Wednesday, February 4, 2009

When is the last time you were truly happy? Prompt 19, Jean Rhys II

Happiness is so cliché. Really. Happy? What does it mean precisely?

Recently there have been moments that have brought me palpable joy, you know, the kind you feel in your body as well as your mind –

1. Monday night, my classmates and teacher had praise for a reworking (my 5th revision … I know, it takes 11) of an essay that is eaking its way out of me. (That might not be an official word, eaking.) My heart just jumped with joy that I might be onto something.
2. Within the first hours of setting up my blog a young woman from Tennessee signed on to follow. I was shocked and delighted.
3. On a slightly deeper level, my son clearly recognized that it was grossly inappropriate (“He’s a creeper” were his exact words) when his girlfriend’s obstetrician said, “From now on the pants come down,” (indicating he planned internal exams).
4. Oh, here’s a good one: seeing my mother last weekend for the first time since the chemo effects wore off. She had dark, present eyes, a genuine life-is-so-good-to-me smile, and brand new white hair in soft thick curls. It’s gorgeous. People stop her in a store to ask where she gets her hair done. Its known as the ‘chemo curl,’ but my Mom says, “Well, honey, God knew I was 6 months with no hair, so now He’s giving me this. He’s like that.”

But the last time I was “truly happy”? That’s difficult. it's hard to remember a time before the deep dark streak of worry blocked it. Certainly it would be before my young son’s impending fatherhood, before my mother’s ovarian cancer and certainly, before the sexual assault.

I’d have to go way back, I suspect, to remember through-and-through joy. Perhaps even before my son was born – parenting has included a boatload of worry for me. Before that I feared I would “do harm” as I was learning medicine. And then there was the worry about getting into medical school at all.

And let’s not forget the fear and anxiety about being lesbian in a homophobic world. And that was a powerful place compared to the lack of power I felt relative to my boyfriend and father, before “women’s lib” hit.

Was it when I was a teenager, then, that I was truly happy? No, I was self conscious and insecure. And there were all those discipline problems in grammar school.

So, when was I not worried?

Wait... I know this. It was in the little yellow school bus right before I stuck my neck out and the bus driver landed his frustration about his busload chaos and noise on me. Right before that I was truly happy.

For more on that story see "sticking my neck out", my blog entry on january 20th.


  1. "Joy, the kind you feel in your body as well as your mind"--this is a great explanation of happiness.

  2. I would love to hear you write something on motherhood, especially as you reflect on your son's impending fatherhood. Especially the experience of raising a son with another woman, another mother.

  3. I get the fear and anxiety about being lesbian, but surely there's happiness, too? Maybe that's worth writing about? Have you ever written specifically about your sexual orientation? Or the movement towards women? About your relationship with Pat?

    There's a lovely novel by Michael Cunningham "A Home at the End of the World" that explores, in a way, the pursuit of happiness by the main character, a gay man who has had a lot of tragedy in his life. My favorite part of the novel is the last paragraph or so where he asks himself if he is happy and he says something like, no not happy, but present, as present as I've ever been in the world. It's a very beautiful passage, and I'm not doing it justice, but I've thought about this notion a lot, that rather than happiness, one should search for presence, and then maybe happiness will come as a side-effect.

  4. Sure. Gobs of happiness. it's perfect for me.

    The responses tell me what this prompt-piece is missing.

    Really, i was simply trying to go backwards in time tracking (noting) which "worry" interrupted my "pure" happiness at which times, going back far enough to remember a time i had no worries.

    From the comments i see that the lesbian piece popped out. That was, when i was an undergraduate. It's the least of my worries now. But I guess that's part of what makes me different, so interest in it is understandable and recommendations to write about it, probably spot on; even if it's not where my head is currently.

  5. Janice--thanks for this. I feel like I strive for happiness in my life but never reach it. I realize it's not quite like that, that it's not something consistent, something you reach and things are great, but the idea of "happiness" permeates. I like that you said it was cliché--made me feel better. It's nice to see some of the things that fill you with joy (a much better word, I think). It's funny and interesting to see what makes other people happy--I feel like this is something you could expand on quite well.

  6. I really like the short list at the beginning. I think there is always something to worry us or take away from being perfectly happy, but I think recognizing those little moments that bring us joy help make them more than just a little moment. Thanks for sharing.


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