Liz Scheier on Comedy as a Survival Skill
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
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On trying to make sense of the nonsensical:
It was mostly a challenge to make a coherent narrative out of a necessarily incoherent life, which I think is the best way I can describe my mother’s life. If I had to explain my mother in a phrase, I’d say that she had done her very best, but that her best was not very good. My mother struggled with various kinds of mental illness for her entire life. I didn’t understand as a small child what was really going on. I knew it was strange that she largely did not leave our apartment and did not, over time, leave her bedroom very much. And I knew that she was rageful in a way that most people were not. That she would not just get angry, but she’d get into these fugue states where when she got mad if I did something wrong, a red light would go on behind her eyes and spit would fly and she was completely out of control. I knew all of those things were not normal but I didn’t know why.
It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties and I heard this diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder that things started to fall into place. That she lived in a world where everything was a threat, and every person was a potential betrayer. It was like walking around being one giant amygdala all the time, I imagine.
On the safety of believing lies:
To me, being lied to is very unsettling because it reminds me that I have believed enormous lies about myself that were completely life- and world-shaking. It means more to me than just the small thing that was dissembled. In this case it was that my ex had started an affair with her intern. But what was so damaging to me about that was that I could look back over the weeks or months during which that had happened and I could remember each individual instance where I was like, wait, you’re going where? Or you’re on the phone with who? And the answers that I got back were so, in retrospect, obviously false. But at the time it was important for me to believe, because that would mean that everything was okay.
On comedy as a survival skill:
I think you have to [engage in comedy] to make it work. A lot of these stories were pretty funny, helped along by the fact that my mother had a very strong Queens accent and virtually everything is funny in a Queens accent. But so many of these things were outsized. When she was high on tranquilizers or when she was having a manic phase, she just did something that was so beyond the pale. Here’s another commentary on comedy: if you want to make something funny, just make it way bigger than it is. You have to make it absurd in a way.
Liz Scheier is a former Penguin Random House editor who worked in publishing and content development for many years, including at Barnes&Noble.com and Amazon. She writes book reviews and feature articles for Publishers Weekly. She is now a product developer living in Washington, D.C., with her husband, two small children, and an ill-behaved cat. Never Simple is her first book.