Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Are you happy?

It’s easy to find topics to write about. Every day a million interesting things happen to me, or to any one of us. Simple experiences like staring into the fire, listening to sleet on the window, sleeping dog at my feet. Memories linked in, sometimes with a new twist of perspective, sometimes a poignant glimpse of another world. Blinding flashes of insight which like as not evaporate just as quickly. The spooky sense of knowing what is going on with loved ones, followed by fears of living in fantasy worlds born of isolation.

What’s hard is finding the right thing to write about, and the right perspective. Although it’s easy for me to write, I try to maintain a certain standard.

I try not to be flippant. Often fail.

I try not to be cynical. Even today when I am trying to install curtain rods. Where did I put the hardware? Okay, found it. Why is the drill cord always three inches short of where I want to go? Oops, failed again. Cynical and flippant. Why is my living room still littered with tools, hardware, curtains and curtain parts, and—oh yes—the vacuum cleaner. Did I mention I hate to vacuum? Did I mention that I am always, always surprised that it gets the rug clean? Cynical, flippant, and more than a little boring.

While I was up there teetering on the step ladder, an answer to one of Robert’s questions occurred to me—the one about where and in what time would you like to spend a week? I think I might like to be a twelve-year old boy for a week. I want to spend a lot of the week in shop class, with maybe some fishing and baseball thrown in. It goes without saying that I would want to be more athletic for that week than I ever have been in my real life, although I might opt out of surging hormones.

I especially want to learn all those little tricks that guys learn that make carpentry and other fix-it projects go better. When to whack it and when not to. How to get obstructive nails out of old wood. I learned a few from an old boyfriend, but the most important rule he taught me that whenever frustration levels escalate, when you really want to whack it, it’s time to walk away. Take a break. Come back with a fresh perspective.

I’m not a patient person. I like to whack problems, but I have come to understand that flailing away at them often makes them worse. Now I am working on learning technique.

In my writing, though, I’m trying to get past technique. I’m trying to be honest first, and I am trying to be clear. And I am trying to write for the right reader, to distinguish blog (the world of many readers) from e-mail (for very specific readers) from journal (most private of all.) Privacy issues are not too troubling, despite occasional slips highly regretted, but creating content that is meaningful for the particular audience often calls for a little extra care.

Some of the best topics come from bits of conversation I save for later. Yesterday a friend asked me, “Are you happy?” I was so startled that I didn’t know what to say. How often do we ask each other such direct questions? And yet, isn’t it really what you want to know from your friends and loved ones. “Are you happy?”

As I recall, I mumbled, “Yeah, I guess,” and then launched into some boring, oft-repeated issue from work. It was a terrible answer. The right, honest, non-flippant, non-cynical, true answer, which probably would have seemed too raw for polite conversation was, “Yes, I am happy.” It doesn’t really need more explanation than that, does it?

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