the quotidian grist

the icon for the app

I’m participating in a scientific experiment about happiness — you can, too, by downloading the app for your phone (click that link). A set number of times throughout the day you get a little ping and respond to a number of questions — where are you, what are you doing, are you alone, are you productive, have you exercised in the last 24 hours, have you spent money, etc — quick and simple. Sometimes it’s frustrating, because I want to provide context (I’m very unhappy because of politics!), but at the same time given my own research in graduate school, I know that context isn’t as important to a great many questions as we think it is. Track Your Happiness was created as part of Matt Killingsworth’s doctoral research at Harvard University, and the project was approved by the Harvard University Committee for the Use of Human Subjects.

Of course, and especially when I’m in Austin, my days are extremely small, quiet, and routine. I’m mostly at home, with brief forays to see my daughter and grandkids, or to an occasional lunch or happy hour with a friend, or to a book club meeting. A daily walk. A daily yoga class. Meal preparation. Make the bed, pull back the bed. Clean the kitchen. Get the mail. Work, if I have work. It’s a very tiny little life in Austin, quiet and inward, and for the most part I love it. But it’s also true that participating in this study has made me even more keenly aware of this because it asks me specifically to move this slide before I say anything else:

I’m glad it’s not a 5- or 7-point scale, but when I’m walking through the house, or knitting, or drinking a cup of coffee, or making a shopping list, HOW DO I FEEL at that moment? Ordinarily, before this nightmarish election, my base state was happy; since the election my base state has not been happy at all, it has ranged from full-on despair to fear to panic, and the app doesn’t let me indicate that at all. Still, when I make that rating I try to think about what I’m doing in that moment and how it makes me feel. It has had the effect of focusing me in the present a little more, which has been good. Because while my background state might be panic, when I’m holding Lucy (and getting puked on, because those are synonymous), I’m very happy. When I watching Oliver be Oliver, I’m very happy. When I’m taking my walk, or doing yoga, I’m content and I feel good.

That’s it, that’s really what makes happiness. Making a really good cup of coffee. Knitting a pair of fuchsia socks out of the softest wool, and seeing the fabric appear before your eyes. Reading a really good book. Talking to someone you love. Being called on when someone is in need, and being able to be there — oh, that’s just the best joy, note to self to remember that when I am in need. Spending a day that comprised dozens of those unremarkable moments. The remarkable times speak for themselves, carry their own emphasis, and don’t need any help being noticed. When I’m in New York City and going to MoMA, or marching in a protest, or walking in Riverside Park, or any of the zillions of remarkable things there are to do, I note them and appreciate them and they’re the tell-worthy experiences of my life: “Guess what I did today! It was such fun!”

Even in this awful time, when we are witnessing the destruction of our country by a political party that is willing to burn everything down, knitting with soft fuschia wool is beautiful. Getting puked on by your roly-poly, happy, red-headed granddaughter is beautiful. Running errands on a sunny day and getting shit done, beautiful. Waking up in your own wonderful bed, running your feet over the soft, cool sheets, listening to the mockingbird in the backyard tree, stretching and getting up to make a pot of strong, rich coffee, that’s a whole lot of happiness right there.

Happy Saturday y’all. If you’re interested, download the app! “Track Your Happiness” for iPhone and Android, both. xoxoxo

 

abecedarian

What are the things from your childhood that brought you such great delight, and that still bring you that same kind and degree of delight? And not just in a nostalgic way, like a sweet memory—ah, I really used to love playing with Lincoln Logs and TinkerToys (I did)—but the same delight now? Mine, quite reliably, are

  • pillbugs
  • trilobytes
  • dinosaur eggs
  • the ABCs

The whole pillbug thing is obvious, given where you’re reading this. I just love them so much, and I do sincerely have this little pretending that I’m their queen, but only [still] in the most benevolent way. People always send me news stories they read about pillbugs. 🙂

trilobyteAnd trilobytes! They deserve that exclamation point! It’s not shown on the cover, but that book actually has an exclamation point after the word trilobyte in the title. (If you want to read it but don’t want to spring for the book, here’s the full text, for free.) Trilobytes are cool, man. So cool. And I don’t know why, but my copy, received as a gift the year the book published, spells the word correctly, with a y, and does have the exclamation point. Hmmm.

eggsDinosaur eggs, my dearest, fondest, most intense dream for myself when I was five was to grow up to be a paleontologist and discover dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. Oh how I longed to do that. I think a big cache had been found in those years and it just dazzled me. The idea that dinosaurs came out of eggs was just so mind-blowing, and I longed to whisper away the sand to see the long curve of one of those eggs. Also: Mongolia? I want to go there so so badly. Ugh. Still do, probably never will get to go.

And it’s not that I like to sing the ABC song, nor is it an appreciation for the alphabet because it makes words and I love words and sentences and paragraphs and books oh books(!), it’s a thrill about the letters themselves, how they evolved, how they came to be, how we use them, how we change them, the way these little squiggles get bent along the way. When I was a kid we had a set of World Book Encyclopedias at home, just like these:

wb

I read every word of every entry in every volume, beginning at A and ending in Z. Examined every chart — and they were clever, like the one that showed cotton production rates in cotton states used a little cartoon boll, one boll represented however many tons or bales or whatever the unit of measurement, so I’d count the bolls for each state and multiply and just have such fun with that. Cow heads for beef production. (Clearly the ones I remember most easily related to Texas.) I studied every picture, read every footnote, every reference citation. Beginning to end, repeat. In between I’d read the dictionary, a never-ending source of joy, a rabbit hole I’d love to get lost in.

But the reason the World Book is relevant here is that each volume opened with an entry about the letter itself. There were drawings of the various ways the letter had been written, by such mysterious people as the Phoenicians and the Sumarians and the Romans and the Greeks, the way each group changed it, how it was pronounced and from what it was derived. Although I loved almost all the entries in the whole encyclopedia (but not the one with the lamprey, I still remember hating that one), it was the ones about the letters of the alphabet that made me feel so excited I almost couldn’t hold it. Literally. I felt filled with electricity and wonder. Phoenicians! They were sea-going people, wow, Phoenicians. Their version of the letter reflected their culture, wow. All that excitement is filling my body just writing these words, it is so compressed in my chest I feel like maybe I need to get up and run in a little circle for a bit.

I follow The House that Lars Built on Instagram, always so inspirational, and it turns out that she does a book club! (Follow here, it’s amazing.) The last book they read was Drew Barrymore’s memoir, and when she announced the next one…. ALPHABETICAL! A book about the alphabet!! It’s a whole book, an expanded version exactly of those little entries in the World Book. Obviously I had to get it. It’s so rare that I buy a physical book, but come on. The alphabet.

abcHow every letter tells a story, the subtitle. I’m just in the A so far, but it’s been thrilling. I meet my old friends the Phoenicians. There is a luxury of time and space, so the information about the letters is much more involved, and he is as twitterpated by the alphabet as I am, so he writes with such wonder about this system we have created.

Want to know about A?

‘A’ starts its life in around 1800 BCE. Turn our modern ‘A’ upside down and you can see something of its original shape. Can you see an ox’s head with its horns sticking up in the air? If so, you can see the remains of that letter’s original name, ‘ox,’ or ‘aleph’ in the ancient Semitic languages. By the time the Phoenicians are using it in around 1000 BCE it is lying on its side and looks more like a ‘K’. Speed-writing seems to have taken the diagonals through the upright, making it more like a horizontal form of our modern ‘A’ with the point on the left-hand side. The ancient Greeks called it ‘alpha’ and reversed it, with the point on the right-hand side, probably because, eventually, they decided to write from left to right. Between around 750 BCE and 500 BCE the Greeks rotated it to what we would think of as its upright position. The Romans added the serifs which you can see on inscriptions like Trajan’s Column in Rome.

I wish there were more drawings, I’d like to see that A on its side, first to the left then to the right (the World Book showed all the variations), but that’s OK. His own delight in the material is happy-making.

And of course he speaks more broadly about these issues. I loved this line: “It seems odd to think that the reason why I say a ‘j’ sound and that there is a letter for that sound is because, nearly a thousand years ago, in the wars between the tribal warlords of northern Europe, a French-speaking group got the upper hand in the part of the world where I happen to live.”

I don’t know why my tiny-girl delight still lives in me so purely at the age of 57, but isn’t that a gift? You probably don’t have this thing with the alphabet, but I’m sure you have your own things like this. Of course as always I’d love to hear about them. I think these things, especially, are tremendous gifts to us, and they tell us something about each other. I can also see that my childhood delights are indicators of the grown-up I would someday become. Add in donuts and I am complete. 🙂

the good life

A few days ago I watched Hector and the Search for Happiness, a movie starring Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, and with Christopher Plummer and Jean Reno and Stellan Skarsgard and Toni Collette.

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A great bunch of actors! It didn’t get the highest of ratings, and frankly I was surprised by how much I loved it. It’s a journey story; Simon Pegg is a psychiatrist with a tidy, satisfactory life, and he chucks it all to travel around the world to discover what makes people happy. (yawn, I thought.) Then near the end, there’s a brain scan (oh that always irritates me, I’m a neuroskeptic), and when Pegg is holding the tremendous array of thoughts that he has learned constitute his happiness, his entire brain lights up — “the Northern Lights,” says the scientist. So I dearly love that, because I believe it’s true. Happiness comprises everything, all the feelings, even the bleak ones.

all kinds of colors in there
all kinds of colors in there

At one point the main character asks someone, “You’ve been through so much, how are you so happy?” And she (or he, can’t remember now) says, “I’m so happy because I’ve been through so much.” And at that point I jumped up out of my chair with tears in my eyes and said too loudly, “YES. Yes-yes-yes. Yes. That’s true.” Because it is. (I do this often and am glad I generally live alone. 😉 )

I’ve known a few people who grew up with just about as perfect a life as one could have in real life. One home for 18 years, thoughtful and educated parents, plenty of love, a lot of friends, success in school, off to college with no worries, college years were great, launch into life, the world on a string. Tiger by the tail. Take your pick of cliches. I’ve actually known people, real people, who had that life. Security, safety, love, peace. No traumas of any kind. No unexpected losses — maybe a grandparent here or there, but not ever unexpectedly or tragically.

It’s just those specific people I know, but boy are they unhappy adults. They’re lost. They’re empty. Their lives feel meaningless to them. (And again: maybe you know people from that life who are joyous adults with meaningful lives! I just don’t know them.) (Oh, wait, now I can think of a couple of them who got married to each other and are very very happy adults, with happy children.)

So let me not make an absolute claim here, but a general one. A simply easy life is not a happy one. A simply easy life is not a meaningful one. I am not saying that happiness comes from pain and trauma necessarily, but I believe it comes from the effort to deal with it. From the knowledge of having had it and gotten somewhere else, from the understandings you find in the process, and from what you learn about yourself and the world along the way. And I’m not saying that simple and easy times aren’t happy, because they sure can be! But they are happy in the context of the rest. I want to resist that easy thing people say, “without the dark you can’t know the light,” but something is true in it. Jung said, “The word happiness would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness,” and I guess that’s right but those sayings seem facile to me, a toss-off, even if there is something true in them. Maybe they just trouble me because of the way people say them, an unconsidered bit of bumper-sticker wisdom said without much thought.

Around this time last year I wrote about happiness — a similar idea I had then, because I believe this so deeply. Happiness is both a momentary state and a deeper, complex experience. I feel happy when I look at Oliver or Ilan; that rush of feeling that overcomes me is a mixture of love and joy, definitely. My happiness where they and my children are concerned is vast, and includes their places in our family, their connections to their sweet mamas, my daughters, and Oliver’s arrival in the wake of our loss of Gracie. So that’s complex, definitely, but my feeling when I see them or think about them is simple happiness. But my own personal happiness, the center of me, my deepest experience, contains EVERYTHING. It contains my ability to feel everything that happens to me, light and dark. (Strangely, that’s true. My ability to feel heartache makes me happy. I’m happy I can feel that terrible feeling because it’s true and human.) It contains having survived the things I have survived. It contains memories of loss and sorrow. My happiness holds all of those things at the same time, and without any one of them my happiness would definitely be less rich, less meaningful to me.

My happiness also depends on the scary will to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable to you, to random strangers who might hurt me here or elsewhere, to people in my life, to possibilities. Like everyone else, I’ve trusted people I shouldn’t have trusted and been very hurt by them, but my happiness depends on being open again anyway.

buttermilk blueberry cake
buttermilk blueberry cake

I’m so happy because I’ve been through so much. Today I’m happy because I’m taking this yummy cake — which was easy to make early this morning because I’m still jet lagged, so I’m in bed super early and up super early — over to my dear friend Cindy’s house for breakfast. Today I’m happy because I will see Katie and Trey and Oliver later today, and I haven’t seen that sweet little fella since his birthday. Today I’m happy because my health is good and I can do anything I feel like doing without having to think twice, or cater to a hurting body part. Today I’m happy because I have dear friends. Today I’m happy because my family is happy and healthy. Today I’m happy because my hair looks OK today. 🙂 Big stuff and small stuff, yo. And today I’m happy because my heart has been tenderized and I can hold very tenderly, with understanding, friends whose lives are being hit with frightening illness. Today I’m happy because of the plans I have — making a triple berry cake for friends tomorrow, going to the UP in July, seeing Ilan and Marnie and Tom in June, something secret that’s happening next Wednesday, lots of great books in my Kindle that I’m dying to read — and because I rediscovered this beautiful poem, which I love because it understands the possibility of beauty out of suffering.

RUBBING — Stephen Dunn

I once saw a painter smear black paint
on a bad blue sky,
then rub it in until that lie of hers

was gone. I’ve seen men polish cars
so hard they’ve given off light.
As a child I kept a stone in my pocket,

thumb and forefinger in collusion
with water and wind,
caressing it day and night.

i’ve begun a few things with an eraser,
waited for frictions spark.
I’ve learned that sometimes severe

can lead to truer, even true.
But few things human can stand
to be rubbed for long—I know this

and can’t stop. If beauty comes
it comes startled, hiding scars,
out of what barely can be endured.

xoxoxo Happy Sunday, y’all.

better than ever

See the twinkle? This is at Millay's home, and he was tickled pink to be there.
See the twinkle in his eye? This is at Millay’s home, and he was tickled pink to be there.

I have a great friend in my monthly poetry group named George. First of all, George is the most knowledgeable person about poetry I have ever met. Ever. And he can recite huge swaths at the drop of a hat. He’s older than me, I don’t know his age, but man I enjoy his ability to do that kind of recitation. Last year he took a road trip vacation to Steepletop, Edna St Vincent Millay’s home in Maine. That’s what he did for his vacation. So George is definitely 100% my kind of guy. And his eyes twinkle and he’s very funny in a sly way that you might miss if you aren’t paying attention. (And he does yoga! There doesn’t seem to be much of anything you might randomly mention that George doesn’t do.)

Every month when I see him and ask how he’s doing, he answers, “Better than ever!” I hadn’t noticed the pattern; last month in my delight at his answer, I commented on it and he said it’s always his answer, and it puzzles people. Once a grocery store clerk said, “I wish could say that,” so George told her to stop what she was doing, immediately, and look at him. Then he said, “OK, repeat after me. Better.” “Better.” “Than.” “Than.” “Ever.” “Ever.” With his characteristic twinkly smile, he then said, “Now you know how to say it!” He said that it’s an important way he helps himself feel good, and when he gives into the various troubles of aging, and dwells on them, he does not feel very good at all and starts going downhill. So “better than ever!” is not just a verbal trick, a magic mantra, it’s a way of orienting himself to this day of his life. His shoulder might ache, but hey — today he is better than ever.

That aspect of George resonates with me, although I don’t say that phrase. What I do say, though, is “wonderful.” Oh, this is wonderful, that’s wonderful, you are wonderful, the day is wonderful, my sandwich is wonderful, that ice water is wonderful, YogaGlo is wonderful, my friends are wonderful (or gorgeous, or beautiful, or amazing, or magnificent). A lifetime ago, when I was getting to know the members of the very large family I married into — and before I realized that ‘wonderful’ is my most characteristic word — I was talking to one of my husband’s brothers, and after a while he leaned down, frowned a little bit, and said, “Really, Lori? Is it wonderful? Is everything wonderful? ‘It’s just wunnerful!’” And then he cackled. I still am not entirely sure if he was making fun of me, but I think he was.

This occurred to me as I was re-reading my last post about my. . .well, ok, I’ll say it. . .wonderful week. (But it was!) I saw what any editor would identify as the gross overuse of those words. Gross overuse. Anyone can see that, come on, it’s egregious. For heaven’s sake. Bad writing, leaning hard toward purple.

But here’s the deal, and I just mean this from the bottom of my heart. My friends truly are beautiful, and brilliant, and amazing, and wonderful, and gorgeous. My daughters truly are all those things, and magnificent, and loving. The sky really is wonderful. The things I mentioned really were extraordinary. I think I share the impulse with George, and I think it is probably why we are happy people. I don’t know if George has always been this way, but I have always been this way. My former brother-in-law commented on that when I was 21 years old and I’m still unconsciously at it.

So maybe it’s not your automatic way of being in the world, and maybe you 100% love the way you are in the world and so good on ya! Maybe you enjoy a bit of a grump (my husband in NY has a daily need to mope) now and then, and that’s just fine. I do too. But I think that if you just pause for a second and notice that sky, you’d see that it’s wonderful. There it is, just doing its thing, putting on a dramatic, ever-changing show for you, and you’re probably not noticing it. And then I think you’ll feel a little spike of happy. I think if you paused for a minute and really tasted your food and thought about it — wow (oops, another of my oft-used words, wow), that salad is really wonderful, so fresh and crunchy, and the pepitas just make it all work, and blue cheese ohmygod, it’s really wonderful — another little spike of happy. Really see your friend when you’re talking to her, just really see her and you’ll see that she is super wonderful. Magnificent. There she is, being herself in your life. Wow.

Those teenagers danced all the way across the bridge going over the highway. Maybe it was that wonderful sky.
Those teenagers danced all the way across the bridge going over the highway. Maybe it was that wonderful sky.

But really — just pause for a second. LOOK AT THAT SKY! Is it not wonderful? (Also: George is wonderful, and so are you.) Right on.

the word is just too BLAND

“Happy.” It’s like “nice.” Both are valued things, of course, but meh. What bland, too-simple words. It’s just a word, happy, so maybe the problem is really how we’ve come to think about it. Smiley faces, a particular feeling of some degree of joy or contentment or pleasure, be happy, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof because I’m happy. Happy. I’m happy, are you happy? The happiness industry, do these seven things to be happy, here are the daily habits of happy people. Gratitude makes you happy. Happy.

Yesterday I was scanning my playlists, looking for one to listen to while I cleaned my house. There’s a lot of overlap of music on some of the lists, but the one I most reliably listen to for background music is one titled “happy.” I clicked it and scanned the list deciding whether to choose shuffle or the order they’re in, and busted out laughing at the songs on the list. There are some that most people would consider happy songs, but about one-third of the list includes songs that no one would consider happy songs. And in fact they’re songs that fill my heart with melancholy, or pull up a very sad memory, and some are even associated with such a painful memory I have to sit down. That’s my happy playlist, and it reliably makes me happy, the whole thing.

weavingBecause happiness isn’t simply a shallow thing on the surface. Happiness can be complex, happiness contains some sadness, some memories of loss, some melancholy, and the ability to hold those things as part of the complex experience of a lived life. That sad song that makes me have to sit down? It really kind of breaks my heart, and I can only listen to it once or I have to get in bed and cry. But as part of the tapestry of my playlist, it’s that dark shot of weft that deepens everything. The memory of love lost, or happiness experienced with a thrill and then squandered or shifted, those were happy too, I was happy then too, and so my heart aches from the loss but I also hold the greater memories of the happiness, the joy. I’ll bet you’ve had the experience of hearing a song connected to a loss and filling up with tears, but also feeling something good, some connection, some remembrance, a mixed feeling of happy/sad. Maybe even laughing and crying at the same time. (That’s so me.)

I do have blissed-out moments, and quite often, where I experience awe and have no words, or when the moment is just so present and I am aware of my life in a particular way, or when Oliver smiles at me, or when I’m with my beloved children and we’re happy together. Or when I’m making beautiful food, or my writing is going well, or I’m dancing and laughing in the park. I have those moments that are kind of purely “happy.” But most often, my experience of happiness holds the complications of the various kinds and experiences of happiness; they feel less fleeting, and with an amalgam of contentment, pleasure, something, with the more complex experience of happiness. For as much as life really only happens in the moment, and as much as I strive to be present in it, the truth is also that I have lived a long life, filled with a staggering number of (and kinds of) experiences, and they are in me, body and soul. Some make me happy because I survived . . . but that happiness is real, even if it came out of darkness. So I sit in this present moment and feel my life resonating through me, in this present day. (Plus, as my daughter Marnie said about me in a Facebook birthday post, I do love to feel all the feelings. That makes me happy, being able to feel them all.)

I thought it was so loving and true in places that I saved it. :)
I thought it was so loving and true in places that I saved it. 🙂

Maybe this is just me. I never have a clue if my experience is weird and deeply idiosyncratic, or if you feel something of it too. If you don’t, then here’s an explanation of one way happiness can be deeply felt. And if you do, you aren’t the only one!

Happy Sunday. I hope the sun shines on your face today. xo

oh well!

waterlevelI was thinking about happiness and the phrase ‘water seeks its own level’ came to my mind. If you look at that image, the water level is the same across all the various sizes and shapes of tubes. With water it’s all about atmospheric pressure and things like that. Happiness operates on different principles, but the result can be the same, if you’re lucky. Walk with me while we talk.

So I have a personality characteristic that is extremely good and extremely bad. I give up. (I know, not always, but this is my default stance.) I’ll plan to do something and encounter resistance and quickly give up. (Again, I know not always, but default.) What happens inside me is not exactly a throwing-up of the hands, but more a lightning-quick cost-benefit analysis. Does the cost of persisting — in time, effort, money, whatever — outweigh moving on and doing something different? Sometimes it does, of course, obviously. But more often than not, I decide to give up and move on. “Moving on” doesn’t necessarily mean I completely abandon what I was trying to do; it may mean that I come at it another way, or that I shift a little bit and go after the overlapping thing. Without a doubt I have given up too quickly way too often. Without a doubt, learning how to persist, how to buckle down and keep at it would be good for me. I’ve probably missed out on a lot of good things because I just gave up too quickly.

But the flip side of it relates to happiness and here’s where it’s a good thing. And here’s where water is seeking its own level. On ordinary days my happiness level is pretty much the same (and pretty high). It’s not as if my reasons for being happy are always at the same level, of course. And some days I’ve wanted something and not been able to get it but my happiness level is unaffected. I kind of think my happiness is a living thing of its own, and if a blip comes along it just slips somewhere else to stay where it lives. Here’s a very dumb example, but it’s a good example of what happens for me all the time. Let’s say all day long I’ve  had my mouth set for stir-fried broccolini and tofu. Mmmm, and some carrots, I have those, and I need to use the mushrooms too. But it’s that brilliant green, tender broccolini that has been running through my mind all day. Yum. Then it’s time to make dinner and I pull out the ingredients only to find that the broccolini is really too old, it’s kind of gone bad and soggy and nearly rotten. DAMN. I really wanted the meal I’d been imagining all day. Oh well! (I say this all day long: “oh well!”) I’ll just have all the rest! Yum, I really love mushrooms and carrots, and maybe I’ll toss in some celery since I have some, and there’s a small zucchini, I’ll use that too. YUM! What a wonderful dinner, and mmm, some steamed jasmine rice, and I’ll use some of Marc’s delicious red curry, yum. Oh crap! I guess I used the last of the curry. Oh well!

And then I sit and relish the fantastic dinner, full and happy, and it’s not the broccolini I’d fantasized about all day but my meal is not a second-best dinner at all. Oh it’s so good. Mmmm, I’m really happy.

Oh, I could’ve gotten in the car and gone to the market for broccolini. It would’ve involved fighting the crowds of people who were there after work, tired and in a rush to get home. Traffic would’ve made me tense, the exhausted crowds and long line at the register would’ve aggravated me, but I’d have that broccolini I’d been daydreaming about.

certainly not saying this is easy....
certainly not saying this is easy….

That is a lightweight example, for sure, but it’s my standard M.O. across situations. And it’s not at all about rationalization — I didn’t really want broccolini / I really needed to use that zucchini so this is the better thing anyway / whatev. It’s not that at all. I think it’s more about valuing happy more than broccolini. I think it’s also about flexibility as well as recognizing that happiness comes in all sorts of guises, from all directions, and it is there in abundance if you’re open to it. I do believe an “oh well!” attitude is powerful because it fixes your focus on the goal instead of the path to the goal. Not this? Oh well! How about that?

NOTE: This is my software, I’m not at all saying “Ain’t it great the way I do this! I’m so great!” Instead, I’m gratefully sharing what is somehow easy for me since it’s just how I’m made, in case it might be a little helpful to you in some way. I am so very lucky in this way, and grateful for it. Of course there are times this doesn’t happen for me, and of course there are times that no matter how hard I look, try an alternative, seek an ‘oh well,’ simple happiness is simply nowhere to be seen. But I do think that even during the times when happiness is just there in ghostly form at the edges of the scene, looking for it and being open to it is a helpful thing.

Last night I had broccolini for dinner. 🙂

21st century date

The other day my husband, who is feeling lonesome for me a whole lot right now since I’m not going to see him until mid-May, suggested that we have another Skype date, like we did on Valentine’s Day. He’s an hour ahead of me, which meant ending my day’s plans a little earlier than I’d planned, but I’m so glad we did that.

date
that’s him in his kitchen on the laptop over my shoulder.

We got online together on Skype at 4:30 my time, 5:30 his, and talked for a bit, caught up with each other like you’d do when you come home from work. Shared stories, checked in. Then I took my laptop into my kitchen, and he trained his camera into his kitchen, and we started cooking together. We’d decided to make salmon, rice, and asparagus. My kitchen is very small, a galley kitchen, so whatever I’m doing, wherever I go, I’m squarely on his giant monitor. So we cooked, piddled, talked to each other, asked how the other was doing the salmon (I put herbes de Provence on mine and baked it, and he put cayenne on his and broiled it). We made jasmine rice. We made our asparagus, and then sprinkled grated parmigiana reggiano on it for the final hot flourish — really so good with the asparagus. I moved my laptop to my dining table, he reoriented his camera, and we sat to eat together. We were facing each other directly, so we’d look up and look at each other, we showed each other our plates, we talked and talked and talked.

After we put away the food and put the dishes away, I moved my laptop into my bedroom and he set up his movie, and we stretched out and watched a movie together — Short Term 12, really beautiful (and the SXSW winner last year). Watching a movie together is very tricky, because we have to start it at exactly the same moment or I hear his and he hears mine and the lag makes it impossible. It took us a couple of tries, but we got it synced. We could talk about the movie, or ask each other questions; the only thing we couldn’t do was rub each other’s feet, which is what we usually do when we watch movies together.

The movie touched on a lot of things that resonated with me, so we talked about it for a while after it ended, and then he said, “hey, do you want some rice pudding?” That’s so him. So back to the kitchen we went to make rice pudding. While it was cooling, we were talking about our vacation, and he started telling me about some map apps he found that download the entire map into the phone. So we sat there, each holding our phones, downloading apps and playing with them and talking about it. Once in a while he’d hold his phone up to the camera to show me something, and I’d do the same. When our pudding was cool, we brought cups of it back to our laptops and ate and compared the recipes we used (we decided mine was better, but probably because it contained a Parker egg, that gorgeously luscious deep gold yolk….). We talked more about our vacation. We talked about the bad thing in the background. We talked about Oliver, and Katie. We talked about death; he is taking a meditation class that focuses on impermanence, and they are assigned to meditate on death. Finally, around 1am, I was too sleepy — and it was 2am for him. We’d hung out together for 8.5 hours, easily, happily. We talked, we cooked, we ate, we watched a movie, we laughed, we got scared, I cried.

He’s flying in very late the evening of Friday April 4, and heading home extremely early Monday, April 6, so he can meet Oliver, and so we can be together in person a little bit. It’s a long gap from early February to Mid-May, which is how long I’m here in Austin, so we’ll have to squeeze in a lot of time in those two little days. He always holds my hand when we go anywhere at all, and he sleeps tucked against my back all night, and he rubs my feet after dinner. As wonderful as Skype is, as wonderful as technology can make a long-distance relationship, it can’t allow those things.

My mission today is to get Oliver’s quilt pin-basted so I can quilt it on Tuesday. I’m meeting some girlfriends later today to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, which will be fun — especially since I’m going with them. I hope you have a wonderful Sunday, whatever you do! It’s kind of gross here in Austin, muggy and overcast, heavy clouds, and the wind is going to fly in around 1. Not my favorite kind of Sunday, but then again, any Sunday I am alive is a good Sunday. 🙂

when a dream is realized

coverIn my book club in New York City, whoever hosted each month got to select the book we read. Tracy picked one called Another Bullshit Night in Suck Cityand I thought ‘hmph. What a title.’ But that book — a memoir — gave me one of the biggest gifts a book has ever given me: it articulated my own experience, but in poetry. He transformed so many aspects of my life into art. Homelessness. A parent’s suicide. Alcoholism. Violence. He gave me my own experience back to me, but made larger and deeper and I felt like he knew my life. It’s an incredible book, and the first of a trilogy of memoirs, including The Ticking is the Bomb (he considers his baby daughter and Abu Ghraib, and trust me it all fits), and The Reenactments, a memoir about the making of Being Flynn, which was the movie version of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. META. When I read anything he writes, more than half of the passages are highlighted, he is just such a beautiful writer.

And so I signed up to volunteer at the Texas Book Festival because I hoped to meet him. I did some finagling and was assigned to manage his book signing, and today I will escort him to his poetry panel discussion. I’d been so wound up about it, practicing all the things I wanted to say hoping if I did it enough times I could do it without crying (nope). As the hour got closer and closer, my stomach was like a fist in my belly. I was very hot, red-faced — no breeze in the tent and I’d been there for 4 hours and helped set everything up — and my hair was frizzy. And then there he was, I saw him from a distance, and a chill came over me. I let everything go, all my planned things I was going to say, and decided just to be present with him. Just to look at him, talk to him, just be people together.

After the others got their books signed, I knelt in front of the table and talked to him. I told him what his book has meant to me, how very well I understood it, and my eyes filled with tears. He reached out and held my hands. He asked some questions about me and my life. He wrote in my book, and I told him I was assigned to escort him this morning to his panel discussion. He said, “Oh, so you’re meeting me at my hotel?” After we talked (no, we were all supposed to meet at the capitol), he gave me his cell phone number and took mine so we can text each other, and he took my email address and emailed me and the panel members to coordinate. So I guess this morning I’m meeting Nick Flynn at his hotel, The Four Seasons.

book
Yes, Nick. I do understand.

I’ll work out the details with the coordinator because I am not going to miss the chance to meet Nick again and walk with him to the venue. Nope. Not happening.

Nick and me -- and I'm trying to stay in my body.
Nick and me — and I’m trying to stay in my body.

I tried to tell him how much his book has meant to me and I thanked him for writing it, and then I told him that the chapter titled “Same Again” was sheer genius, and that I read it aloud quite often. He sat back in slightly open-mouthed shock. He said it’s meant to be read aloud, but people don’t see that.  He asked me how I knew to read it aloud, and I said it was obvious. It is an amazing little chapter — it’s nothing but euphemisms for drink and being drunk — here:

Nick Flynn, “Same again” (chapter from Another Bullshit Night in Suck City)

The usual I say. Blood of Christ I say. Essence. Spirit. Medicine. A hint. A taste. A bump. A snort. A sip. A nip. I say another round. I say brace yourself. Lift a few. Hoist a few. Work the elbow. Bottoms up. Belly up. Leg up. What’ll it be. Name your poison. Mud in your eye. A jar. A jug. A pony. I say a glass. I say same again. I say all around. I say my good man. I say my drinking buddy. I say git that in ya. Then an ice-breaker. Then a quick one. Then a couple of pops. Then a nightcap. Then throw one back. Then knock one down. Working on a scotch and soda I say. Fast and furious I say. Could savage a drink I say. Guzzle I say. Chug. Home brew. Everclear. Moonshine. White lightening. Firewater. Antifreeze. Wallbanger. Zombie. Rotgut. Hooch. Relief. Now you’re talking I say. Live a little I say. Drain it I say. Kill it I say. Feeling it I say. Slightly crocked. Wobbly. Another dead sailor I say. Breakfast of champions I say. I say candy is dandy but liquor is quicker. I say the beer that made Milwaukee famous. I say Houston, we have a drinking problem. I say the cause of, and solution to all of life’s problems. I say ain’t no devil only god when he’s drunk. I say god only knows what I’d be without you. I say thirsty. I say parched. I say wet my whistle. I say awful thirst. Dying of thirst. Lap it up. Hook me up. Beam me up. Watering hole. Hole. Knock a few back. Pound a few down. Corner stool. My office. Out with the boys I say. Unwind I say. Nurse one I say. Apply myself I say. Tie one on I say. Make a night of it I say. Dive. Toasted. Glow. A cold one a tall one a frosty one I say. One for the road I say. A drinker I say. Two-fisted I say. Never trust a man who doesn’t drink I say. A good man’s failing I say. Then a binge then a spree then a jag then a bout. Coming home on all fours. Rousted. Roustabout. Could use a drink I say. A shot of confidence I say. Steady my nerves I say. Drown my sorrows. I say kill for a drink. I say keep ‘em coming. I say a stiff one. I say as fast as possible. I say the long haul. Drink deep drink hard hit the bottle. Two sheets to the wind then. Half-coked then. Knackered then. Showing it then. Holding the wall up then. Under the influence then. Half in the bag then. A toot. A tear. A blowout. Out of my skull I say. Liquored up. Rip-roaring. Slammed. Fucking jacked. The booze talking. The room Spinning. Primed. Feeling no pain. Buzzed. Giddy. Silly. Glazed. Impaired. Intoxicated. Lubricated. Stewed. Tight. Tiddly. Juiced. Plotzed. Potted. Pixilated. Pie-eyed. Cock-eyed. Inebriated. Laminated. Stoned. High. Swimming. Elated. Exalted. Debauched. Rock on. Drunk on. Shine on. Bring it on. Pissed. Then bleary. Then bloodshot. Glassy-eyed. Mud-eyed. Red-nosed. Thick-tongued. Addled. Dizzy then. Groggy. On a bender I say. On a spree. On a drunk. I say off the wagon. I say gone out. I say on a slip. I say in my cups. I say riding the night train. I say the drink. I say the bottle. I say the blood bank. I say drinkie-poo. I say a drink drink. A drink a drunk a drunkard. Swill Swig. Faced. Shitfaced. Fucked up. Stupefied. Incapacitated. Raging. Seeing double. Shitty. Take the edge off I say. That’s better I say. Loaded I say. Wasted. Looped. Lit. Off my ass. Befuddled. Reeling. Tanked. Punch-drunk. Mean drunk. Maintenance drunk. Sloppy drunk happy drunk weepy drunk blind drunk dead drunk. Serious drinker. Hard drinker. Lush. Drink like a fish. Boozer. Booze hound. Absorb. Rummy. Alkie. Sponge. Sip. Sot. Sop. Then muddled. Then maudlin. Then woozy. Then clouded. What day is it? Do you know me? Have you seen me? When did I start? Did I ever stop? Slurring. Reeling. Staggering. Overserved they say. Drunk as a skunk they say. Falling down drunk. Crawling down drunk. Drunk and disorderly. I say high tolerance. I say high capacity. I say social lubricant. They say protective custody. Sozzled soused sloshed. Polluted. Blitzed. Shattered. Zonked. Ossified. Annihilated. Fossilized. Stinko. Blotto. Legless. Smashed. Soaked. Screwed. Pickled. Bombed. Stiff. Fried. Oiled. Boiled. Frazzled. Blasted. Plastered. Hammered. Tore up. Ripped up. Ripped. Destroyed. Whittled. Plowed. Overcome. Overtaken. Comatose. Dead to the world. Beyond the beyond. The old K.O. The horrors I say. The heebie-jeebies I say. The beast I say. The dt’s. B’jesus and pink elephants. A hummer. A run. A mindbender. Hittin’ it kinda hard they say. Go easy they say. Last call they say. Quitting time they say. They say shut off. They say ruckus. They say dry out. Pass out. Lights out. Blackout. Headlong. The bottom. The walking wounded. Saturday night paralysis. Cross-eyed and painless. Petroleum dark. Gone to the world. Gone. Gonzo. Wrecked. Out. Sleep it off. Wake up on the floor. End up in the gutter. Off the stuff. Dry. Dry heaves. Gag. White knuckle. Lightweight I say. Hair of the dog I say. Eye-opener I say. A drop I say. A slug. A taste. A swallow. A pull. Sadder Budweiser I say. Down the hatch I say. I wouldn’t say no I say. I say whatever he’s having. I say next one’s on me. I say match you. I say bottoms up. Put it on my tab. I say one more. I say same again.

How did he think to do that? The other chapters are ordinary-ish chapters, nothing like this. I’d be going along, thinking surely there were no more and then there they were, more. And more, and more.

I don’t think there is anyone else I’d want to meet more. I don’t care about sports figures, celebrities, politicians. I just want to meet writers and artists, and he was at the top of my list, with the next person a distant second. Today I work 7 hours, a very long day, but it starts with Nick Flynn. There’s no way you can be having as great a day as I’m having, but I hope it’s extremely close. Lucky, lucky me. xo

counting good

A couple of days ago I saw a news program about the whole “paying it forward” idea. [aside: i really hate that phrase. i wish we had something else for it.] The reporter was at a bagel shop with a drive-through, talking about the ways people will pay for the person behind them in the drive-through, and how very often that happens. One person even paid for a whole morning’s worth of people’s drive-through orders. The reporter interviewed people in the drive-through when they learned their food had been paid for, and apparently each one of them spontaneously said it made them want to go do the same for someone else. Then the reporter asked the manager how often it happens and he said it happens all the time, it is just extremely common.

Some talking head social scientist, I missed her name, said it’s no longer just a little fad, as it was when it started a few years ago. It’s widespread, growing, sticking around as a specific thing, this ‘paying it forward’ idea. Because of course we do good for others all the time. We know it in our families, among our friends, in our churches or synagogues, in our cities and towns, and around the world. People with great resources giving time and some of their resources to directly help people.

lamaAnd then I read something on one of those “10 ways to be happy” articles that said the key way to be happy is to do kindnesses for other people. Well. I started thinking about how we count things. We count the number of glasses of water we drink. We count our steps, some of us. We count all kinds of things! What if we counted our acts of kindness, what if we set a daily goal? What if we made a list of the kinds of things we might be able to do, so we’d have them in mind, and then just made a little tickmark. The danger is that it becomes about puffing up your own chest about just how GOOD you are, so if you make notes, “helped a little old lady cross Anderson Lane” it might seep into a sense of “hey, aren’t I such a good person! Look at me!  But maybe if it’s just a little anonymous kind of tickmark, details forgotten, it’ll just be a count, nothing more.

For the last couple of weeks I participated in a group focused on health, nutrition, and exercise. Every day we reported our points, to a total of 10 each in eating, moving, and self-care. Before we started, I came up with a framework so I could be exacting about figuring about what to report, so it made it simple to know. I think I want to try this idea; given the fact that I work in my home alone all day every day, I won’t have that many options so the count I’m shooting for might be smaller than someone who’s out in the world every day. It doesn’t have to cost money — you don’t have to buy someone else’s food or drink –but all of us, I think, can come up with some possibilities that fit our own lives. Kindness begets kindness.

There isn’t one damn thing I can do about the economy, about the minimum wage, about the outrageous number of public gun slaughters that threaten us all, about Syria. Nothing. But I can focus on increasing my acts of kindness in the world, and some of those will beget other acts. Usually a giant rock drops into a pond and from that, little ripples spread out. What if we start in the other direction — let’s get the ripples going and just see what happens. I’m going to make a list of possibilities and see how many I can do in a day. Little things, anonymous things when possible, kindness in the world.

Happy Friday y’all. xoxo

quiet happiness

I am a huge fan of big loud happiness — group happiness, squealing happiness, outside happiness, it’s all good. When everyone is there, when it’s just a great laughing good time, that’s good happiness. I enjoy it a lot. But actually, I think I enjoy the quiet happiness even more. Quiet happiness doesn’t need other people in the same way big loud happiness does — is that right? I can’t think of a big loud happy you can have all by yourself. If I’m right, that gives the trump to quiet happiness, because you can have it even if there’s no one else around.

Quiet happiness is probably closer to some of the synonyms, too: contentment, pleasure, even joy, though I’ll bet joy goes both ways. Quiet happiness is also deep, and I really enjoy that part of it. I’ve been feeling a lot of quiet happiness lately, even as I’ve been feeling so re-newly heartbroken by the end of my marriage. Letting go of someone you love so much in the hopes that he can be happy is just so so hard. So perhaps that feeling sets the tone for quiet happiness, because I sit alone a lot, thinking and feeling my heartache. But in the midst of that, there is happiness all around.

I’ve been going to Mozart’s, a coffee house on Lake Austin, at sunset. There is often a nice breeze, and I sit at the edge of the deck and watch the sun go down, and write.* The light is often beautiful, and the deck is filled with people and usually someone playing a guitar.

beautiful light, and my notebook for writing.
beautiful light, and my notebook for writing.

The light in that picture fits quiet happiness, doesn’t it? And then, the sunset:

sunset

When the light is fading, I go home to my quiet, beautiful little home and read, or find a movie that makes me happy, or make my own music.

my new ukulele, my old banjo, and my even older guitar. my babies.
my new ukulele, my old banjo, and my even older guitar. my babies.

I’ll cook a nice dinner for myself, take pleasure in the preparation, enjoy the quiet and my sweet life. I’ll put on some beautiful music, like the CD that Dixie just sent me, The Wailin’ Jennys, and just drift in their beautiful quiet harmonies. I love harmony. Last night I went to see Woman Under the Influence, that great old 1974 movie by Cassavetes, starring Gena Rowlands, at the Paramount — a very old theater downtown. I feel drawn in, but in a good way, sitting quietly inside myself and watching everything going on all around me. The breakdown, the remaking, the love in that movie makes me very quiet and feel so touched by life, by how hard it is, by how hard we have to try.

Tonight I’m going to a concert — Iron & Wine. Sam Beam (the guy who is Iron & Wine) lives in Dripping Springs, just SW of Austin, and I love his music because it’s quiet, rich, moody, him and his guitar. My favorite kind of music, a songwriter and his guitar. I hope you have a beautiful Saturday, as I will.

*Here is the short piece I wrote that night on the deck, July 18, 2013:

Here I am with a broken heart. I feel the thousands of small raku-fractures on its surface, some going deep into the muscle, some running dangerously into the chambers and large vessels. The sun is moving down behind the hill over my left shoulder. A young woman plays guitar and sings “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” in my voice. Whispery, soft edges. I believe her, even though her own songs all sound sad.

Now the sun comes in at my eye-angle and the white lights come on in the trees. So much light, but all of it soft and late.

People here on the deck in pairs and groups. Only one other person is alone, like me — a college-age girl, texting friends to come meet her, probably. I have people to text, friends, my daughter to call, but I want to sit here alone in the fading light.

People say cheer up. People say it’ll get better. People say don’t be sad. People say let not your heart be troubled. People say put on a happy face. People send jokes, photos of hot young men without shirts, photos of kittens. People try to fix me up. People tell me I’ll fall in love again.

But I don’t want to run away. The cracks are in my heart, not on the ground. I can stand here. I can bear the end of the day, the soft sad music, my solitude. I honor my love by facing it.

To get here, I drove past the house I lived in when I was 6, Queen of the Pillbugs. Past the house where I nursed my brand new baby Katie. Past the house where my father finally pulled his trigger. Past 6 years old, 23 years old, and now I am here, 54 years old and my raku heart races to the next.

What have these people around me figured out? Have they? They laugh and seem easy, seem like they’ve found the grail.

My coffee is cold. My mousse is gone. The sun is down, and the crowd gets bigger, and louder. And I will go home.

 

fine-tune your eyes

Today’s song is Lucky, by Kat Edmonson, an Austin singer-songwriter (we’re rich with those). Here she is in her debut on Austin City Limits singing this sweet little song:

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Her voice is so unique, so clean and clear, and her enunciation is great. I love that little song, lucky you, lucky lucky me. It’s of course a love song, but nevertheless it just fits how I’m feeling these days — even the little bopping tone. It’s like I am bopping around, bouncing on the balls of my feet, grateful as all hell. Every day when my gratitude email comes in and I click reply, to say what I’m grateful for, it takes me so long to formulate an answer because the answer is EVERYTHING. My life. Everything.

I’m 54. (YAY!) I’m in surprisingly good health, given what I don’t do to take care of myself and I need to change that ASAP but the point is, I’m in good health. (YAY!) I have three beautiful, wonderful children who are in good health, who have husbands I am crazy about, and who are (all) super fine human beings in the world — and they let me love them, and they love me. We count on each other, we help each other, we root for each other, we comfort each other, we celebrate each other. (YAY!) Although details sometimes escape my memory, I have a beautiful mind, capable of complex thought, capable of delighting me and helping me appreciate the world, and able to do everything I need it to do. (YAY!) I don’t have extra money, but I have enough money. I have work that I’m able to rely on, and I am my own pretty nice boss. (YAY!) I have so many friends I hardly know what to do, new friends and old friends, friends to have fun with, friends to inspire me, friends to count on, friends I’ve known since 1991 and friends I’ve known since January. Friends in Austin, friends around the country and around the world. Lucky, lucky me. (YAY!) I get to travel a lot, somehow; on Sunday a client is flying me to Beverly Hills for the week, putting me up in a fancy boutique hotel at Wilshire and Rodeo, covering all my expenses and paying me; I get to go to Chicago often enough, and NYC often enough, and then the genius around the world trips. Amazingly lucky me. (YAY!)

But here’s the thing. I don’t have any extra money, and I work for myself and while so far work has been reliable, it sure could dry up any time. What if I got really sick — cancer, a stroke — what if I couldn’t do this work? I don’t have enough money for any of that. What if I were in a car accident and couldn’t work for several months? What would happen to me? I don’t want to be a huge burden on my kids, all of whom are struggling along without any money to spare, themselves. What if I fell at home, or something like that happened — I live all alone, what if I didn’t get the help I needed? What if? What if? What if? What’ll happen to me when I’m 70, will I still be sitting in this chair, in this little rented duplex? What? How? Those fears are real — and not just pulled out of the sky, you know? I don’t have any extra money, that’s true, that’s real. I don’t have someone in my life with big resources who could help me if I got in big trouble. Nope, don’t have that.

You may remember that earlier this year, say, January(ish), I was really freaking out about all this. So scared, so aware that I have absolutely no safety net, and those 4am fears dominated my thoughts. My beautiful friend Marian kind of helped me see one thing differently and my beautiful daughters helped me and time helped me and I remembered that somehow I’ve always been fine, despite some mighty dreadful circumstances, somehow I’ve always made it work, and somehow I will. And that bridge is off in the distance, those bridges, and maybe I won’t even have to cross them, ever, but if I do, (a) odds are good I won’t be crossing them all by myself, and (b) while I may not know how, I do know that somehow I’ll figure things out, somehow we will all figure things out.

AND — and this is the really important part — here I am, today, 54 in good health and with a loving family and lots and lots of wonderful friends and enough work and I get to travel and my mind is pretty great and I love everything and there is so much to love and the birds! I have those beautiful little songbirds out my kitchen window all day every day. Today I can do what I can to help future me, I can be frugal with my money and try to gather some resources, I can do that today. But I have to fine-tune my vision, keep it on how it actually is right now not in the past and not in the future, everything I actually have right now, who I actually am right now — which is a very lucky person. Lucky, lucky me.

finding happy

I realize — I really do — that you need to be generally my age to appreciate music of the 70s, but this came up on my playlist yesterday and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it. Remember this great old song?

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Anyway, I was already feeling happy so perhaps it just landed on fertile [happy] soil and my happiness had less to do with that great old song, and more to do with how I was already feeling.

Temperamentally — if in fact this is a thing that stems from temperament — I am a happy person. I find happiness pretty easily, and I think my baseline feeling is content. I’ve known people who were constitutionally at odds, uneasy, out of sorts, uncomfortable, and I’m lucky that that’s not my default state. I am, I’m lucky that way. Yesterday I read this quote, which left me thinking:

What most people wanted was the happiness of having what other people wanted. Then they had brief moments of an inferior happiness when they only got what they themselves but nobody else wanted. This rather spoiled things. Some people made mistakes in their opinion of what other people wanted, but if they didn’t find out they managed to be happy, maybe wondering a little once in a while what everybody wanted this for. Others wasted so much time trying to have what other people wanted that they never knew they were perfectly happy without it. The biggest jolt in growing up was to discover that that you didn’t like what others liked and they thought you were crazy to like what you liked. ~Dawn Powell

What makes you happy? Do you know? Here’s a short list from the extremely long list of things that make me so so happy:

  • knowing my children and getting any moment with them — on the phone, in person, over email
  • my little warbly birds, every single day
  • lots of music
  • an excellent bite of something: a crisp gala apple, a creamy avocado, a crunchy salad, a moist slice of cake, a gooey enchilada
  • friends
  • my little garden
  • my beautiful comfortable bed, all my own
  • my sweet home and the way it reflects me
  • books, writers, poems, poets, reading something that makes me feel known or excited or challenged or moved
  • my own words
  • that first glass of water
  • mastery . . . or amateur playing, either one!
  • learning something new
  • getting to love people, and feeling loved
  • emotional complexity, philosophical complexity, intellectual complexity
  • my life
  • K.C. and the Sunshine Band, always. Mad Men, Breaking Bad.
  • regaining control after I’ve let things slide — every day, a new chance

Yeah, that’s an OK starter list. Every day when I get my gratitude email, I have to sift through all the things I have to be grateful for, and it’s such a long list. I am a very lucky person.

I think Dawn Powell is right about this issue of what we want and what others want. Like that old Sufi story of the man who looks for his lost keys in the middle of the street instead of in his house, because the light is better out there — that’s a lost cause. You have to go inside, it’s an inside job. Who cares what other people want, who cares what makes them happy (unless you’re on the search for how to help someone feel happy of course), you have to find your own. I doubt seriously that listening to the Spice Girls sing Say You’ll Be There makes you giddy, as it does me, and that’s just fine — it’s going to make me giddy every time, whatever you might think about that. It’s my private happiness. But here, I’ll share, just in case:

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Marilyn Monroe and Philippe Halman, 1959. This photo always makes me so happy.
Marilyn Monroe and Philippe Halman, 1959. This photo always makes me so happy.

You’ll have your own idiosyncratic sources of course, which is the point. I think one way to be happy is not to dismiss these little things, not to wave them away as inconsequential. If your only “happy” comes with big giant things — vacation, a new house/car/job/partner, money — you won’t be happy all that often. But opportunities for happiness are right there, all the time. All the time.

Find your happy, chase it, chase it down, grab it, hold it to you, soak it up. Life is hard and trouble is gonna come, no worries about that, so chase what you can when you can. And if the happy is tiny, hold it tight.

 

 

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start spreading the news

OH yes how much do I love New York City. More than you might imagine, for a girl from such a small, small place. I love it so. I miss it terribly, for all its great and terrible. Being in Chicago last week was a crush, that wonderful feeling of being back in a great big city, a city that is its own thing whether you fucking like it or not. Chicago is just about as great as New York City, though so very different. I love knowing the ways they’re different, appreciating their differences, loving them both.

I arrived as the daffodils are making their last stand, the tulip trees are dropping their blossoms, and the cherry trees are in full bloom:

aren't they stunning? That candy pink against the beautiful blue sky -- and in my favorite place, Riverside Park of course
aren’t they stunning? That candy pink against the beautiful blue sky — and in my favorite place, Riverside Park of course
if you used to follow me on Thrums, this is a shot you've seen over and over and over. Riverside Park, my dearly beloved. I love it even more than Central Park.
if you used to follow me on Thrums, this is a shot you’ve seen over and over and over. Riverside Park, my dearly beloved. I love it even more than Central Park.
Tulip trees, dropping the last of their beautiful blossoms. Aren't tulip trees amazing?
Tulip trees, dropping the last of their beautiful blossoms. Aren’t tulip trees amazing?

Coming home to New York City as a person who no longer lives here is such a mix of feelings, but I am strong enough to bear them all. I’m such a different person coming back than I was the last time I was here, last December, when I came to retrieve the remnants of my library. I’m not in such need, or in such pain. My time here is on my terms, and that’s such a good feeling. What I’ve learned during the dark winter months is that I’m just mighty mighty fine with myself and anything else is gravy — and I get to decide who gets my gravy. 🙂

So much to get done in the few days I’m here — some shopping, some business, some trip details, a trip to try to get disposable contacts for the snorkeling, and trying to get as much work done as I possibly can. Busy busy busy. And I mean that in both the ordinary sense and the Bokonon sense (“Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.”) And while I’m in a Vonnegutian mood, my feeling also calls to mind this other great passage from Cat’s Cradle — another thing you’ve heard before, if you’ve been following me from the Thrums days:

“God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”
“See all I’ve made,” said God, “the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars.”
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.”

Yes. As one of the mud people who so happily gets to sit up and look around, I am so grateful. Happy Sunday y’all, from one of the greatest cities on earth. xo

joy

joyTell me what joy is? I think it’s something like a smell, in that you can only get to it by referring to something else. This smell is like that, it smells like vanilla or chocolate, like jasmine. But what does jasmine smell like? Can you give a more refined answer than “sweet”?

Joy is like that, I think. It’s like happy, but can you be more refined than that? More refined than “really happy?” I can talk about what gets me there, you can probably talk about what gets you there, and we can probably agree on some general things that get us all there, like seeing the new baby born into our family, or having all our family together in one place after a long time. Being in a gloriously beautiful place. Things like that.

I am basically filled with joy these days, and I keep saying out loud, just loud enough for me to hear it, just think what my life was like in January. It is so surprising. I am having such joy from being near Katie and Trey and having easy opportunities to see them without it being a big deal. I am having such joy from my regular weekly talks with Marnie, and I get to see her and Tom next weekend! Such joy from my beautiful little home, now deeply familiar to me and lived-in and we are part of each other. Such joy from new friends who are no longer just acquaintances — new friends who make me so rich, like un-neurotic Janet, who has already helped pull me into a change I’ve tried so hard to make for many years. Such joy from these blue skies white clouds and bluebonnets and wine cups and glorious flowers in busy places. Such joy from exciting plans coming up, travel to Chicago and New York and Indonesia, and then my precious friends Peggy and Sherlock coming to see me.  Joy from poetry and words and images — including poetry written by my friend Wayne, who wrote this poem I shared back in February, titled “The Temptation of Movement” — and Maggie Nelson’s blue words, and Louise Gluck, and so many words in The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker sitting on my coffee table in growing stacks and so little time to soak them all in, so an embarrassment of joyous riches.

And food, my old familiar food like barbecue and TexMex and pralines and migas, and sharing it with people who know just how to eat it, who know that your barbecue should be served on a piece of butcher paper and the appropriate sides are sliced onions and pickles and a stack of plain old sliced white bread, and that iced tea is unsweetened, and that the best follow-up is banana pudding or peach cobbler.

I think I have felt so out of place for so long, and there is joy in being embedded in familiar. I love New York, love love love love it, with all my heart, and miss it terribly. I’m only now being able to watch shows that are filmed in New York without breaking down in tears from the pain of missing it. New York is mine, and when people here ask me in bewilderment New York? Why? I have a thousand quick and easy answers, and I automatically sit up a little straighter and lean in and get excited and start gesturing loudly as I answer. And it’s also true that I always felt outside it in some way, not having grown up with bagels and alternate side parking. New York is my adopted home and Texas is my natural home, and just as with your children, you love the adopted one just as much as the natural one, every bit as much, but when you look at your natural child’s face you can see the familiar bone structure in a way you just can’t in your adopted child’s face. The love is no less, no different, but the bone structure is there anyway. I felt such joy being part of New York and having it be part of me, so this is not about feeling joy here but not there. But being here is giving me the joy of my familiar.

It has been such a surprise, finding myself waking up with joy, sitting with it throughout the day, and going to sleep with it. (And sleep! Oh yes, oh how well I have been sleeping, another gigantic joy that’s undoubtedly catalyzing the rest.) No one knows better than I know that it’s a blip, this joy, that life is never just one thing, ever, and that all kinds of things are waiting for me just ahead, more joy and less joy, more trouble, more hardship, more pleasures. So what is there to do but soak and revel in this while it is here, be present, notice it, drink it in, glow it back out so perhaps someone else gets a glancing whisper of it.

I hope so much that there is joy in your life right now, from something. And if there isn’t, I hope you can remember that there will be, one of these days, and if you’ve been following me since last October, you know that I know what I’m talking about. Happy Sunday, y’all. xo

lucky you lucky me

On Sunday I saw Tina Fey’s new movie, Admission. She’s so great — the movie was sweet, stayed away from the treacle edge, and had a beautiful soundtrack written by Stephen Trask, who wrote the Hedwig soundtrack. He’s pretty great. “Lucky,” the song that played over the closing credits, was just so gorgeous I stayed to the bitter credit end to see who sang it: a young woman from Austin named Kat Edmonson. Here, listen (lyrics here if you want them, but they’re simple to understand). The video is bittersweet for me to watch, because it’s set in New York City and I recognize every single scene. And not just “Times Square” but the specific intersection. Every single spot, I know it in my bones. Lucky me.

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luckySo very sweet, the song and her voice. Earlier Sunday morning I’d seen the tail end of an interview with Debbie Reynolds — the personification of plucky, if ever there were such a thing — and you know, she’s kind of bright and smiley and had a complicated set of relationships in her life. The interviewer was asking the standard questions, “So how terrible was it when Eddie Fisher left you in such a public way for Elizabeth Taylor,” and she just kind of kept smiling. But after a cut away to a bit of film, Singing in the Rain probably, her eyes were filled with tears she was trying hard to keep from overflowing. She said she doesn’t really cry, but she does find it hard not to feel so very grateful for her life and all her experiences, and how lucky she has always been. And thus we are in the same tribe and I never really knew it. Two very lucky broads are we.

Before the movie, I was talking with my friend Wayne who also loves poetry and words, and I told him my favorite 9-word phrase on earth is from Ulysses: “the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” Just stop, pause a minute, breathe that in. The heaventree of stars. Humid nightblue fruit. The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit. I always sigh when I remember that phrase, and for a couple of years used it as a scrolling screensaver. He’d been complaining about Joyce’s excessive linguistic obfuscation (ha, I deliberately chose those $20 words), but when I told him my 9-word phrase he just stopped and got a bit dreamy-eyed. Then he gave me his favorite poem, the one that inspired him to write poetry and get an MFA in poetry. It’s Rilke:

Evening

The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

And leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

It’s pretty obvious why my little Joycean phrase brought this poem to his mind, and it’s now one of my favorite poems too.

And isn’t that another reason to feel so very lucky, that there are poets in the world who can string together little words, dull and ordinary on their own, into something that makes you as big as the world inside?

On my way home from the movie, Katie texted me to see if I wanted to come over for Chinese food and the season finale of Walking Dead, and I just thought how extraordinarily lucky I am — I have this wonderful, wonderful daughter and her equally wonderful husband to love, and they love me, and she invites me over spontaneously and happily, and I got to end my lucky day enjoying a couple of sweet hours with her. And then I drove home to finalize the specific flight details of an upcoming vacation to INDONESIA, in May. To appropriate the Rogers & Hammerstein lyric, “somewhere in my youth [or childhood] I must have done something good” to be this very very lucky.

Happy Tuesday y’all — I hope it’s a beautiful day where you are. . .

my old friend

Sounds Of SilenceHey y’all, remember that great album? Remember albums, and reading the liner notes, and holding the jacket in your hand while you were stretched out, listening to the whole scratchy record? Remember that? It was so great. My girl Katie still prefers albums and has all hers and all my old ones, and when I go to her house and she’s playing one, it just sounds so great. I had the Sounds of Silence album and remember just how it smelled, just how the edges of the album cover got worn, the corners softened.

But that’s not my point. 🙂 I’ve been so silent! Here, obviously, but in real life — kind of. I’m really quite happy, and usually when I’m so silent it’s because I’m quiet and empty in my mind too so the quietude has a heaviness with it. Now it’s not like that at all. I’m just happy, bopping around, feeling optimistic and seeing some cool possibilities in my future. I came here just to say that, but as I’ve been writing I suddenly figured out the why of it. It’s because my eyes are just looking ahead, and who knows what’s ahead?! I don’t!

What’s normal for me is to look backwards, and there’s a lot of stuff there to look at. A lot of stuff to feel, to remember, to analyze, to turn upside down and inside out. And all those things connect to other things, and to big questions, most of which start with why, and then you’re off to the races, right? Why connects to why not, and then you’re into issues of causality or epistemology or Meaning(!) of(!) Life(!) and billions of words have been spilled on behalf of those topics, a million of which came out of my fingers, mouth, and mind.

What seems to be becoming normal for me now, though, is making something new out of myself, out of what’s inside me, into my remaining decades of life. I can’t see it, I can feel it quivering, but it’s not clear enough yet, there isn’t anything to say, there’s only something to do. You can see the problem this causes for regular blog posts! But man oh man, it’s great for the living of a life.

I am looking forward to going to Marfa next week, and plan to take books and photography gear and writing gear. I plan to start the “Exploring The World” exercises (mentioned here) out there, too. Lots to do out there, lots to do in here, lots to do in the future, lots to do today. Lots to think about. Lots to mull over. Lots to let go of. Lots to plan. Lots to start acting on. Lots to be happy about.

And lots of love to you. xo

this/that/the other thing

greaderTHIS: If you use Google Reader, as I do, bad news: Google is shutting it down. I KNOW. What am I going to do now? I found out I can export everything and there are ways to import my hundreds of feeds into a new reader, but I’ve been using Google Reader forever and now I have to change. Pout. If you subscribe to this blog via Google Reader, you might want to just get an email subscription, over there in the sidebar.

imgresTHAT: It’s Friday so I have a few links to share, things I want to look at more closely when I have a minute because they look so so good:

  • Here are 20 obsolete words that should make a comeback. My quick favorites: malagrugrous, or maybe scriptitation. You’ll have to click through to see what they mean.
  • Although I’ve had to learn how to be entirely alone, I’ve never had a problem being alone with myself. I know some people who do, who find it so terrifying to be alone with themselves that they schedule something every night, all weekend. I agree with Tarkovsky here when he said “…they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to be spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.”
  • Do you use Evernote? I do, it’s really handy. But apparently there is SO much more that can be done with it. Read this for details, Queenie.
  • I thought Justin Timberlake did a fantastic job with SNL last week, and laughed real hard at most of it. But this skit had me laughing so hard. Vanessa Bayer (the woman on the left) is really good, in very small ways, slight shifts of her eyes, so wonderful. Here, see what I mean if you didn’t already see it:

 

imgresTHE OTHER THING: I’m finding the sweet spot of doing/not-doing and it’s very nice. The things I have coming up are all things I’m looking forward to. Pizza tonight with sweet Katie and Trey; a hike in the greenbelt on Saturday; brunch with a dear friend Sunday morning followed by a St Pat’s Day party with my gang that afternoon. Later this month, my desert trip. Next month, a trip to NYC. The following month, May, a trip to Chicago. In between, time to myself, time to work and write and play. Time to practice yodeling, and the dulcimer. Time to think, time to walk. Life is really good and I am happy.

Have a wonderful Friday, y’all. xo

spuds

Sometimes the best happy is the small potatoes happy. I’m not dissing the “knock your socks off” happy, it’s great. But there’s something just so satisfying about the small potatoes happy. Here are the small potatoes happy in the last couple of days of my life:

    • A client of mine who refers to himself as my “Jewish dad” just kept on being kind to me, over and over. And he sent me little emails conveying messages from his wife, my “Jewish mother.” Sweet.
    • Katie and Trey ate dinner at my house, and the company was so sweet, the food was so good (shrimp and asparagus risotto, a salad, and apple crisp), and I got to have members of my family around my table. Is there anything happier than that?
    • Yesterday I went to brunch with my gang — remember my gang? It was such a nice time, warm and friendly people, so many to talk to one-on-one (my favorite way to talk to people), and then the person sitting next to me paid for my meal. Unexpected, no arguing, sweet.
  • Yesterday I opened my door to go check my mail and tripped over a box. Hmmm, not expecting a box, but then again since I’ve had to buy everything, deliveries are not that unusual. I opened it and there was a book about nature in Austin, and a fold-out guide to area birds. I stood there for a few minutes frowning and scratching my head….gee, I didn’t remember ordering that, what? Finally I noticed the packing slip and saw that it was sent from a friend of mine in Connecticut. Out of the blue, an act of such sweet kindness. So I can further enjoy my little birds. Blew me away.

rbw

    • There is a giant red-bellied woodpecker that has made itself at home on my patio. It comes up, perches awkwardly on my bird feeder, and my sweet little finches fly away. (I always pull for awkward creatures, as one myself.) The poor woodpecker has such a hard time, its big body kind of hangs down and it has to reach up into the little ports to get some seeds. But it’s really great to see such a striking-looking bird so close. That’s some small potatoes happiness right there, my friends.
        • I got a bag of Meyer lemons! What’s your favorite thing to make with them? I’m torn between some lemon curd and lemon bars.
      • I bought 30 frames with white mats to hang some of my favorite photographs from my world travels. It’s been painful but wonderful going through the hundreds of pictures I have, selecting my favorite 30 pictures (so hard to narrow it down!). On the mat for each photograph, I wrote the place and year I was there:

pics

I still have 12 to put in frames — I’m doing 6 at a time, and as soon as I finish I’ll have to figure out the where and how to arrange them. I love looking at them.

And the days have been beautiful, upper 60s, blue skies, very nice — better for a wobbly person than gray dirty-cloud skies, for sure. I think the key to making it is finding the small potatoes and being really happy with them, don’t you?

Happy Sunday, and appreciate your own little spuds today, yeah?

good thing of the day: sleep! I’m back to sleeping, and it’s the most precious thing, never ever to be taken for granted. Seriously.