Asian army to come directly across the ocean, instead of sending their missiles and troops indirectly over the North Pole)

It’s a good thing he’s not a straight-thinking regular army officer: The good major has to keep reminding himself to use an indirect approach, because every time he tries a common sense military attack he loses.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sawhorses Blocking the Forum

“The price of democracy is participation.”
Slogan at the top of my old university student newspaper.

Hello Reader,
Got forum?
This year I tried to do the citizen thing: I confess I made a shabby job of it. At least I tried.

Part One,
My shabby effort

Back in classical times you could put on your shabby cloak, wander over to mingle in the grey marble forum, and your voice would be as good as the next guy’s. Today our great equalizer is social media, before that it was the World Wide Web: “On the web, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Everyone likes to participate and be heard, right? Maybe by pounding the table in the kitchen, or sounding off in the morning at the town cafĂ© among old peers, or posting an idea on a blog, or—wherever. My own blogs seem to have a really good effect. “Seem to.” Sometimes when I come up with a great new idea, and then I later see it taken up by others, well… I know it’s only coincidence. I’m not that important: More likely, when an idea is good others eventually have it too.

So maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty that maybe I didn’t try hard enough for my latest idea. I said as much to my city alderman’s communication person, Twyla Jasper, and I suppose she agreed. I had been leaving her alone because I thought she would be busy getting her guy elected mayor. But no, Twyla advised me that’s a separate function. Before that, I had tried to contact her (besides for a common law matter) merely to access her common sense as a resource for background information. Big mistake: I had no idea the city was in fact getting involved in a celebration that included singing! Four Strong Winds will be sung at our Canada Day celebration for our centennial and a half, better known as “Canada 150.” My idea? Let our kids sing the Centennial Song from 1967.

As I put it to Twyla, it’s like the joyful and triumphant Christmas carols we all sang in elementary school: You never forget some of the words. Hence both in my Friday writing group, and among a few folks in my favorite art gallery, when I started us off we all began to sing. We remembered. Wouldn’t it be nice if kids today could sing it too, and then sing it again, fifty years hence, at the bi-centennial? It’s a good song, collected as late as 1986 in my Alberta Sings songbook, and still sung by children on an Indian reservation, according to an Internet commenter.

We all sang it so triumphantly, but maybe our liking for the song was biased by our excitement at having a centennial. (Twyla nodded at this) You see, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was airing exciting TV clips. My favorite (memory is dim) was when the camera panned up to the very top of a mountain, then showed three people in black formal evening attire, with instruments, performing a “minuet and trio.” The elegant narrator proclaimed, “Plan your centennial project now.” According to Wikipedia, the CBC ran a short clip of a man like the Pied Piper, leading a bunch of kids along a grassy field as they sang the Centennial Song. How nice. How surprising, when the CBC phone rang off the hook. All across the land—that’s five and a half time zones—people requested the sheet music for the song. Very popular. You could hear it on the radio, and through the doors of many classrooms.

Here’s a comprehensive June of 1967 news article about the story of that song. (link)

Here’s a link to a Youtube video of uniformed school kids walking and singing at Expo 67, not the original clip that ran on TV. (link)

You can find Youtube stills of historical 1967 pictures, and of proud Expo 67 pictures, while the song plays, if you fire up a search engine page.

I didn’t attend exciting Expo 67 myself, but I read about it in the Boy Scout magazine, Canadian Boy. (Many of the fiction stories in that mag later appeared in an older children’s reader) I think the Expo 86 in Vancouver was mere spectacle, as un-discussed as Canada 150, with none of the bursting pride of 67…

So what could I do, as a citizen participation-type guy? Although I thought it was weird how the CBC didn’t have their original clip on the Web, (let alone on TV for Canada 150) I decided to hike on down to the great big stand-alone CBC station, during working hours, and bend the ear of a fellow Canadian. No luck. Did you know Canadian buildings on the prairies all have airlocks? It’s to keep the subzero air from storming in to freeze-dry us every time somebody enters. I got locked in! Locked in the airlock tunnel! I could project my voice through the thin glass to the security guard far across the lobby, but no, I wasn’t to be let out. Luckily there was a phone on the wall. So I called inside and left the CBC a message. But I knew in my heart they weren’t going to do anything. Back out into the snow.

Now what? The next logical stop was the Calgary school board, better known as the CBE, whose building downtown had tall artsy statues left over from after Expo had shut down. In fact, those “family of man” statues had become the trademark of the board. I hadn’t been there in years, not since I used to back out her car for the Board Secretary, who used a wheelchair. She felt guilty that her multiple sclerosis had meant the building had to be retrofitted to be accessible, but they told her not to worry. They would have soon had to make the building accessible, anyways. I liked that building.

So there I was: I waved to the statues, started into the building, only to be blocked by sawhorses. The building stood desolate, empty, abandoned. Je suis desole. The nearest payphone had no phonebook but that was OK—I had my Macbook in my daypack. I am told that these days, for phone listings, more people use their computer than use the dead tree yellow pages. Dude, the world’s sure changed since ’67.

I walked. Soon it was lunchtime, so I killed an hour enjoying freshly perked coffee in the public coffee shop at the bottom of the new CBE building—a perk (pun on purpose) the old building never had. I went to reception… only to be told that now there are now two big buildings for the CBE, and the communications guys are in the big tower across the street. Oh. So I hitched my backpack and started to trudge off, only to be told that no, it is closed to the public. I was welcome to use the computer along the wall to communicate with the communication people. Assuming they weren’t all androids over there, I proceeded to try to talk. With a little help, I managed to get into the site.

It turns out that there is a certain web page that is for the use of the public. If, say, you want to go into the classrooms to offer a puppet show, this is where you post it. This page, I was assured, is checked by a communication committee once a week. So I typed. I explained the song, typed in the two web sites above, and I made sure to leave my own web site, e-mail and the number for my telephone landline, complete with digital answering machine.

Of course it would be common sense, a common courtesy, for the committee to let me know if my idea had any traction, but nevertheless I took the precaution of explicitly saying that if they acted, then I would like to be informed. For me, teachers fetching the Centennial Song for their kids to sing is a no-brainer. I’m not saying the CBE has no brains, I’m just saying they never did anything. (Or else, Twyla noted, they forgot to tell me)

I will console myself, like a fox looking up at some grapes; hopefully I did enough of the citizen-thing. After all, maybe our song-loving ancestors back in 1967 were not as smart as we are today. I tell myself: “Maybe that song wasn’t a good idea anyways, because the CBC and X-hundred teachers can’t all be wrong.”

Part Two,
Blocked Forums

You may be wondering: If both the CBC and the folks at CBE responsible for communicating were locked off from the public, then was the old Athens forum blocked off too? The forum with its stately columns allowing nice Mediterranean breezes surely could not be enclosed. I’m sure that aliens and other non-citizens were not welcome, and I’m equally sure it was not fenced off. No sawhorses.

Our City Hall is another matter. I recall years ago going in to the tiny little reception area, being asked if I was a constituent, and then my specific alder-person coming out to talk to me. (My issue? I didn’t want the bylaws changed to allow “voluntary” lap dancing, because those “girls, ” some of them as old than I, did not have a union—my friend would not be given a choice)

Today the receptionist is behind a very thick armor-glass wall without an intercom, far across a wide lobby; an inset glass door has an electronic lock. A shouted conversation to her is probably not even possible. This is up on the third or fourth floor, in the old building. What you have to do, back down at ground level, is enter the new fancy City Hall, walk across the big expanse to discover the only payphone in the building, an obscure one near the building’s little used back door, then telephone over to the old sandstone building upstairs, get put on a list for the security guard, and then go up and have a guard buzz you in. The phone costs half a dollar. For each call. And the parking costs in Calgary are higher than anywhere else in North America, even New York City, except for the island of Manhattan. That’s a lot of quarters just be a good citizen.

On trips downtown I would make calls plural, between coffees at the Good Earth over in the corner, without getting Twyla. A lobby security guard I chatted with suggested Twyla was trying that self-help-book gimmick of never answering calls until time to review recorded messages and then answer them all at once. I reflected: If so, then she was ignoring the test of philosopher Emmanuel Kant: What if everyone did that? That’s the Kantian test. As for me, I could in theory go home to take Twyla’s return calls, but hey, other constituents can’t always be home during working hours. I’m not homeless, but my little cabin is not a place to hang around much when the weather is not bad. (Here in Calgary, “not bad” is anything within ten degrees above or below freezing) As it turns out, no gimmick: Twyla remembered me calling, and was sorry we were accidently missing each other. (We had met before)

That was yesterday.

Meanwhile, a few months back in time: You may have heard the old joke: The worker knows everything about something, the executive knows a little about everything, but the receptionist knows everything about everything. A helpful city worker (I daren’t say who) let me past the armor-glass wall. I crossed the vast floor to see the receptionist. Did she have any idea about Twyla’s day?

As you know, dear reader, at some offices the staff slide little magnets to show when they are in or out, in addition to informing the receptionist of their errands, meetings and their hiding off to go smoke. I saw no magnets. The receptionist politely stood up, talked without admitting anything, and led me back to the door. Maybe she even held it open for me. It was a week of wasted quarters.

When I saw Twyla the other day, we talked a little about the song—and I didn’t mention forums at all—mostly I explained some old common law that she wouldn’t be expected to know. There’s a joke told by visitors from Boston: “In Calgary the buildings have just had their packing crates removed.” So no, Twyla couldn’t be expected to know a musty old “law” that I had heard from my school principal back around centennial year. I won’t blab it here on my blog, because I don’t want to jog the elbow of our city lawyers in a possible case against Big— never mind.

I hope you think kindly of me out on the windy sidewalk, shedding a tear from the cold, as I’m trying to think of reasons why I should keep on trying, why I should not just give up on doing the democracy thing. I’m glad we have this new fangled Social Internet, because our old grey forums just aren’t what they used to be.

Sean Crawford
It’s summer! For sure!
June, 2017

Discussion questions for a book club, or blog club:

~Both Vladimir Putin and the Chinese communist leaders believe they are “the good guys,” that order is better than chaos, that people want to follow good leaders. Perhaps they think, with their exclusive membership, that Party Members have more character or more brains than ordinary people. Like how feudal aristocrats had blue blood. In the Party’s society, would good people occupy squares, protest in the street and talk in the forum? Or only those who deserve to be arrested?

Point to ponder: Perhaps allowing people to rub shoulders and rub ideas in a forum will increase their common sense and self-agency. 
~Would members of the Party have any use for the trickster Coyote archetype? (Think Harlequin and the Ticktock man, or Bugs Bunny) Does Crawford show any humor?

~At the end, Crawford mentions the “democracy thing.” If society is dynamic, not static, then do you think are we moving towards:
more chaos or less,
more freedom or less,
more self-agency or less?

Nobody gets involved in thinking about how to responsibly spend a lottery windfall, let alone get involved in action, not unless they are into fantasy. It’s just not practical. Are sensible people here becoming more, staying the same, or less involved, in their society?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Silicon Teenagers

Preface quotes:
From memory, a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson from the age of steam trains: “A man ought to be able to spend three hours alone in an empty train station with nothing to read, and not be bored.”

A teenage girl in the age of mobile devices: “All they had was black-and-white TV, so they probably sat around and conversed all the time.” (p. 23, below)

Hello Reader
Recently I got through an entire novel without realizing it was written in present tense.
And I hate present tense!
I thought I would share this delightful book with you… if you have patience.

I was in my early twenties when I began going to a downtown used bookstore and buying young adult (YA) fiction about high school life. My own high school years were partly spent trying to understand the other kids; I don’t know if I ever got inside their heads. (I left home after 11th grade, so “that was it” for knowing students) Compared to others I was too independent, reading beyond my years, and very poor. By poor I mean: Luckily, other kids would always leave pieces of soap in the locker room showers, as I couldn’t afford any of my own.

Sitting in class, I would hear announcements for the after school meetings of the “tab” and “scholastic book” club. The kids would meet to order YA books not available in stores, not in those days. Today I wonder, for an instant, what it would have been like for me, if I too had an allowance and could meet with fellow book-lovers? Of course the popular kids didn’t read, nor did the regular kids, nor did the unsafe black-clothed kids—the club would have been an oasis of pastel harmless kids. Never mind.

Can you guess what I missed, not being a scholastic club member? Easy: What I discovered, in the old bookstore, was how old YA books constantly had the same theme: It was OK to be an individual, instead of (unconsciously) busting a gut to conform. Yes! I had always thought so myself, but in my teen society, where there were no meetings for “consciousness raising,” I would have been a “minority of one” to say so out loud. How nice to feel validated, even if by writers who were grownups, after I was already a grownup too.

In my day we said, “The older generation just doesn’t understand!” We were unique, or so we thought.

“Adolescence is the same tragedy being performed again and again. The only things that change are the stage props.” (p. 284) The speaker is a grandmother in the YA book Going Vintage. I found it in hardcover at the library. (Copyright 2013) The end flap shows the author as a cheerful, young-looking Lindsey Levitt, who lives “in the quaint little hamlet of Las Vegas.” Her wit springs out on every page. The first person narrator is witty too, yet perfectly normal for her age group—OK, she’s almost smart like a teen that reads. A hilarious teen. 

On page one Mallory is “making out”—such a great way to hook a teen audience. Before the end of the chapter Mallory discovers her long-term boyfriend is cheating on her! With a cyber love interest! Whom he loves more than her! So she dumps him and “goes vintage.” This means that for the two weeks that pass in the novel—“only two weeks” is excellent: for a fast pace, for good comedy, and, perhaps, for the attention span of today’s young readers—Mallory cuts herself off from all electronic devices older than the 1960’s. She has enough self-preservation to know that her conformist peers wouldn’t understand, so she keeps her project confidential, getting lines like: Did you lose your phone? Did your dad cut you off, like mine did for over-texting?

Part of Mallory’s motivation for going vintage is rediscovering something that I have felt all my life: Nostalgia for the fifties and early nineteen sixties. I still remember the slogan at the bottom of the movie poster (the close up on two teens hugging) for American Graffiti. “Where were you in ’62?” Well, Mallory discovers a box of high school stuff from her grandmother, who was in school during that very year! Meaning she was “born in 1946,” meaning she was one of the much bigger kids when I was growing up. (As you know, the war ended in 1945—my dad didn’t have to stay to occupy Germany because he was one of the first to enlist, back in 1939) Nope, I don’t “feel old” at all—I just feel weird.

Today, of course, if a schoolteacher asked her class what it would be like for everyone to be without their cell phones, a howl of dismay would rise up: Unthinkable! I don’t suppose I quite understand, but Going Vintage has sure helped. Think of it as a sociology report from the inside. Of course the narrator is unreliable, but that’s half the fun. Here’s a world where the school rumor mill is online—even Mallory’s own mother thinks that he dumped her—and the social media comments can be ill-informed and downright beastly. Here, says Mallory, people “check their phone every three minutes,” can use their phone at lunch to check the on-line (!) Student Handbook, and they find computers to be a faster, easier better way to do reports than using library books.

You can do a lot with a phone:
“… so I lock up and wait the last half hour for Mom. If I had a phone, I could text her and tell her to come early. Or I could call a friend, play a game, look up information on my history paper. I could do something besides sit on a curb with absolutely nothing to do. Freak, I don’t even have music to listen to.”

Somehow, Mallory survives:
“… and the breeze holds the promise of fall. Sunrise this morning, sunset tonight. That’s twice in one day that I’m outside like this, just sitting, breathing, waiting, watching, without my fingers tapping out something on my phone.

Now if only I had some soap or wood to whittle. Super-vintage.”

A boy calls the landline of our unreliable narrator with her blind spots. “Actually, I was just kind of calling…I was just calling to talk,” Oliver says. “If you have time.”

Mallory thinks: “This is weird. No one just calls to talk. My friends and I don’t even talk on the phone much anymore, not unless it’s something that can’t be addressed by text.” (p. 210)

Like I said, unreliable. I can’t believe 21st century teenagers don’t still burn up the virtual telephone line for hours. My friend Jack used to walk down to a payphone to get privacy for long calls to his girl …Come to think of it, my own long conversations were after I was in the real world, when my young peers were hard for me to meet up with in person.

Like all the good YA book of my youth, the topic of conformity is addressed:
“I step back from the cart, both embarrassed and enthralled. I thought Oliver was trying hard before, but now I realize it’s quite the opposite—he doesn’t try, he just is, makes up his mind and doesn’t check if it’s going to work for his image or come off wrong. Since the rest of us are being so self-aware, his presence seems calculated. No one can possibly be that breezy, saying what he thinks, feeling what he feels. I can see why people don’t like him for this very reason—it’s so much easier to call him a poser.

Because if he’s the real deal, then that makes the rest of us fakes.” (p. 180)

I can relate to the boy. For a few years I coped by having a binary view of the world: a) those who were real, and b) the majority where I chose to keep a low profile because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, or be a spoil-sport for their conformist world-view. It took energy to have to know my own strength, which could be annoying for me; nevertheless I would strive to be kind. During my thirties, I noticed something: all my friends were former geeks. They were the interesting ones. Today, luckily, most people my age have relaxed into being real. Regrettably, some never will.

Sean Crawford
City of Chestermere

~I’ve noticed the kids in YA books overwhelmingly tend to be middle class (summer camps, Disney land) but I’m not about to be some politically correct crybaby over it.

~I first stumbled onto my favorite web-essayist while I was lurking among a circle of Live Journal bloggers after one of them linked for the others: Paul Graham did an essay on teen conformity while pondering Why nerds are unpopular.

~I hope one-day people will link to an essay of mine, too. Actually, one week thousands linked to my essay on The Death of Buffy. (Archived January 2012) But that hasn’t happened again, not even to my recent, (experimental-with-Youtube-videos) essay on Anya, Friend of Buffy. (April 2017) Well, in the last couple years I haven’t been translated, either: perhaps because social media has long superseded the popularity of blogs.

~In my adult life I have known a few folks who couldn’t do a guided meditation exercise without giggling. Their laughter was a reflex. What I didn’t quite grasp back in high school was how so many of us used laughter as an instant reflex to cope with any sort of tenseness. Now I truly get it. Incidentally, I yawn as I do stretching exercises for modern dance or drama: no doubt my own “reflex” from trying to stay relaxed into my stretches back when I was first truly learning how.

I’m not the only writer to have pondered laughter: Going Vintage has an insightful paragraph on p. 105, but I won’t quote it out of context: Some suspense is good for you!