Monday, January 16, 2012

David Letterman said, "There are some people who are born to just not be happy, and I am one of those people." I can relate. I've never been happy. I've had moments here and there, more of them since my daughter was born, but still, I've never been what you'd call a happy person. I don't even know what that means, really. Hemmingway said, "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." I don't understand people who aren't full of fear and self-loathing when they go out into the horror show that is the world. I could happily withdraw from the world, a la Salinger in New Hampshire, except for the whole possibly drinking his own urine thing.

Before we go any further, let's be clear: this isn't some melodramatic cry for help. Really. Really. So please keep any platitudes to yourself. I'm just trying to have a conversation with myself, here. Don't poison the well.

When I think back to my childhood, what I remember is fear, uncertainty, awkwardness. This is all pretty normal, really. But maybe I was just an overly serious kid because I don't really remember happy times, except with my sister. Even then, it was in the face of stunning neglect. A lotof the seriousness came from trying to reconcile what I was being taught in church with what people were actually doing in life. This is something I failed to do.

Then I grew into a serious teenager with pretty much the same foci. Again, I had some happy times with my friends. But I was usually miserable, like a character from Dostoevsky, cowering in the shadows, cursing the prosperous world, the failed student dreaming of Napoleon. But that was all a long time ago.

It's interesting, because I've always attracted people by being funny. I make people laugh. (Hard to believe, I know.) The thing is, often I wasn't being funny. I was being brutally honest. But people laugh. It's strange. It makes me think that either I'm surrounded by idiots or the things I value are worthy of nothing more than ridicule. None of this makes for happy times. But I'm just sort of thinking aloud, here; none of this is really at the root of the issue.

As a young adult, I really saw no options, no future. I mean, I worked my ass off -- not at first. I got off to a slow start -- but I (eventually) worked my ass off to get where I am now. Just because I've never been happy doesn't mean I don't know how to work, quite the opposite, really. Work has been my main source of solace. But I never really thought it was going to make things "better." I don't really know what that means. I just worked because that's what you do. And I was bullheaded enough to actually make some progress. I'm still much the same, pumping out novels, stories, poems, etc., not to mention that I've somehow entered into a "career" in education, but not really expecting to make a lot of money from any of this. There's a line in a Kathleen Yearwood song, "I see happy people, and I just want to touch their hair." That speaks to me more truly than just about anything I could say. She goes on to say, "I paid one of them to listen to me because I lost my way. And now they pay to listen to me because I lost my way." From the album Book of Hate. Nicely ironic. Good stuff. Difficult, but worth it.

The other day, I fed my 8-month old daughter a bottle. She finished it, stretched out, and fell asleep on me. I was exhausted because I'd been sick, but I just sat there and let her sleep on me. It was a perfect moment. I've noticed there's something of sacrifice that coincides with these perfect moments. They're dearly bought; otherwise, they're of no value. She woke up, eventually, and life kept going. And I won't say I 'took that moment with me.' It was over.

The thing is, I want that, those perfect moments. And it scares the shit out of me. Because life is pain, just ask Buddha. I'm a bummer, always have been. I tell jokes and people laugh, but whenever I get too close to honest, they make excuses and take off. Because it's all void, in here. Never-ending void with teeth. (My soul is, apparently, vagina dentata.) But I don't want that for my daughter. It's tiresome. Yes, life is shit. And people are shitty. And I'm kind of ready to give up the fight to try to change that because I don't really think it's a fight I can win. But I keep fighting because it's all I know how to do.

My wife cooks for our daughter -- these amazing dishes, shit I can't even pronounce. She cooks all day, and then dumps it in a food processor and purees it for our daughter. How beautiful is that? And what the fuck do I have to offer to that scenario? Hey, I wrote a poem trying to reconcile a moral life with an immoral world, and it was published in some journal nobody outside of grad. school has heard of. Whoo hoo.

But that's it. That's what you get. Some people say 'nobody's happy.' That's bullshit. Plenty of people are. I see them. They're like fucking fruit flies. Some people get rich for being idiots. Some people get away with murder. Some people have pianos dropped on them. Some people die nobly. Some people just aren't happy. Cest la vie.


Anonymous said...

I think Hem also said that in order to be a writer, you had to have an unhappy childhood.

When I feel like you do, which happens more often than I'd like, I drink bourbon and read good shit. It helps, a little.

As for those moments with your daughter, hey, man - that's the good stuff. It's a cliche, I know, but isn't everything about being a father a sort of cliche? I try to look at it like the baseline of the human experience, and that helps a little, too.

Anonymous said...

My father used to tell me, "Stop listening to that depressing music!" Granted, he copnsidered anything that wasn't Frank Sinatra or a polka to be depressing, but I did have a fondness for minor keys and folk songs about death and loneliness. I've always found them to be more comforting than cheerleading and happy talk - I don't feel so alone. It's like, hey, somebody else gets it, someone else knows how I feel.

The other thing I've never understood - not quite the same, but related, I think - is "Go out and get some fresh air, it's beautiful weather!" Then I go outside and stand around and wonder, what am I supposed to do? This is fun? Really? Can I go back inside and read now?

Many hugs.


CLBledsoe said...

Thanks Court--at first, I thought you said 'Take a good shit' which would also work. The two could even be combined.

Sloopie--my father was just really glad I married a woman because it meant I either wasn't gay or had chosen to hide it, either of which worked for him.

Thanks folks! I'll be more upbeat next time!

Glenn Buttkus said...

Your downbeat thoughts are to be
cherished too, for they are the demon
muses that really stimulate much of
your darker poetics and prose.
When my artist grandfather complained
of his arthritis interfering with his
art, I told him to "Get over it, Pop,
just pain your pain. Shit, some artists
paint with their feet." And he did
paint his pain, and it was some of
his best art.