Some books make us laugh, others make us weep. Some books break our hearts, others fill them up and leave them stronger. Some books force us to think long and hard, others compel us to wonder and dare and hope and believe and dream. And then, every now and again, a book comes along that somehow, magically and magnificently, makes us do all of this and more.
Dusti Bowling’s debut, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, is one of those rare, magical and magnificent books that somehow, in the space of only 262 pages, contains such multitudes. I could’ve picked any passage from Dusti’s book and highlighted it here, but the thing that most bowled me over (sorry, Dusti . . . ) about her writing was how she managed to find humor everywhere, even in the most seemingly unlikely places.
You can’t teach humor. You can, however, work at it. You can try every day to look for it in both your writing and your life. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus offers tons of examples of how this might be done, and also serves as an argument for why it should be done. Humor sets us at ease. It brings us closer to one another. It pries our hearts and minds open a little wider, letting in so much else that we might otherwise miss.
If you don’t know anything about Dusti’s book, there are a few things you need to know so that this passage doesn’t confuse you. For instance, that the book’s narrator, Aven, has no arms. She was born without them. Another thing you should know: she lives inside a somewhat derelict theme park called Stagecoach Pass, and in this passage is sitting in a wagon with her father. Also, her friend Connor, who she briefly mentions, has Tourette syndrome. And lastly, the “lights” in the sky that Aven’s father mentions are planets, as opposed to stars.
Read the passage — and then read Dusti’s entire book. Feel sad and mad and happy and hopeful and daring and dreamy — and, most importantly, find the humor in every last bit of it.
. . .
INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS, by Dusti Bowling (pp. 212-214)
“I just wish I were like everyone else.”
He stared at me for a while. “Now that’s a terrible thought.”
I scowled. “How is that terrible? Connor wants to be like everyone else.” I tried my best to keep the tears from spilling out by not blinking. “And so do I.”
Dad put his arm around me. “Why do you want to be like everyone else?”
Despite my best efforts, a tear broke loose and slid down my cheek. “So I can wear cute tank tops and play the guitar at the festival and not worry about everyone staring at me all the time.” I took a deep breath. “So I don’t have to eat in the bathroom ever again.”
Dad furrowed his eyebrows. “And why do you have to eat in the bathroom, Aven?”
I wiped at my cheek with my shoulder. “Because I don’t want the other kids to see me.”
Dad sighed deeply and looked back up at the sky. “Those lights up there . . . they’re not like anything else in the sky.” He looked at me. “But they shine the brightest.”
I sniffled. “That’s so cheesy, Dad.”
He laughed. “It may sound cheesy, but it’s true.” He squeezed me tightly to him and made a ridiculous wise look, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “No one lights a lamp and hides it under a basket. They put it on a table so it can shine for all to see.”
I rolled my eyes. I’m sure it pleased him to no end to incorporate a Sunday school lesson into our discussion. “Okay, Dad. I’ll go sit on a table.”
He kissed the top of my head. “Don’t be like everyone else, Aven. Be you.”
“And what is that exactly? A table lamp?”
“No, not a table lamp.” He poked me in the ribs, causing me to squirm beside him. “A light who shines for all to see.” He tilted my chin to look up at him. “A light who doesn’t hide in the bathroom.”
He got down from the wagon. “Come home when you’re ready. Just know Mom will be pacing the floor until you get there.”
. . .