CROWN ON THE GROUND
By: Lauren Anderson
Yesterday I was eating lunch and reading an article that came out in an old New Yorker about Tiffany Haddish, when I heard a CRACK, and out plopped the crown of my tooth silently onto the floor.
Just like that.
I wasn’t even eating anything crazy either. Just some leftover Lo Mien from the night before. Ya know, like you you do on a typical Monday afternoon.
It was one of those things that seems big and small at the same time. One the one hand, My brain was like, “Holy Sh!T! WTF just happened?! Was that my tooth?! OH GOD!!! I broke my tooth! OH NOOOOOOO!!!!”
Which honestly seems like an appropriate reaction to your teeth falling out. I mean, it’s a common anxiety dream for a reason right? RIGHT?! But here’s the EXTRA weird part…
All weekend I had been feeling a little off. Ya know, like that old familiar feeling of low-grade anxiety walking around with me? And I couldn’t place where it was coming from, but there was no denying it was there.
So by Monday after my morning class, I was sitting in my car thinking, “I’m still feeling anxious. I need to get to the bottom of this… but not on an empty stomach.” I took a few deep breaths and headed into my house to eat.
AND THEN I LIVED THROUGH A WAKING NIGHTMARE. And my literal tooth fell out.
But here’s what’s even weirder. The initial reaction was of course, “AHH!! OH NO!!!” Like I described before. But then another part of me was like, “Deep breath Anderson. Assess the situation. No blood, no initial pain, you’re fine. It’s not a new tooth, it’s the one that was already broken. You’ve been here before. Pick up your tooth and make a call.”
I’m happy to report that the next moments would’ve made Winston Churchill very proud. Because I essentially kept very calm, and carried on. It’s like I went on auto-pilot and just started takin’ care of business.
When I picked my tooth up off my carpet, I blew on it like you do when you pick something up off the floor, and I remember being grateful that I had just vacuumed. But honestly the whole thing kind of made me laugh.
I started laughing really hard actually, and for the first time in a few days I could feel the anxious pressure on my chest dissipate. I was no longer feeling that anxiety, just slightly dumbfounded by what just happened.
Within an hour, I was at the emergency dentist out in suburbs of Eagan, and as I sat in the chair waiting for my name to be called, I remember thinking “I can’t tell what’s worse. The fact that I’m at the dentist, or the fact that I’m in Eagan.” (Zing!) And I started laughing to myself in the waiting room.
When the dental hygienist came to get me, she remarked right away about the leftover smile on my face from making myself laugh. And she said, “I’m glad to see you smiling, we don’t get a lot of that around here.”
And I was like, “Really? Cause that’s not what your business cards say.”
And then she laughed kind of in spite of herself. It was just a dumb thing to say, but I don’t think she was expecting it. And then she asked, “How are you today?” And I just kind of looked at her and said, “Oh, I’m having a great day. I’m EXACTLY where I want to be.” And then we both laughed again.
I got the distinct feeling that those laughs might’ve been her first of the day, because I could see her relax, and she started complimenting my hair, and then she started calling me “Hon”. Which, for the record, I HATE being called “HON” by anyone that doesn’t know me intimately. But I gave her a pass because A. You could tell she felt warmly towards me and it was her way of showing that. And B. She was about to have metal instruments in my mouth.
* * *
She did the initial check up and then went to get The Dentist, and as I lay there in the harshly lit room, I couldn’t help but think back to that New Yorker article I was reading about Tiffany Haddish before my tooth fell out.
I am a big fan of hers, and the article said that when she was young, she got to go to a comedy camp, and one day Richard Prior showed up to watch and gave her some valuable advice. He said:
“…Look, people don’t come to comedy shows because they want to hear about your problems, or about politics, or what’s going on in the world, or celebrities. They don’t care. They come to comedy shows to have fun. So when you’re onstage, you need to be having fun. If you’re having fun, they’re having fun. If you’re not having fun, they’re looking at you like ‘what the hell did I spend my money on?’ So you need to be having fun.”
I have been doing professional sketch comedy now for about 14 years, and professional improv for 16. And I couldn’t agree more with what Richard Prior said. Regardless of what I’m talking about in any given sketch, when I’m having fun onstage, it’s like I’m giving permission to folks to hang out a little looser and get comfy. And when people do that, they are often the best versions of themselves. Relaxed and open.
The same is true when I’m off stage as well.
I think most people want so desperately to have a good time, and to be put at ease. They want to have fun. But a majority of the world has jobs and lives that are so so tough, I think we forget how sometimes? Much like that dental assistant… where their business isn’t exactly making people smile, even if that’s what it says on the business cards.
Or perhaps we forget that having a little fun is as important as the other important stuff. Because fun can be that pressure release. Or our reason WHY. Or the energy infusion we need to keep going.
I can see this, and I know the power of it first hand, because it’s MY LITERAL BUSINESS to make people laugh. But I can also see it on a small scale every day. And sitting in that chair waiting for my tooth to get fixed reminded me about the power I can have on the culture I’m in. The power that we all have, if we choose to wield it.
Even though I’m the patient, and I’m the one in pain and/or need, I can still affect how I’m being treated. I can still affect the outcome of any exchange. What a powerful feeling!
When I’d get nervous as a kid, my mom would always square me by the shoulders and say, “Things are only as weird as you personally make them. If you show that you’re fine, others will be too.”
Now some kids might get freaked out at the pressure of this, but for a kid like me, it always made me feel very powerful. Like I had the power to make things just be cool.
I know as an adult, that I have absolutely no control over what anyone says, does, thinks, acts etc. But I find great comfort in knowing I have ABSOLUTE control over what I think, feel, do, say etc. And that’s enough to make a difference in any situation I find myself in.
And I can see myself doing this off stage as well, and most especially in the gym. Often, people I’m doing a class with at Solcana will remark on how I’m generally smiling when I work out. People will say stuff like, “Lifting all that weight and she’s still smiling!”
And a lot of the time, it’s because I’m genuinely having fun, and those endorphins are doing what they were born to do. But some of the time, the smile on my face is by default. I put a smile on my face as an armor of sorts.
It’s me purposefully trying to combat my own fear, or pain, or nerves, or to get the room energized, so I too, can stay energized. The smile is a physical reminder that fun is always AN OPTION.
Whether I’m doing dumb errands, or working out, or onstage, it’s wonderful to know I have the power to choose more fun over no fun. I can make the difference. If I choose to.
Notice, I did say “IF I CHOOSE TO”. Because hopefully we all know by now how frustrating it is to be told to smile by a stranger, or being expected to be pleasant because of our gender, or even being told to do something that isn’t authentic. That sucks. There’s no two ways around that.
But what I’m talking about is different. Because it’s me CHOOSING my own mindset. My smile reminds me to have some fun–dammit! Or else why am I here?!?!
* * *
Cut back to the chair, and The Dentist quickly assesses that the crown is still in good shape, and only needs to be re-cemented. I am grateful, and I decide to make a few jokes, and we get to talking, and I can see the dentist relax and become more friendly.
And as he’s glueing my tooth back in, I can hear him start to sing along under his mask to the Shania Twain that was being pumped into the room over the speakers. And I try my best to repress a laugh.
Again, I’m laughing at the banality of it all, and how very HUMAN this afternoon is.
And I’m secretly loving it.
Was this how I would choose to spend an afternoon and a hundred or so of my precious dollars? OH HELL NO. But if it’s how I’m forced to spend the day, I’m glad I was able to squeeze out a laugh or two in the process.
I guess sometimes it takes losing a tooth to remind me of the power of a smile.
And a little Shania Twain never hurts either.