6.09.2006

Happiness

I'm reading Buried Alive, the book about Janis Joplin as I haul my sorry ass around on the subway today.

One phrase leaped out at me: "Happiness is what you choose to pay attention to".

Janis Joplin didn't say it, one of her friends, Linda Gravenites did. I'm not sure, in reading this book, if Janis Joplin ever knew when she was happy, or even if she ever was.

The great, gone too soon, poet Jane Kenyon thought about happiness too.

Here's what she wrote about it.

Happiness

There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon.
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.

It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

from Otherwise New & Selected Poems © Graywolf Press, 1997.



I very much hope you know what makes you happy.

31 comments:

Lizzy said...

Lovely Miss Snark amazes us once again.

annie G said...

What makes you happy?
That's a great question. I read another piece of advice a while back that said: work out what makes you happy and then do more of it.
I liked that, too.

One of the things that never fails to make me happy is my dog.

Corn Dog said...

...the e-vile dachshund, of course

Manic Mom said...

Funny that you just posted this because my seven-year-old daughter just said to me, "Mom, I know what your favorite things are... reading and sleeping."

And I have to say, that yes, those things make me very happy...

add writing, and children (most of the time, mine) as well.

Thanks for sharing Your Snarkiness!

Brooke said...

I'm with Gravenites: it's all in how you look at things. I believe happiness is a choice. Unless your brain chemistry has the odds stacked against it, in which case a little Celexa can greatly improve matters.

Skip the tube tonight and take a cab, kid. Sounds like you need a break.

2readornot said...

What a nice thought...I definitely know -- and I am blessed. But a wonderful reminder in the discouraging days of finding an agent...happiness is my children's faces and gentle hearts, my husband's proud eyes, my mother's gentle hands, my dad's teasing laugh. Happy day to you too!

the green ray said...

Happiness is playing hooky from work and staying home and reading Miss Snark.

Cheryl Mills said...

That was too lovely to be on Snark Central.

But yeah, at (mumbled age that sounds like twenty-sixteen), I think I've learned the secret to happiness. Simplify.

Or was it semper fi?

I was drunk.

LJCohen said...

Miss Snark,

I *knew* there was a reason I loved you! Jane Kenyon is one of my absolute favorite poets. "Otherwise" can move me to tears no matter how many times I've read it. This winter, I had the wonderful chance to hear her work read by her husband, Donald Hall.

I call her a 'stealth' poet because her work is so 'simple' on the surface, but has such depth to it.

Thank you for posting this.

M. G. Tarquini said...

My happinesses smile at me every morning when they wake up. Must be an introspective kind of day, Miss Snark. I just posted a little thing on writing humor.

December Quinn said...

Aaaw, I feel all warm inside now.

I do pay the most attenton to the best stuff. The other stuff just isn't worth too much of my time.

Feisty said...

Wow. I have an angsty teenager who needs to read those words. Thanks, Miss Snark.

vtahnaya said...

"Happiness is a warm puppy." [Charles Shulz]

Agreed. And a full-grown dog or two will do just fine.

Kara said...

Have to agree with Brooke. Most people are about as happy as they decide to be. And the happier you decide to be, the more good things come into your life to make you even happier.

Being grateful for the things I have makes me happy.

Very nice, Miss S., thanks.

Anonymous said...

"Happiness is not something you experience, it's something you remember." - Oscar Levant

Anonymous said...

chocolate.
Need I say more?

Anonymous said...

What if penis enlargement makes you happy?

--one of the above-named comment posters

anonymous s.f. hippie said...

I do think Janis was happy and that she knew it, in 1965/66 in the Haight just as she was hooking up with Big Brother (before everything took off) and we all called her Pearlie.

Nice choice of poem.

I do know what makes me happy--lots of things, mostly people. Thanks for reminding me to be more actively grateful for my happiness...starting with this post.

Thank you.

kis said...

It's like I tell my daughter--you're happiest when you care about others as much or more than you care about yourself. Introspection can be a real buzz-kill, know what I mean? Think outward, not inward, do nice things, be kind, pet a cat, be a good friend, mother, child, wife, husband, father, worker, whatever. Happiness comes from that. :)

L Lindsey said...

Having a husband who thinks the greatest thing in the world would be for me to be able to write on a regular basis instead of work my butt off in Iraq.

blaironaleash said...

Buffy doesn't just make me happy, it serves as a perfectly adequate substitute for Valium, Prozac and elephant-strength painkillers. It should be freely prescribed by general practitioners everywhere.

God bless Joss. God made an angel with a receding hairline and sent him down to earth.

SherryD said...

Thank you for posting that! Today, I count my blessings.

Anonymous said...

"Just find something you love and life will sing."

Years ago, I read that bit of advice from a father to an angst-filled, wondering-what-to-do-with-her-life daughter and it really stayed with me...

(It was George Bush senior, of all people, who said it!)

Bella Stander said...

Lovely poem, but it made me feel depressed. And here I'd been feeling happy that the promised "discomfort" from yesterday's equine-induced triple root canal hadn't materialized (yet).

Ig said...

Unexpected calls, a well-fitted fez, and that time of late afternoon when all the west-facing buildings in Philadelphia go pink.

Lynne said...

I enjoy quite a few things but I experience happiness as a gift. It comes for no reason sometimes on the most mundane of days. It isn't, for me, an act of will, or a predictable outcome. It visits me as...a gift. That is how I understood the poem, too.

robin brande said...

I keep forgetting about poetry and thinking maybe I don't like it/need it so much. Then I read something like that Kenyon poem. Wow. Thanks for changing my mind in a different way than you usually do, Miss S.

Anonymous said...

For all that Miss Snark almost unfailingly makes me happy, center-justifying poetry does not. Ew.

jeanjeanie said...

"Buffy doesn't just make me happy, it serves as a perfectly adequate substitute for Valium, Prozac and elephant-strength painkillers."

Depends on the episode, doesn't it? Some of them are best saved for if you have a particular urge to have your heart ripped out and clog-danced upon. But I s'pose then you still come away grateful that at least you don't have her problems (or Angel's, or Mal's...).

Quality time with my fiance makes me happiest, but barring that, quality time with my poodle is pretty good, too.

Brigitta M. said...

Sticking with a novel for a year, then getting into an "argument" with the characters because they all want to be the MC at some point at which I said "Fine, then I won't write the damn thing."

And feeling like a great weight has been lifted.

Then setting fire to the whole mess (90% of which was highly technical research that I'll never use, 10% actual writing) in the backyard (legally of course, sometimes I just love living out in the country where they allow you to burn your garbage all year long for the cost of a $6 permit).

Then, almost immediately afterwards finding, discovering, stumbling upon, an even better idea for me. The type of idea that I live to write, love to write, born to write just in time so I can have it all outlined and character scripted for NaNoWriMo.

Yes, sometimes I just love my life. :)

jude calvert-toulmin said...

What a nice post anonymous sf hippie. I'm sure Janis did find a degree of happiness in her life. We all do, as Jane Kenyon's poem beautifully illustrates.

Over thirty years ago I first read the following poem, and for some reason it has always resonated with me, regarding the issue of happiness. It's the poem that made me realise that art should guide my life rather than "having fun" or seeking shallow rewards.


671. A Toccata of Galuppi’s

Robert Browning (1812–1889)


OH Galuppi, Baldassare, this is very sad to find!
I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
But although I take your meaning, ’tis with such a heavy mind!

Here you come with your old music, and here’s all the good it brings.
What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were the kings,
Where St. Mark’s is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings?

Ay, because the sea’s the street there, and ’tis arched by … what you call
… Shylock’s bridge with houses on it, where they kept the carnival:
I was never out of England—it’s as if I saw it all.

Did young people take their pleasure when the sea was warm in May?
Balls and masks begun at midnight, burning ever to mid-day,
When they made up fresh adventures for the morrow, do you say?

Was a lady such a lady, cheeks so round and lips so red,—
On her neck the small face buoyant, like a bell-flower on its bed,
O’er the breast’s superb abundance where a man might base his head?

Well, and it was graceful of them—they’d break talk off and afford
—She, to bite her mask’s black velvet—he, to finger on his sword,
While you sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord?

What? Those lesser thirds so plaintive, sixths diminished, sigh on sigh,
Told them something? Those suspensions, those solutions—“Must we die?”
Those commiserating sevenths—“Life might last! we can but try!”

“Were you happy?”—“Yes.”—“And are you still as happy?”—“Yes. And you?”
—“Then, more kisses!”—“Did I stop them, when a million seemed so few?”
Hark, the dominant’s persistence till it must be answered to!

So, an octave struck the answer. Oh, they praised you, I dare say!
“Brave Galuppi! that was music! good alike at grave and gay!
I can always leave off talking when I hear a master play!”

Then they left you for their pleasure: till in due time, one by one,
Some with lives that came to nothing, some with deeds as well undone,
Death stepped tacitly and took them where they never see the sun.
But when I sit down to reason, think to take my stand nor swerve,
While I triumph o’er a secret wrung from nature’s close reserve,
In you come with your cold music till I creep through every nerve.

Yes, you, like a ghostly cricket, creaking where a house was burned:
“Dust and ashes, dead and done with, Venice spent what Venice earned.

“Yours for instance: you know physics, something of geology,
Mathematics are your pastime; souls shall rise in their degree;
Butterflies may dread extinction,—you’ll not die, it cannot be!

“As for Venice and her people, merely born to bloom and drop,
Here on earth they bore their fruitage, mirth and folly were the crop:
What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?

“Dust and ashes!” So you creak it, and I want the heart to scold.
Dear dear women, with such hair, too—what’s become of all the gold
Used to hang and brush their bosoms? I feel chilly and grown old.