My husband and I were driving down a hilly, country road near our house the other day when we observed a strangely clad woman walking up her driveway, away from her mailbox.
She was wearing a blue ankle-length skirt adorned with white flowers, along with a slightly flowy yet structured white blouse—and big duck boots at least a few sizes too large.
My husband noted her oddly original outfit selection, while I looked at the clock on the dash of our VW Jetta and offered, “No, she’s a teacher who just got home and wanted to check her mail, so she put on the nearest thing to the door, her husband’s boots.”
My own husband then quickly glanced over at me, interested but surprised, from behind the steering wheel and said, “That’s why you’re a writer. You saw her, and you could create a story like that, and it fits.”
“Hmm, well, I think that’s the truth. I think that’s what happened,” I replied. “Maybe I’m a writer because I’m observant. I notice things.”
Why do you write or better yet, why do you read?
I know that I have a decomposition book filled with pages and pages of these “nothing” sorts of observations, those little things that my brain wants to try to recreate into words from where they sit, deeply lodged inside of my mind after a touching experience.
Like the way I feel summer dawning when I watch the sticky watermelon juice dribble down my deliriously happy toddler’s chin as she stuffs as many of the little, pink chunks of fruit into her mouth as she can handle, simply to see her tiny cheeks puff up like a chipmunk in the “mirror” of our oven door.
Or how I can’t stop listening to The Jesus and Mary Chain album, Stoned & Dethroned, and that this instantly transports me back to teenage memories, fueled by young love that became long-lasting and hormone-raging arguments that only seemed to solder those two youthful hearts together, after those angsty emotions had zoomed by.
Still, sometimes I don’t write when I probably should.
I have a finished memoir that I spent a good year and a half trying to find an agent for. I sincerely believe that it’s beautiful, and that there’s a place for it on our collective literary bookshelf, but at the same time, I haven’t even started to write that other book—the one that’s long been brewing around in my head, well before I ever contemplated beginning this completed one—and why or, better yet, why not?
Possibly, when we love to read—and I mean love to read—we doubt our own ability to write.
After all, who can write another War and Peace, or even another The Giving Tree?
Regardless, it seems that for as long as people could make and share stories, they have. Some are better than others, some are truly great, and a few are masterpieces that we never forget. Yet the one thread that weaves through basically all of these tales, connecting even the most unexpected, is the subject of happiness, or the loss of it.
Lately, I’ve come across a lot of articles and blogs on ways to achieve happiness. Come to think about it, I’ve actually written a good-sized handful of similar material myself.
We’re always searching for happiness—looking so hard that we pursue even the pursuit of happiness.
What is happiness, anyways?
I won’t pretend to be able to summarize that answer for everyone but for me, happiness looks like a few things.
It looks like:
1. Coffee combined with morning light so new that you think you’re the only one awake anywhere, while you’re four-fifths of the way through your favorite novel (the one that you never want to finish, but have to finish because you can’t wait to get to the end—you know, that moment in that novel forever, with your coffee and sunrise).
2. Bread rising in the oven, that I see through the slightly dirty glass door, accompanied by that particularly nutty, mouthwatering aroma that I know people for centuries have also smelled.
3. Half-empty wine glasses sitting around a scratched-up antique table in front of your favorite people, who can’t help but be slightly slumped back in their chairs from eating your deliciously home-cooked meal.
4. The peak of the summit of your favorite mountain trail coming just into view at sunset, right before you set up camp with your favorite person next to you.
5. My daughter’s face on the pillow next to me in the moonlight before I fall asleep, where I can just make out the curve of her soft, pillowy lips in the blue-black of the room.
Happiness looks like a lot of other things to me too.
I think that’s why I write—because I am happy.
Even when I’m writing about pain, there’s something sweet nestled inside; a small, intangible seed of knowledge that something beautiful will indeed rise from these ashes of my horrors.
I have a blue phoenix tattooed on my right arm.
I drew it meticulously, over and over again on torn-out lined notebook paper during fifth period study hall of my senior year in high school. It represents to me now exactly what it did to me then—that there is no death.
There is no lifeless, angry fire.
There’s only the soft, brilliantly rising re-birth that continually touches our fate, from our reality on a basic, cellular level to my own belief that there has to be more than this—more than me sitting on my red sofa typing my seemingly arbitrary thoughts, hoping you’ll read them and find at least a little bit of something worthwhile buried within.
I guess that possibly I’m a writer because I see meaningful stories in deceptively simple places—or maybe, just maybe, I’m offering to you that life is what we make of it.
When it seems that life isn’t what you want—when you find yourself reading about happiness, yet unable to catch it—remember that somewhere inside of you happiness already exists—you have only to acknowledge it, to witness it, and to claim it.
We write our own stories.
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
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Ed: Brianna Bemel