Monday, February 24, 2014

Misery and Happiness

It takes a certain amount of effort to be miserable. It simply takes a different kind of effort to be happy. 

These are not Ann Patchett's exact words, but I've been reading Ann Patchett and this thought is one of my take-aways from Truth & Beauty: A Friendship

I picked up Ann at the library a couple of weeks ago - This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. The book was billed as a collection of essays about commitment. I absolutely loved it. I devoured every essay, and a few of them I read twice. There were portions I wanted to print in big letters and wallpaper my room with them. She writes such lovely words. I wonder how it is I had not discovered her before now.

And so my love-affair with yet another writer begins. When I returned the book of essays, I checked out one of her fiction and non-fiction books. I made it through Truth & Beauty in about three days, which is very speedy for me, as I always have at least two or three books going at a time and, except for weekends, my reading time is often limited to the few minutes I can keep my eyes open before going to bed. I will admit that I took Sunday as a sick day. I came home from "camp" (a Friday and Saturday event with my daughter) with a head cold and so threw myself upon the couch on Sunday with a box of tissues, a few pillows, a blanket, and the book.

Unlike This is a Story...Truth & Beauty was heartbreaking in content; yet still lovely in its way with words. 

It left me dwelling on the above.... on the effort of being miserable vs. being happy... I see this so often in life. (Or perhaps, more accurately, so often of Facebook, where people tend to put both their misery and happiness in words.) 

Far too often I think people get into the habit of demanding that their misery be noticed.

I'm sad. I'm lonely. Nobody loves me. Why doesn't anyone appreciate me?

I wonder why it is so hard to see the problem of focusing on what brings us down. Only occasionally am I drawn to respond. I might comment or send a private note to someone who truly seems to be suffering, but more often I turn away. 

Does that make me cold hearted? Does that make me a bad friend?

It's not the occasional, "Hey, I'm having a tough day," that I'm talking about. We are only human, after all. I don't mind the now-and-then harrumph, or enough already, or man life sucks! But I have friends who have truly gone through some serious pain and loss and, yet, they still manage to smile and show their sunny side as much or more often than they frown out loud.

My issue is the people who dwell there. The people who seem intent on expending all their energy on feelings misery when it seems that those feelings are primarily being generated by the person to create more misery. It's as if it were a contest and they want everyone to know that they are winning. As if collecting the "oh you poor thing" comments actually makes life any better.

Manipulating others into feeling sorry for you only confirms that you are a sad and sorry person. Trust me. It doesn't make you feel any better except maybe for that brief moment of connection when someone looks your way (or comments on your wall). In the long wrong you have done nothing to improve your state of mind or state of being.

Truth & Beauty was about a friendship... a lovely friendship that spanned twenty years. But honestly? As much as I admired Ann, and even admired her friend, to some extent, I found myself midway through the book thinking that I would never be a person, like Ann, who has that depth of kind and generous. I have many friends that I consider life-long, but I don't know that I could/would put up with the things Ann dealt with in her relationship with Lucy Grealy.

Is my bar too high? Do I have unrealistic expectations that all of my friends should be stronger? Wiser? More capable?

Perhaps the truth is that I find the line between happiness and misery too easy to cross myself. I fear tying myself to people who are so freely miserable. I've found myself in the position of purposely getting out of these relationships in the past. I let them drag me down until I finally see it, they are trying to take me with them and beginning to succeed. Maybe I am the one who is not strong enough. Maybe if I were stronger, I could spread enough sunshine for both of us.

What I wish these people could see is that dwelling on what is wrong in life makes the wrong things grow big until it is hard to see beyond the shadows they cast. 

When instead, I've tackled my own grey clouds with a quest to bring a smile to someone else's face, I find that I can smile easier, as well. It works. I find happiness by focusing on good. To dwell on them, especially publicly, where I get feedback, only makes them last longer and grow darker. 

I don't want to be a person who runs from people who are in pain. I know that there are times in life when we simply have to embrace what is, even when it's hard and/or sad beyond reason. But I also don't want to be a person who exerts all my effort on chosing misery.

I hope that I am wise enough to see the difference.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Snow Day

This winter weather is proving to be hard even on me. Yes, the one who returned to Kansas, in part, because I needed four complete seasons. How can one appreciate summer without the deep cold of winter to catch up on snuggling-beneath-the-covers time?

Last winter we opted to save the dollars we usually spent on winter gym time and kept up the three mornings a week walk/run/whatever even through the cold and snow season. I felt pretty hard core, as spring arrived. With morning temperatures routinely in the teens and single digits, however, it has not been nearly so easy this year. I don't want to get out of bed, never mind bundling up enough to move about outdoors. I still haven't broken down for a gym membership, but have pulled my 75 cents for one day from the change basket on the fridge enough to have paid for a membership perhaps several times by now.

As a family, we spent three and a half hours shoveling snow after last week's episode, which honestly, is easier for me to take than bitter cold without the moisture. At least I can appreciate the snow will stay and take its sweet time seeping into the ground. We are still in a drought here in Kansas, after all. My greener, eastern half of the state is reminding me, far too often these days, of the golden shades of greenish brown from my childhood home of western Kansas. My arms still ache a little. The constant scarf around my neck and winter coat over my shoulders is starting to feel like extra weight I long to be free of but can not shake. I am tired of my bulky sweaters and extra layers. I open my t-shirt drawer with longing.

But the real bonus of cold weather plus snow (this round) was the unexpected days at home. I mean, when you work for yourself, as the hubby and I mostly do, any day can be a day off in theory, but the reality is that I often find myself more mired in the rut of working hours than I was when I was punching someone else's time clock. I've learned to schedule vacation days for sanity's sake.

Last Tuesday, however, to wake up to real snow falling from the sky and then listen to the list of cancellations and closures on the radio began to awake memories of snow days from long ago. Staying home, though not necessary, at least in the early hours of the day, was an entirely real possibility. And so I made the decision to do so, and the result--a day free of the routine, unexpectedly--was refreshing and good for the creative soul. 

My writing projects list has grown by leaps and bounds. 

I find myself studying the weather forecast. If there is no promise of warmer temperatures, can't we at least have more show-stopping snow? I find myself thinking. I could use a good excuse to stay here at home for a few more days. Just me and my keyboard and a couple of my favorite notebooks. If enough snow were to fall, I might even write one of those projects all the way to completion. 

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