Showing posts tagged happiness

“Do I have an original thought in my head? My bald head. Maybe if I were happier, my hair wouldn’t be falling out. Life is short. I need to make the most of it. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m a walking cliché. I really need to go to the doctor and have my leg checked. There’s something wrong. A bump. The dentist called again. I’m way overdue. If I stop putting things off, I would be happier. All I do is sit on my fat ass. If my ass wasn’t fat, I would be happier. I wouldn’t have to wear these shirts with the tails out all the time. Like that’s fooling anyone. Fat ass. I should start jogging again. Five miles a day. Really do it this time. Maybe rock climbing. I need to turn my life around. What do I need to do? I need to fall in love. I need to have a girlfriend. I need to read more, improve myself. What if I learned Russian or something? Or took up an instrument? I could speak Chinese. I’d be the screenwriter who speaks Chinese and plays the oboe. That would be cool. I should get my hair cut short. Stop trying to fool myself and everyone else into thinking I have a full head of hair. How pathetic is that? Just be real. Confident. Isn’t that what women are attracted to? Men don’t have to be attractive. But that’s not true. Especially these days. Almost as much pressure on men as there is on women these days. Why should I be made to feel I have to apologize for my existence? Maybe it’s my brain chemistry. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me. Bad chemistry. All my problems and anxiety can be reduced to a chemical imbalance or some kind of misfiring synapses. I need to get help for that. But I’ll still be ugly though. Nothing’s gonna change that.”

— from Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by Spike Jonze

Enjoyments, affections, and hopes

“Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and every one around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.”

— from “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older” by Charles Dickens (quoted in “A Note to the Reader,” in Christmas Classics from The Modern Library, Random House, 1997)

(Photograph by dabacahin.)

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Hope and peace to you—dear friends, kind followers, fellow stumblers!

Hans Christian Andersen: “Had I but rejoiced when I had reason to do so!”

“Now, then, I shall really enjoy life,” said [the Fir Tree], exultingly, and spread out his branches; but, alas! they were all withered and yellow. It was in a corner that he lay, among weeds and nettles. The golden star of tinsel was still on the top of the Tree, and glittered in the sunshine.

In the courtyard some of the merry children were playing who had danced at Christmas round the Fir Tree, and were so glad at the sight of him. One of the youngest ran and tore off the golden star.

“Only look what is still on the ugly old Christmas tree!” said he, trampling on the branches, so that they all cracked beneath his feet.

And the Tree beheld all the beauty of the flowers, and the freshness in the garden; he beheld himself, and wished he had remained in his dark corner in the loft; he thought of his first youth in the wood, of the merry Christmas Eve, and of the little Mice who had listened with so much pleasure to the story of Klumpy-Dumpy.

“It’s over—it’s past!” said the poor Tree. “Had I but rejoiced when I had reason to do so! But now it’s past, it’s past!”

— from “The Fir Tree,” in Christmas Classics from The Modern Library

Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986)
“[George Falconer] in A Single Man is a stoic, a very back-to-the-wall character. … I really admire the sort of person that George is: It isn’t me at all. Here is somebody who really has nothing to support him except a kind of gradually waning animal vitality, and yet he fights, like a badger, and goes on demanding, fighting for happiness. That attitude I think rather magnificent. If I were in George’s place, I would think about killing myself because I’m less than George. George is heroic.”
— from The Paris Review interview, The Art of Fiction No. 49, by W. I. Scobie
(Photograph by Florence Homolka. Thank you, isherwoodfoundation.org.)

Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986)

“[George Falconer] in A Single Man is a stoic, a very back-to-the-wall character. … I really admire the sort of person that George is: It isn’t me at all. Here is somebody who really has nothing to support him except a kind of gradually waning animal vitality, and yet he fights, like a badger, and goes on demanding, fighting for happiness. That attitude I think rather magnificent. If I were in George’s place, I would think about killing myself because I’m less than George. George is heroic.”

— from The Paris Review interview, The Art of Fiction No. 49, by W. I. Scobie

(Photograph by Florence Homolka. Thank you, isherwoodfoundation.org.)

Muriel Barbery on summer rain

Do you know what a summer rain is?

To start with, pure beauty striking the summer sky, awe-filled respect absconding with your heart, a feeling of insignificance at the very heart of the sublime, so fragile and swollen with the majesty of things, trapped, ravished, amazed by the bounty of the world.

And then, you pace up and down a corridor and suddenly enter a room full of light. Another dimension, a certainty just given birth. The body is no longer a prison, your spirit roams the clouds, you possess the power of water, happy days are in store, in this new birth.

Just as teardrops, when they are large and round and compassionate, can leave a long strand washed clean of discord, the summer rain as it washes away the motionless dust can bring to a person’s soul something like endless breathing.

That is the way a summer rain can take hold in you—like a new heart, beating in time with another’s.

— from The Elegance of the Hedgehog (translated from the French by Alison Anderson)

“I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of ‘having nothing to do.’ I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone.”

Yoshida Kenkō, Essays in Idleness (translated by Donald Keene)

(Photograph by Drastic Dodge. Thank you, drasticdodge.)

(Reblogged from drasticdodge)

Sei Shōnagon: “Things that make one happy”

Getting hold of a lot of stories none of which one has read before.

Or finding Vol. 2 of a story one is in a great state of excitement about, but was previously only able to secure the first volume. However, one is often disappointed.

To pick up a letter that someone has torn up and thrown away, and find that one can fit the pieces together well enough to make sense.

When one has had a very upsetting dream and is sure it means that something disagreeable is going to happen, it is delightful to be told by the interpreter that it does not signify anything in particular.

— from The Pillow Book (translated by Arthur Waley)

“Realize, Allen, that if all the world were green, there would be no such thing as the color green. Similarly, men cannot know what it is to be together without otherwise knowing what it is to be apart. If all the world were love, then, how could love exist? This is why we turn away from each other on moments of great happiness and closeness. How can we know happiness and closeness without contrasting them, like lights?”

Jack Kerouac, letter to Allen Ginsberg (September 1948)

Getting along

If there’s anyone who’d really know what Robin the Frog meant when he sang about “somewhere else instead,” it would be Christopher McCandless. Or perhaps I am just misrepresenting my case here, as usual. Perhaps I imagine too much—or not enough. But I know what it’s like to want to just disappear. To go somewhere very far. To be no one in a place where I don’t have to meet or please anyone.

Looking back on her brief career as a high school teacher, a friend once told me that she was “not there” at all. She was somewhere else instead. Perhaps she meant that she kept hoping or working to get out of that job. And she did. I don’t know if she’s happy now. Or if she has attained the level or depth of happiness that her younger self thought was possible or necessary. The last time I talked to her, three years ago via Facebook, she sounded fine—in another country, with a husband and three kids plus the itch to keep getting her work published. She sounded settled.

McCandless didn’t want to settle—settle down anywhere or settle for anything. Unless it was the wilderness of his dreams. He had walked out on his life, not informing his family of his whereabouts. He believed he could give up everything to “commune with nature,” as my settled friend used to tease me about my own antisocial tendencies. He followed his bliss or whatever vision or cliché of fulfillment, self-awareness, or life-changing adventure he was going for.

Both Jon Krakauer, the author of Into the Wild, and Emile Hirsch, the actor who played McCandless (in the memorable film written and directed by Sean Penn), caution us against making judgments about the young man who lived his dream and died of starvation alone in the wilderness. Was McCandless merely stupid, irresponsible, arrogant, and suicidal? Was there any way we could understand what he was up to? Could we no longer remember the last time we experienced what Krakauer calls “a similar agitation of the soul”?

I’ve walked out on my life many times in many ways, causing much trouble for my family, friends, and coworkers. In my younger years, I found it easy to quit or to get lost. To dissociate from so-called ties or from my so-called self. My soul’s agitation led me to very interesting places. I was there when I needed to be there. I think I still have it in me to go somewhere else instead any time I please. But it’s not so easy now. Friends invite me to go with them someplace, to travel, and my first questions are: Do they have toilets there? Where’s the nearest hospital?  

Have I, too, settled? And so what if I no longer have the energy or itch to run away?

Robin would have told Chris: “Hey, pal, why don’t you stay and sit here with me for a while? The view isn’t breathtaking, but it won’t kill us, either.” Perhaps Chris would give the little frog some time or the benefit of the doubt. Then he’d smile and tell Robin: “I know what you’re getting at. I’d be glad to be there, too. But, as you know, there’s also something to be said for somewhere else instead.” And they’d sit and talk a little more. Sometimes they’d just be quiet. I think they’d get along.

Christopher McCandless reading Tolstoy

On July 2, McCandless finished reading Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness,” having marked several passages that moved him:

He was right in saying that the only certain happiness in life is to live for others. …

I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor—such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps—what more can the heart of a man desire?

— from Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Make a life for yourself

In the heat of an argument, my mother once told me, “Someday you can go to a therapist and tell him all about how your terrible mother ruined your life. But it will be your ruined life you’re talking about. So make a life for yourself in which you can feel happy, and in which you can love and be loved, because that’s what’s actually important.” You can love someone but not accept him; you can accept someone but not love him. I wrongly felt the flaws in my parents’ acceptance as deficits in their love. Now, I think their primary experience was of having a child who spoke a language they’d never thought of studying.

— from Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

(Photo: Thank you, Statesman.com.)

I believe … that we all of us have not only the right to be happy no matter what but also a kind of sacred commission to be happy—in the sense of being free to breathe and move, in the sense of being able to bless our own lives, even the sad times … . Then by drawing on all those times we have had, we can sometimes speak and live a saving word to the saving of others. I have come to believe that to be happy inside ourselves—to live less and less as the years go by in the dungeon of the Little Ease and more and more in the still chapel where beyond all understanding there is peace—is in the long run the best we can do both for ourselves and for the people closest to us. If we do it right, maybe they can be helped to be a little stronger through our strength, maybe even a little happier through our happiness.
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets
The hole that is there and always will be
I knew I had an ugly life. I knew I was lonely and I was scared. I thought something might be wrong with my father, wrong in the worst possible way. I believed he might contain a pathology of the mind—an emptiness—a knocking hollow where his soul should have been. But I also knew that one day, I would grow up. One day, I would be twenty, or thirty, or forty, even fifty and sixty and seventy and eighty and maybe even one hundred years old. And all those years were mine, they belonged to nobody but me. So even if I was unhappy now, it could all change tomorrow. Maybe I didn’t even need to jump off the cliff to experience that kind of freedom. Maybe the fact that I knew such a freedom existed in the world meant that I could someday find it.
Maybe, I thought, I don’t need a father to be happy. Maybe, what you get from a father you can get somewhere else, from somebody else, later. Or maybe you can just work around what’s missing, build the house of your life over the hole that is there and always will be.
— from A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs
(Photo: Thank you, bookcoverarchive.)

The hole that is there and always will be

I knew I had an ugly life. I knew I was lonely and I was scared. I thought something might be wrong with my father, wrong in the worst possible way. I believed he might contain a pathology of the mind—an emptiness—a knocking hollow where his soul should have been. But I also knew that one day, I would grow up. One day, I would be twenty, or thirty, or forty, even fifty and sixty and seventy and eighty and maybe even one hundred years old. And all those years were mine, they belonged to nobody but me. So even if I was unhappy now, it could all change tomorrow. Maybe I didn’t even need to jump off the cliff to experience that kind of freedom. Maybe the fact that I knew such a freedom existed in the world meant that I could someday find it.

Maybe, I thought, I don’t need a father to be happy. Maybe, what you get from a father you can get somewhere else, from somebody else, later. Or maybe you can just work around what’s missing, build the house of your life over the hole that is there and always will be.

— from A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs

(Photo: Thank you, bookcoverarchive.)

Augusten Burroughs: “I stumbled into the arms of my soul mate”

When you tell a guy you are in love with him and he quotes “Moonstruck,” except he’s not quoting it, but actually saying it fresh, that’s the right guy.

“It’s a crush,” [Christopher] told me. “It will pass.”

To which I replied, “After 10 years, I don’t think it’s a crush.”

Eventually, I strong-armed him into test-driving me as a boyfriend. Because he knew me. He has read every word I’ve ever written, only a fraction of which I’ve published. He knows the parts of me that are wholly unsuitable for publication, and he still speaks to me.

I, in turn, had spent a decade calling him numerous times a day, stopping by his office because I was in the neighborhood (via a $10 cab ride) in order to memorize him, to learn him as one would study a fine sapphire.

I knew we were right for each other. He did not know this. Until the moment he knew it. And from that moment on, I became a happy person. Not a person who thinks he’s happy, but one who actually is.

My life was a mess in numerous ways. But I loved every dent, tear and crack because Christopher was now at the heart of it all. I never imagined being married would feel any better or worse than every other day with him: slightly miraculous and always exciting. It has now been 13 years of this excitement, the last 3 of which have been as a couple.

But there was something else I felt walking away from our perfect-for-us civil ceremony when I realized we couldn’t call each other boyfriends anymore, and husband didn’t really fit.

I felt official.

For me, saying “I am married now” is like saying “I am lucky now.” I stumbled and crashed my way into the literal arms of something I never quite believed in before: my soul mate. A man who frequently smells like cheeseburgers and makes me laugh hard every day and makes me want to be worthy of being his husband.

— from “Losing a ‘Boyfriend,’ the Best Way Possible” (The New York Times, May 23, 2013)

Adam Gopnik on Wislawa Szymborska: “Life fully imagined”

Though hardly a happy poet in the usual sense—born in Krakow in 1923, possibly the worst moment and place ever to arrive on this planet, with Hitler waiting to greet her on her sixteenth birthday and Stalin evilly coming along behind, how could she be?—Szymborska’s poetry had the gift of creating both the happiness of wisdom felt and the ecstatic happiness of the particulars of life fully imagined. From the experience of armies and dogmas and death that shaped her early life, she found a new commitment to the belief that the poetic impulse, however small its objects, is always saner than the polemical imperative, however passionate its certitudes.

Szymborska took as subjects “chairs and sorrows, scissors, tenderness, transistors, violins, teacups, dams and quips,” to use a list from the title poem in that last collection [Here]. Though determinedly microcosmic, she was never minor. Szymborska takes on an onion, and that onion is peeled, down to its essence. A Szymborska poem is always charming, wonderfully charming, charming as a small child singing, charming as a great pop-song lyric. But her poems are also, to use an old word, “deep,” mysteriously so, about the very nature of existence.

— from Wislawa Szymborska: The Happiness of Wisdom Felt” (The New Yorker)