A vortex of delight

Based on the principle that there are few things better than laughing with people you love, we've been watching a lot of Whose Line Is It Anyway? lately. We are enamored by the on-the-spot creativity, wordplay, and unpredictability.

Our favorite routine is called two-line vocabulary. It works like this:

A scene is provided, such as an operating room or submarine. The first person is the central character and can say anything she likes. Two other people, though, can only say one of two lines they are given for the entire scene.

The result is invariably hilarious. Here are three great ones:

They joke on the show that it's a great game to play with your partner, parents, or kids without telling them. My son and I have way too much fun imagining the game in various settings. If you see us laughing in the car, that's probably why.

Last week, I was scrolling through some comments online and started to laugh. I realized that the web is sometimes like a worldwide game of two-line vocabulary.

You see it often in the reaction to big news and political events, acquisitions, scandals, redesigns and changed logos, new products, books, films, and music. Judgement arrives swiftly, free of nuance; awesome or awful. Much of the fevered opinion is at its heart, very predictable. It's as if there are only two lines at our disposal.

Of course, it's not a game and sometimes these reactions are terribly hurtful (and, of course, sometimes things really are awful or amazing). The missing piece is empathy. It's difficult and complex and brings with it a paucity of social validation. But it's worth it.

This week's uncommon reads feature two recent essays on empathy online. We'd love to share more perspectives if you have them. There's always room for more empathy, and a few additional sentences in our vocabulary.

Prompted

The latest dispatch asked, What is your most uncommon spring break memory or destination?

Carie wrote:

Beginning in college, my spring breaks started to take on a dark side. First a friend's father died of a heart attack. The following year my boyfriend's little brother committed suicide. Both tragedies altered my plans for the week, sending me on journeys of mourning instead of merriment, to funerals instead of beaches. After that I stopped planning spring break excursions, kept things low key.

A few years later, it seemed safe to venture out again, so I ventured to Barbados with that same on-again-off-again boyfriend. Just hours into our vacation, we wandered off the path and (unknowingly) into the territory of a ferocious guard dog who broke the chain he was attached to and chased us. We escaped, hearts pounding, minds drifting to foreign hospitals and who would have notified our parents.

These days, I've mostly lost my superstitious beliefs about spring breaks, but I still treat them with caution. And though I am a dog-lover, large Rottweilers still make my heart race.

William wrote:

In college I joined an “alternative spring break” trip for people who were not interested in… getting wasted in Cancun or whatever people normally do. We went to a Lakota reservation in South Dakota to help out at a community center for kids who didn’t have anywhere good to go after school. After one day of non-stop child wrangling, cooking, cleaning, and general chaos, our group convened to discuss how bewilderingly difficult it was and whether we could survive a whole week of it. It still pains me to remember that we had the nerve to request a day off. The local lady in charge of us indignantly refused, as she should have. What a spoiled bunch of private-school white kids we must have seemed, proud of our choice to volunteer but whining over one week of what she does all the time. In the end we did the full week, we got used to it, we came to love those kids, and a big part of our reward was a lesson in how to shut up and do what you signed up for.

Rebecca wrote:

My most uncommon Spring Break destination came when I was 14 years old. I was a freshman in High School and my brother was a senior. Several weeks ahead, my parents told us to be prepared to be unavailable for the week. This was nothing new for us, as my parents had done "surprise trips" in the past. I had dreams of grand destinations overseas or a luxurious beach resort. After all, it was my brother's last Spring Break before graduating. But the destination turned out to be one I never would have imagined.

We got home from school that Friday and were told we were going no where. Quite literally, nowhere. From the time my father got home from work that day until the morning we returned to school, none of us left our home. When my dad laid out the rules (no phone calls, no visitors, no television, no video games, no leaving for any reason), I was angry and determined to be miserable! But as the weekend got under way, my attitude quickly changed. It was my parents, my brother, and I; conversation, games, music, and time. It was simply the four of us. And it was just us in a way that we had never been before. I clearly remember this week as being a time of transcendence for our family and for me. For the first time, I saw my parents not as parents, but as individual people. For the first time, I felt like an equal. I discovered my mother's love of Kurt Vonnegut, The Iliad, and poetry; the Moleskine Journals she kept hidden away, the depth of her interests in propaganda and history, and the magnitude of her artistic talents- writing, painting, sculpting. I learned that my father had a deep love for philosophy and debate, was a force to be reckoned with in virtually any strategy game, and possessed the most amazing knowledge of history, political systems, and theories of war. My brother shared his personal book of faith, 247 pages he had written discussing his views of God, Heaven, Hell, and the world around us; he shared his drawings and artwork, along with the stories and motivations behind them. I opened up about my own journals, shared my collection of banned books that I kept hidden away, and expressed my fears of not living up to the potential everyone else saw, but I simply could not grasp.

To this day, I have not had a more powerful journey. However, I truly hope an equal one will come when one day my husband and I lock our own children away in our home for nine days, with no interruptions or distractions, and simply take the time necessary to break through the commonness of family, and discover the power of being individuals, connected in love and in life.

Clare wrote:

I don't know how you define the spring break, but what certainly felt like spring break happened this weekend gone. Here in England it has been damp and chilly and damp and rainy and damp all through the winter -- never properly really cold, but never, ever crisp and dry. Suddenly, after months without expectation or hope, the weekend dawned with clear skies and sunshine pouring down!

Saturday was a low-key treat: my husband and I enjoyed sharing tea at our local community-run cafe, lunch out and a riverside walk. On Sunday, against our expectation the weather continued and how could we not make the most of it? We got into the car and drove 20 miles southeast to Southsea, a seaside part of Portsmouth city. We meandered, discovering unexpected and uncommon shops (not least of which, a wonderful second-hand furniture store full of beautiful hand-fashioned masterpieces). We enjoyed lunch in the sunshine, an ice cream in the park and a (very chill) wade in the sea. All of this in bustling crowds of people as delighted as ourselves to finally have the chance to enjoy the sunshine!

Lisa wrote:

My most uncommon spring break memory culminated in my husband's proposal by the sea. It was one of those moments where you're swallowed up by a vortex of delight. You can't think anything except, "Oh! This is happening!"

Sandi wrote:

My most uncommon spring break memory is when I skipped a trip to South Padre Island with my college pals (junior year), and instead visited what later became a religious cult. I will never forget it! Strangely, most of my memories of that week are fine. Met some really nice people. Some memories do produce a little anxiety. "What if?" But weirdly enough, I don't regret going.

Erin wrote:

I guess technically it wasn't a "Spring Break" because I wasn't in school, but it was around that same time, so we'll just go with it, haha. Last year at the end of March, I went with a small group of people from my church to Joplin, MO to help rebuild houses from the tornado a few years ago. It was my first time being in the middle of the country and definitely the first time I'd ever witnessed in person the destruction a tornado can cause. It was amazing that even after two years there was still SO MUCH to do and that so many people had been affected. It was a very interesting week, and I learned some new skills that I didn't know I was capable of.

Brad wrote:

My most uncommon spring break has certainly been the two-week back-to-back one that I spent with my then-girlfriend, now-wife the first year we dated. She flew out to San Diego from Austin and we spent a week there while I wrapped up my final exams, then we took a trip up to Santa Barbara to see friends. After another couple days in San Diego, we drove straight through to Austin in time for her classes to start again.

On that drive east through Arizona, we encountered the annual painted lady butterfly migration. Thousands of butterflies were smashed and caked onto the windshield, the front grille and into the engine compartment of my Jetta GLI. It was surreal.

After a wonderful week in sunny Austin—truly one of the best of my life—I drove back to San Diego alone in a single 21-hour sprint, only stopping for gas and food. I would not recommend driving for that long alone; I was very tired. After arriving back in San Diego I had my car detailed with full engine compartment cleanings three times and I still occasionally found remnants of the bright orange and yellow butterflies.

Uncommon reads

Mattt Thompson wrote:

We naturally want to help one another, to explain ideas, to be generous and patient. However, on the Internet, human nature seems to drop a few packets. Practicing empathy online becomes a feat of moral athleticism.

Greg Knauss wrote:

Which is pretty much the Internet in a nutshell, isn’t it? Exposed to the entire spectrum of human enthusiasms, it’s basically impossible not to judge. Our empathy overloads and gives up and we sit, staring at the screen aghast, that somebody, somewhere might actually believe that what they’re doing is OK, is acceptable, is even appropriate.

Your turn

What is the best laugh you've had online recently?