For Christmas a few years ago I bought my husband a sweatshirt that said, “National Sarcasm Society: Like We Need Your Support.”  He still wears that sweatshirt, despite the fact that it is the color of baby poo (not sure what the manufacturer was thinking there, but perhaps it was something along the lines of, “Yeah, like we need your business” and therefore chose the ugliest color they could come up with). The point of recounting this anecdote is to illustrate that we are one sarcastic family. I think it started with my father-in-law and has been passed down the generations to his son and now his grandsons, who are teenaged sarcastic wits, which is actually somewhat frightening.
Why this focus on sarcasm?  I’m reading Kevin Hearne’s seventh offering in the Iron Druid chronicles, Shattered. As always, Mr. Hearne provides numerous amusing passages and turns of phrase for me to highlight and re-read when I need a laugh. So far, my favorites are an exchange between Atticus O’Sullivan’s Irish Wolf Hound, Oberon, with whom Atticus can mind speak, and the Iron Druid himself where they are describing another Druid who has been in suspended animation for two thousand years. Atticus describes him as not knowing the language well and having a short fuse. Oberon responds that such a description qualifies him to be an action movie star. Laugh out loud stuff. In another passage, Atticus’ apprentice, the newly minted Druid, Granuaile, remarks that, “the garden of sarcasm is watered with impatience, and mine chose that moment to bloom.” I love it!

Because it’s so true. In our household, we are the most sarcastic when we are impatient with each other (which seems to happen a lot of the time–outsiders might suspect we don’t like each other much, but actually the opposite is true and we keep each other laughing). We are also sarcastic just to be funny, or to engage. The sarcasm stems from familiarity and ease with each other and we sometimes have to remember to put a lid on it when we are with others. When we forget to do that we get in trouble for our rapier sharp wit–or was that for our dim wit?   It’s definitely one or the other.

I’m from New York, and while my sarcastic streak is not nearly as well developed as that of my husband or even our sons, I can certainly appreciate their particular brand of humor. After all, in New York we have to ask each other, “Do you have the time, or should I just go f**k myself?”  Just kidding!  New Yorkers are the salt of the earth (I’ve never understood that phrase, which is supposed to be benevolent, but salt can be quite salty-and it can even burn in certain circumstances– so I guess it does apply to New Yorkers).

Anyway, I love a good sarcastic riposte, at least most of the time. There are instances where the pointy end of the sarcastic sword can sting, or feel like a knife to the belly if the timing is wrong or the fine line between funny and mean gets crossed, which happens on occassion. Especially by our boys, who at fifteen are still learning how to be appropriate in social and relational situations–kind of like Kevin Hearne’s two-thousand year old Rip Van Winkle, for whom social mores have changed just a wee bit from what he’s used to. He needed to be told that a smile from a pretty girl was not an invitation into her bed and any attempts to interpret it as such could result in the involvement of law enforcement. It’s good that times have changed.

Sarcasm also has another unsightly underbelly, as it can be a favorite tool of the passive-aggressive cowards who can’t seem to say what they mean and mean what they say. I think we all use humor on occasion to deflect deeper but uncomfortable truths about how we are feeling or what we really want. In such cases, sarcasm is no joke and can be quite destructive. This distinction is something we are trying to teach our kids and it’s a tough one. Using humor to hide truth is not the exclusive province of the passive-aggressive among us; we all do it when we say something that comes from a place of authenticity within us and we feel tentative about illuminating our depths. When we don’t get the reaction we were hoping for, we retreat into the “I was just kidding” lie and hope no one notices that we were asking for something we really wanted but couldn’t bear to have rejected or even questioned.  This is especially true if the desire is deep enough and therefore fragile in its vulnerability.

So, I love sarcasm, especially when it’s wielded by a master like Kevin Hearne. And I mostly love it amongst my family members. But it’s good to remember the other side of that double-edged sword, and ensure that we’re not hurting anyone with our wit. Like I needed to remind you of that!

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