Like all writers, I write about people I know, and unfortunately they often turn out to be the people I know and love best, or people I don't know at all.
I don't have to dig too far into my imagination for absurd or comic material. That's too much work when I am surrounded by plenty of brilliance and inanity just going about my everyday business.
Many unsuspecting characters commit outrageous acts or utter inane remarks that are worthy of recording.
Like the day a man in front of me at library check-out said: "The prospect of being hanged concentrates the mind." When I overhear statements like that, it might seem that I was otherwise preoccupied or simply looking off to the side.
But I'm not. I am listening. As a writer (and I think I speak for many of my fellow scribes), when we are caught staring into space, we are actually working -- stealing someone's words or actions.
My muses are anybody who has ever crossed my path. I collect identities like some people collect shoes or stamps.
So often I am asked where I get my ideas when the inquirers themselves, standing right before me, are the "ideas."
I am constantly in the mood for larceny, and maintain the lookout of a predatory beast.
My ears are always perked for the amusing or original. If you sit next to me on a bus, you are in my radar.
Or if you cut in front of the line at the movies, you're fodder for my pen.
I watch and listen and then I mentally pounce.
Friends and family are always thinly, no make that profusely, disguised as if they are in witness protection. I'm not out to "out" anybody or embarrass a sensitive soul to harm himself, or deter a potential benefactor.
Auspiciously, for my work, I am constantly bombarded by muses. But sadly, my main comedy muse is no longer with me.
He was my beloved partner, Donald, who passed away in October -- and I'm now on my own to find the humor in this ridiculous world when his joy of living inspired so many of my columns since I began writing for this paper nearly six years ago.
Now, without him and his male peccadilloes, I have to work harder to find humor. I hope I can still be funny. Immediately after Donald died, a column deadline came along with Storm Sandy when I lived like a bag lady for five days without power.
I asked myself: How can I be funny when I am so sad and miserable? But I pushed through and wrote: "How to prepare a chef salad in the dark." As a writer, I must produce in both joy and sorrow. It's my job.
As I write this column on Valentine's Day, I feel the sadness of losing my personal valentine who has been the subject of scores of columns, and at a time which for the past decade had been very special for us.
Since we met late in life, out romance was all the sweeter.
Last year on Valentine's Day, he arrived with the usual gigantic bouquet of blossoms and a fanciful, heart-shaped balloon dripping with tendrils of curled ribbons, and bearing the conventional words, "I love you." I laughed.
It was so like Donald. For weeks the balloon stood stiff and tall in front of a cabinet, and each day it sank a few inches as the helium escaped, until the colorful gift rested flat on the floor. It was time to say "Goodbye, Balloon."
I didn't expect that, in reality, I too would have to say goodbye to Donald, but in life we're not always in control of our destinies as we are when we write.
To paraphrase an actor who on his deathbed said, "Dying is easy, (writing) comedy is hard." No, not true. Death is hard, very hard. Comedy is something else.
Barbara L. Smith is a published, produced playwright, and a literary consultant. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org