Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some Notes on Happy Endings

Happiness is like sleep; we expect a certain amount of each in our daily life, we become cranky, even depressed if either is withheld for too long. Being in either state contains no guarantee that the condition will endure: a dog barking, a cat jumping up on one's chest, a sudden unanticipated noise will cause a sleeping person to awaken; a refusal of any sort, a disconnected day of writing, a warning note from one's bank will cause a happy person to shift gears.

Often associated with achieving one's ambitions relating to security, romantic, and artistic adventure, happiness becomes more complex with age, often extending its protective umbrella to members of one's clan, one's friends, perhaps even one's students if students are part of the equation. Happiness ultimately becomes a potential warning for the equivalent of what has happened in recent years to New Orleans and Galveston. From so much happiness, an old, cynical warning advises, can only come tragedy. Tolstoy thought so little of happiness as a dramatic state that he lumped persons enjoying it as being all alike. You want story, he seemed to be saying, you look at the permutations within the ranks of the losers, those who were but no longer are happy. Camus, on the other hand, posited that Sisyphus, the doomed eternal rock star, was a happy man.

Happiness has many landing strips. Individuals wandering about the streets, their iPods delivering music or podcasts to their ears, seem to be on the verge of if not completely resident in a form of happiness. Runners splashing through rain-pelted streets appear happy just as bird watchers, spying an egret or heron seem happy enough. Diners in a range of restaurants often have the look of happiness through satiety of well-prepared victuals, sippers in coffee houses have the unglazed look of being at one with the universe, and Buddhist monks, caught up in prayerful chant, have the transcendent look of having moved beyond time, space, and causation. A fine artist or ceramicist has the unique pulse of happiness at the completion of a work. Before the tidal lapse into post-coital tristesse, lovers experience the pleasure of having unwrapped a glorious present. A chef, placing the garnish of parsley on a dish, has the ratification of inner warmth. Happiness arrives like an unexpected guest, with advance waves of timidity. Happiness sneaks in like a crafty burglar. Happiness comes with fanfare and hoopla. It leaves sometimes without leaving a thank-you note; it departs over the wrong tone in which one word was uttered. It nudges you in the ribs with an over-the-top reminder that you have never been this happy before nor are you likely to be again.

In some sects of Buddhism, it is seen with as much suspicion as the concept of God. Sometimes you are so happy as to realize the disparity between this moment and the entirety of your life to date. Happiness in some of its avatars is like the realization that your mate of choice is bi-polar or bi-sexual or both. You write to experience and define happiness, during the course of which you may or may not point to the happy ending as your pole star. Happiness informs what you read, whom you read, and when. If you believe you have experienced much happiness in your life to date, you may not have a sense of humor, confusing your cheerful nature with your optimism, which can and does produce laughter.

Like happiness, sleep is not always easily come by. You may ingest substances to lure it forth, may indulge yoga breathing, replay happy moments the way you reread favored poems or stories. Like happiness, sleep may come when you least expect it or do not wish it. Like happiness, sleep is an healthy alternative to boredom; each replenishes you, expands you. Coming forth from sessions of either is a steroidal entry into the day of choices, decisions, actions, behavior toward others. Telling someone you love, Sweet dreams, is urging them to experience happiness and sleep at the same time, a splendid twofer. Telling someone with whom you have issues, Sweet dreams, is attaching the rapier thrust of irony, sarcasm; the same words with one of the more malevolent intents in the tool kit.

One of the joys of sleep is the opportunity to send responsibility on a vacation. Things visualized in sleep that you allow yourself to remember become wish lists of intent. These intentions may be sought after without modification or they may serve as an index of behavior to be governed by your awareness of convention. Another joy of sleep is to use it as a vehicle to pursue stories, scenarios of your creation, journeys to be taken without the frustrating delays at airports, where baggage and happiness are rifled, often misdirected.

Like sleep, happiness has some kind of ending. Happiness with other humans and with animals has endings. Sleep allows us the opportunity to revisit some of our endings, to recall the nuances of those endings, to prise out of those nuances an index of how, at this remove, we still care.

As writers, we take a daily vote on how happy our endings will be and what efforts will be necessary to make them plausible.


Anonymous said...

But if I get more sleep, I will write less.

Rowena said...

It may sound cynical, but I think that, like love, happiness is a fiction. Oh, okay, not a "fiction" so much as an interpretation of life, the meaning we put to our lives, but still, there's a bit of "art" involved in these two states.

A cat is never worried about being happy or being loved, but in it's normal state is both happy and loving. Or it's not, but that doesn't anguish Felix.

Sleep, on the other hand...

Kate Lord Brown said...

I think to any artist/writer happiness is 'flow' - which maybe to an athlete is being in the zone? It's elusive, it's what we crave and work for - when you are there it is like you are hardwired into the universe and it makes everything else worthwhile (the rejection, the frustration, the endless delays ..)

Anonymous said...

This is a poignant essay. I think so often as writers someone, somewhere taught us that we have to be unhappy or depressed to create, that happy endings are bunk, that only the most tragic of endings count. Not that we should always strive to write happy endings, either, but figure out as writers what the ending should be.

Anonymous said...

Happiness, I think, comes in the deceiving form of nothing. Nothing happens, and I am happy. What could be the reason for this? The wave I feel is a sort of contentment in the moment, an acceptance of everything around me, like Camus' Sisyphus.

It may be an illusion, but - oh, what a happy one!

Anonymous said...

This post is really insightful.... so do you regard what the majority thinks is happinness as a facade?