Last night the Giggles invaded the session.
You’ve seen outtakes of TV shows or movies whenever an actor blows a line, or something funny happens. Everybody shares a laugh, then the cast pulls themselves together and simply does another take.
Unless the Giggles invade.
The blown line or whatever happens mutates into something uproarious. Productivity is shot, take after take. All the cast members have to do is look at each other and erupt into hysterical, convulsing laughter. The kind that makes you cry, cramps your abs, take shallow, gulping breaths, but leaves you feeling wonderful and warm and relaxed when it finally subsides. Then something kicks it off again.
Thursday night my director/editor Joel Timothy and I had an ambitious plan: read the final two chapters (nine and ten) of the book, then read and drop in the edits sent from the reviewer who is down in Nashville. It would make for a late-running session, but all we would have to do to get the book ready for mastering was any additional edits.
Reading chapter nine was a struggle. It was surprisingly long, detailing the successes of eye surgery clinics and self-sufficient farms in India, nonprofit organizations, schools in California. Lots of foreign names, lots of stumbles, but we got through it. We then went through one chapter of edits with no problems, then started on the next.
In one of the edits, the reviewer noted the manuscript’s page number and the approximate time it appeared in the audio track. “Underline that,” she wrote. “A bit of improvisation?”
Joel and I were puzzled. He played back the segment. The author had made a rather impressive point, and I had read it with inspirational enthusiasm. When I finished, I said, “Underline that.” Joel must have taken his eyes of the manuscript for a minute or something, or just assumed the words were part of what was written. So he left it in.
The chuckling started at first. “Underline that” became a punchline. Then it became, “Hey, underline this.” We made the next two edits somehow, interspersing the time between with “Underline that” and all of its iterations. By the time we were ready for the final edit, the Giggles set in and instantly mutated to uproarious laughter. We couldn’t stop it. We’d square ourselves for a minute, but it never lasted. The second I spoke, it would start all over again. I was crying, my nose snotted up. We let it subside one last time. I started reading but sounded like I had a head cold. That was even funnier than “underline this.”
So we didn’t get both chapters read. Laughter can cut deeply into ambition (not that it’s a bad thing). I remember the story of astronaut candidate Pete Conrad in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. He was in line to be one of the Mercury astronauts. For one of their physicals, the candidates had to provide actual stools for analysis. As Wolfe puts it, all Conrad could produce was a “mean little ball” shot through with pepper seeds from a Mexican dinner he’d had the night before. Conrad was so proud of his little gift that he actually tied a ribbon around it and dropped it in a Dixie cup to present to the lab. He laughed long and hard about it. The story goes that he was dismissed because he wasn’t taking the physicals seriously enough. Actually, he walked out of the program because he was tired of having to have his bowel movements tested so many times and in so many forms. His last act of defiance was to drop his enema bag on the desk of the clinic’s commanding officer.
He was readmitted to the program, flew twice in the Gemini program, and was the third man to walk on the moon. He died in 1999 from internal injuries after a car accident.
As for me and Joel, we read the final chapter on Saturday. And, we hope, without the giggles. But as Pete Conrad said, “If you can’t be good, be colorful.”
Sort of like Thursday night’s session.