HAPPINESS

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A throwaway question. A perfunctory answer. “So how are you?” he asked. Unthinking, the answer tumbled from my lips, “I’m great.”

There was a pause before he replied gently. “But you never say that.” And he was right. I never do. Except that I just did. That’s when it hit me.

I was happy. So happy that I hadn’t even noticed.

Well good grief, how did this happen? And how was it that I didn’t see it coming didn’t prepare, didn’t revel? That longed for sensibility, that sweetly elusive quest that launched a thousand well-thumbed self-help books, the favored subject of so much yapping from so many smug and silly daytime talk show hosts. Happiness. It was mine?

I had to cry a little. Not because I was happy. But because I hadn’t realized how long I’d been unhappy.

Had I bull headedly been unwilling to admit how unhappy I had been? Or had I simply been rutted for so long that I hadn’t noticed? Or worse, not cared?

The marvelous Mary Oliver speaks of “a seizure of happiness.” That can certainly be so. But this lovely, pervasive longed for thing snuck up on me. Caught me by surprise and held me.

The thing is, for those who are aware there are always, even in terrible times, moments of happiness, of beauty, of joy.  We snatch greedily at these happy things, grab them and hold on tight. Most of us swing from joyous moment to joyous moment, all the time lurching over the abyss of fear and unhappiness.

But this feeling was something else entirely, pervasive and calm and real. It arrived without fear.

How did it happen? On the surface, it all seems the same. The weird and wonderful cascade of daily life continues. The comfortable old house is still basically held together with duct tape. I’m haunted by sisyphean piles of laundry. My untamable flyaway hair perseveres in having a wayward mind of it’s own. I try to be where the people I love can reach me. I remain small and quiet, often unnoticed and most comfortable in a corner.

And yet there is a difference. I am doing exactly the work I want to be doing in just the way I want to do it. That small thing is everything to me.

Could it be that happiness was there all along, waiting for me to stop searching for it so it could simply suffuse me?

All these thoughts raced through my head before I continued the conversation. I took a deep breath, “And how are you?” I asked. I thought and I hoped, “please be great too.”

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THE THICK QUIET

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We were going to be apart for an eternity. Two people. Two different continents. Two whole weeks.

Belaboring over penmanship scratched onto delicate sheets of rice paper was arduous. Phoning was impractical. The internet didn’t yet exist. The thought of separation unbearable. My good friend.

But I had a plan. I always had a plan. At precisely 10 pm Eastern Standard Time I would think of her and she would think of me. Just for a moment. And for a quiet pause we were linked.

But at some point, some how this was lost.

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ONCE UPON A TIME: THE RIGHT JOB, THE WRONG GIRL

When I first came to New York my whole job consisted of doing something I was and am completely unsuited for, speaking on the phone. I worried no one would answer my calls, or return my calls or frankly exactly what I would say if they did take my calls. I was a publicist, ever trolling media sources to make bookings for writers to promote their books. My voice back then was pitched high and girlish. My boss actually trained me to lower it, bullied me into attempting to sound more powerful and resonant (she smoked, the whole office smoked which helped).    I became adept at parroting, at saying the right thing at the right time on the phone. I sounded good but I felt awful, a mellifluously voiced poser simply reading a script.

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THE HIDEAWAY DRILL SARGEANT

The clatter of dishes, the drone of the television, the whirl of the washing machine, the blips and clinks and blinks of videogame jingles. A constant happy cacophony of sound . This was home, a comfortable, safe hideaway with my boys and my husband. There was constant motion: dinners to make, doctors appoints to run to, school carnivals, school projects, school meetings. I bark orders and speak in directives: put that pile of clothes away, brush your teeth, please pick up the Crazy Bones before I step on them again, There is so much to say but no time to think about it and even less time to say it. I communicate in sound bites.

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SO BUSY

I’m just so busy. I’m so proudly preoccupied. The more things I cram into an hour the more time seems to stretch- like an ever expanding balloon. If I were a physicist this might make more actual sense but as I am just a person it does not. I just feel it, all electrified and hyperalert.

What is undeniable is the self-important buzziness of it all. That and a preoccupation so pronounced that I’m apt to walk into walls while reading, motor resolutely in the wrong direction while driving or absentmindedly throw sponges in the freezer or my keys in the trash.

That’s not so terrible. But to be so utterly preoccupied that conversations are blurry and only half-recalled is awful. I have a ready bag of bon mots and directives to reach for in a pinch. But I’m cheating and I know it.

CLOAKED IN QUIET

It’s what we dreamed of. Everyone off everywhere doing what they are meant to be doing. Sometimes the quiet is thick and almost tangible. I sink into it. And at last, once in a while, things slow down again.

Now, if I stay very still, even for a bit, time seems to contract and almost freeze . Sweet snatches of memory help me leap from thought to lingering thought. Once again over the miles, my mind reaches out and connects with those I miss, those I love.

I don’t give those faraway people a specific time to think of me. That would be so incredibly odd! And it doesn’t matter. It’s enough just to hope that they do,