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.

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.

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:


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.