Oprah Winfrey Presents: O’s Little Book of Happiness (The Editor’s Best Collection – Full Audiobook)
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Oprah Winfrey Presents: O’s Little Book of Happiness (The Editor’s Best Collection – Full Audiobook) O’s little book of happiness from the
editors of O The Oprah Magazine read by Alison Elliott
Cynthia Hopkins Helen Litchfield Joanna Adler and Scott Shepherd you can never
be happy living someone else’s dream live your own and you will for sure know
the meaning of happiness Oprah Winfrey simple pleasures each moment in time we
have it all even when we don’t melodie Beatty the way home Christy Ashwin Dhin
the walk is not negotiable no matter how full the day’s agenda we go my husband
my cow dog and I down our rural western Colorado Road past the neighbor’s
property to the dead end up the old dirt track grown over with sagebrush and
pinion saplings to the top of the hill where the path ends under a red
sandstone cliff I’ve watched sunset after sunset from
this private perch and each is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen as an Air Force
brat a competitive ski racer and then a journalist I lived in three countries in
more than a dozen cities trekked up and down the Alps through Central American
rain forests and along Mediterranean coasts seeking novelty and adventure but
a kind of loneliness lurked in my perpetual motion I could fit in anywhere
yet I belong to nowhere seven years ago I fell in love with cedar edge the small
town where my husband Dave yearned to settle and together we decided to put
down roots on a 16 acre homestead still I refused to retire my passport there
were so many faraway mountains to climb and foreign cultures to
or tying myself to a single place felt confining until finally during a
particularly irritating flight delay it dawned on me that while I wasted time
and crowded airport lounges the life I’d dreamed of was waiting for me on the
farm later that week I told Dave that I would spend the next 365 days practicing
the art of living in place never venturing more than a hundred
miles from home it was my version of a Benedictine monks vow of stability in
which he promises to remain in the same monastery for life resolving to accept
his assigned home as it is although part of me believed I was making a sacrifice
I found that when I narrowed my boundaries I expanded my horizons the
friendship I forged with my octogenarian neighbors taught me that a shared
commitment to place can create ties far stronger than age joining my library’s
board introduced me to bibliophiles I would have otherwise never met and with
a local activist whose politics make me cringe
I found common ground in her passion for growing raspberries but it was my dog
who finally showed me the way home Oscar inspired the ramble that would become
our ritual and after treading this little path for hundreds of days I’ve
stopped longing for far-flung adventures here I have the aroma of sage and the
Bluebirds and the craggy peaks surrounding me like an embrace I share
this space with the beings whose footprints I see in the mud coyotes
turkeys elk and mountain lions and my presence has turned me into a creature
of the habitat just like them it has taken me most of my life to learn how to
inhabit a place and I learned it finally by walking up the hill and around the
backside of our farm day in and day out the repetition is the point my journey
home was not a whirlwind excursion but a geological process my sole mingling with
the soil step by step over time lumps are treasures
Patricia Volk I love the dark film that forms as cocoa cools in the pot break it
up with a spoon stir it in and you’ve got dirty hot chocolate unsmooth an
imperfect hence complex there are those who will tell you dirty food as little
to enhance presentation but a brisket sandwich would be torment without pan
scrapings I like seeing and eating something that shows it was made by
human hand in a slow old-fashioned way when I’m eating a lemon mousse
discovering a bit of Pope exhilarates you never have to strain anything for me
lumps are treasures and so are little bits of black fat at the bottom of the
roasting pan if onions are in it and Yiddish these carbonized fat silk
threads are known as grip nests people families have been known to fight over
them in France burnt crumbs that collect at the bottom of the skillet when you
saute floured food is fond grimness and fond are why we have lipitor congeals
anything stuff that leaks between the bread and gets frazzled on the panini
maker hard bits dried bit soggy bits crunch gloves gobs and flecks anything
you might toss even though it has more taste / concentrated morsel than the
star of the meal I say bring it on there’s a reason the word incredible
contains the word edible book lust pamela aaron’s
i’ve been a passionate reader since childhood print is beautiful to me my
eyes automatically seize on any text in the vicinity whether a danger high
voltage sign or the side panel of a box of Cheerios some grown-ups remember the
times they swam in a cold pond or erase their bikes along a country road as
children i remember going out to the beach one morning with the once and
future king and looking up to find the Sun was
setting I remember the time I read the outsiders a book about disaffected
teenagers from cover to cover wild draped upside down over a kitchen
chair my body hurt like hell but I would have had to stop her eating to get up I
can’t read with that level of absorption anymore in fact during much of the day
there are things I can’t read at all the newspaper a book review a lively
magazine profile are all fine but even when I have the luxury of complete
solitude I’m unable before the hour of 10:00 p.m. to read a novel or a
reflective essay only after the children have gone to bed my husband and I have
performed triage on our to be discussed list and my schedule for the next day
has been organized can I sink into language with a capital L I get into bed
adjust my thin pillow against my fat pillow I put on my socks
it’s no fun reading with cold feet I opened my book and the following thought
allows me to begin no one needs me maybe no one even remembers Who I am it’s too
late in the day for me to make any more mistakes disappoint anyone complete any
uncompleted tasks however I may have failed or fallen behind I am off the
hook until sunrise and time which all day has pressed like a tight band
against my consciousness slackens the clock finds a thirteenth hour sometimes
I do stock my bookshelves in the middle of the afternoon during an unexpected
windfall of free time i scanning the unread novels essay collections
ruminations on god and love and history all the biggies my heart beats rapidly I
grow excited with possibility I’m in love with many things that I have yet to
feel and know I am experiencing the idea of reading which is generally so
stimulating that I discover I can’t begin at all but when the bedroom light
is dimmed and the telecommunicator ehum of
universe has been smothered behind the closed door I’m ready for the reality of
reading which is less exalted but ultimately more satisfying I find it in
myself to begin I open to page one a man is standing in a bakery on a hot summer
afternoon I see the shirt the man is wearing note the fact that his tie is
folded in his pocket I see the Baker’s wife at the cash
register suddenly I’m sheltered by a thicket of detail the sights and sounds
and smells of the book pull me in and slow me down in a way that those of the
real world oddly often do not I’m no longer at the
wishing fearing planning pace of my day I’m not running but walking and where I
wind up book after book is an unmatched state of bliss paradise 17 cents a
spoonful mark Lehner imagine condensing the evolution of gastronomic pleasure
from the very first mammalian sip of mother’s milk to everything savored and
swallowed over the millennia into one single elementary act sound crazy if so
you’ve never had pudding and friends I’m not talking about hot steamy Christmas
puddings bread puddings figgy pudding z’ creme brulees or zabaglione x’ i’m
talking about the store bought ready-made pudding you find in the
refrigerated section of your supermarket I’m talking six plastic four ounce cups
of cold thick dizzyingly sweet pudding for around two dollars I’m talking Swiss
Miss I’m talking cozy Shack and actually I’ve refined the act of pudding eating
even further down to its Eucharistic essence a single spoonful two ounces
seventeen cents worth here’s how it’s done
scoop out tablespoon of pudding from the plastic
container butterscotch is regarded by putting Illuminati as the epitome of
flavors put it in your mouth do not move it around or disperse it in any way with
your tongue swallow the glob intact and let mother gravity slowly draw it down
remember this is as much about how it feels as it is about how it tastes
anticipation of that single sweet glob is the fuse that drives me through the
day a tablespoon of pudding is the perfectly titrated dose it’s a fugitive
pleasure swallowing a syllable that sweet thick syllable PUD the egg is
simply the slide down the throat the PUD as it bids adieu the parting of the
pudding is all sweet sorrow a cowboy shot of whiskey in a saloon sends the
cowboy west far from mama toward trouble exile and ultimately into the sunset but
the spoonful of pudding has a completely opposite vector it sends you back back
east back to mama toward the dawn all the way to Eden before the fall of
mankind paradise at only seventeen cents per glob that’s what I’m talking about tall tales victoria Radel somewhere
after farce in wyoming my sons grew restless in the back seat who could
blame them we’d been traveling all day and well
into the night driving out of Utah to Thermopolis Wyoming home of the world’s
largest hot spring just go to sleep we commanded from the front seat already
exhausted by this vacation tell us a story they said and so began the
adventures of extravaganza and her sidekick and more or less true love
cowboy Pete from that night on they became part of all long family car trips
extravaganza rides her horse with a diamond tiara shining in the light of
the moon or hobo style she jumps trains to
Detroit to win a few hands of cards while searching for the parents of the
lost boy or she and cowboy Pete crack treasure from a sunken lobster boat they
used the goal to help the lost boy and the change is spent on strappy sandals
our car rides are a means of going on vacation of course but now they’ve also
become a way to go on a wild adventure even when we’re still strapped and
buckled in a slice of summer Abigail Thomas my grandmother lived in a
big house on a ghost of a road at the end of which laid the Atlantic Ocean her
house had once been an inn was reputed to be haunted and had been purchased for
$11,000 in the late 1940s once a year from wherever we were living Baltimore
New Orleans Minnesota my family made the trek back for summer vacation the place
was always the same always the same bright green grass the big gray front
porch the huge Elms flowering privet and roses and salty air always the beach at
the end of the road always summer at big mom’s the smell of camphor and old books
mingled with whatever was in the oven there was always something good going on
in her kitchen the first thing I did when we arrived was run and look in her
icebox there as I’d hoped were glass ramekins filled with custard each with a
sprinkling of nutmeg this silky treat was my favorite and I was allowed to
have two or even three in a row sometimes she made applesauce hard green
apples cut up and cooked in orange juice which she pressed through a fine sieve
this thin delicious substance was served with heavy cream her recipe for fudge
now lost contained the instructions cook until the bubbles look as if they don’t
want to burst my mother poured it over marshmallows on the back of the old
stove was a pot of broth thick chunks of beef cooking with rice in water even
though this was meant for Winston the ancient ailing english bulldogge i
would stand at the stove and secretly eat spoonful after spoonful the earliest
aroma of the day was big moms coffee percolating at 5:30 and I tiptoed down
the wide front stairs and into her kitchen where I sat in the old rocker
now in my living room and talked about what I can’t remember for an hour
my grandmother was all mine she let me have a cup of coffee with sugar and
cream and I felt alive with the possibilities of what life might be like
for me I guess this was because she appeared to take me seriously our coffee
was accompanied by buttered toast cut into long strips
she called soldiers when the rest of the household woke up wheat kids went to the
beach we grew up there as much as anywhere on that beach in that water
stopping for lunch at noon eating our chicken sandwiches white meat plenty of
butter and salt the crusts cut off the bread or red onion sandwiches on tiny
rounds of rye hard-boiled eggs everything eaten with the sand you could
never quite keep off when the Sun was over the yardarm we trudged our
sunburned selves back down Indian Wells highway to her house interesting
grown-ups were drinking their pink gins in the library to the left was the
parlor filled with mysterious objects under glass domes and always as hushed
as church we raced one another to the shower her upstairs bathroom had a
skylight with an old metal chain and then back downstairs avoiding the room
where our parents were happily occupied our winter lives were harder schools and
cities changed almost as soon as we got settled somewhere we were moving again
but summer was always summer my grandmother died and the house was sold
but for years and years afterward whenever I returned to Amagansett I felt
at home this was where I belonged any time I walked down that half mile of
road to find the ocean glittering at the end I was a child wind sand and sardines
Monica Ali one year I took the children on holiday to Morocco where we spent
much time feasting either with our eyes in the market our with our bellies in
the cafes and restaurants one meal in particular marked a highlight we were
staying in Essaouira a town with such an atmospheric and
photogenic Medina that it has remained a popular film location since Orson Welles
chose to shoot there for his a fellow setting out from the fishing harbour we
took a camel ride up the coast along vast deserted stretches of windswept
golden sand past the ruined forts and castles which are said to have been the
inspiration for the Jimi Hendrix song castles made of sand camel rides are
notoriously uncomfortable except this one wasn’t we lolled back on hugely
overstuffed Palin Keens going with the motion as if rolling with the waves
after a couple of hours we branched off at a small River and rode inland seeing
nothing but the occasional house and a few tree climbing goats when we stopped
for lunch our guide quickly swept together some
leaves and twigs as kindling while the children collected bigger sticks from
somewhere in his saddlebags he produced two dozen sardines which he had caught
that morning and grilled them on the open fire there was fresh bread and
heavenly tomatoes for dessert we ate dates it was the simplest of meals and
the most delicious why it had been a long ride for one thing food tastes
better when you’re hungry how easy that is to forget everything was fresh and
tasted of itself no need for dressing up and there was time for a doze beneath
the Acacia s– while the children fed the leftovers to the camels personal
growth Lara Kristen Herndon two years ago as my better divorce dragged on and
on I moved out of the high-rise apartment my ex and I had shared and
into a small walk-up with our daughter I felt like a shipwrecked survivor glad to
have washed up on dry land traumatised to be starting over from scratch
a few days later a package arrived I opened it to find a beautiful green
stalk sprouting several glossy emerald leaves it was a lemon tree a gift from
my mother my first thought it was the dead of
winter in Manhattan how would I keep this thing alive but caring for the
little tree proved easy all it needed was water in a warm window so when it
blossomed white waxy stars with sunshine yellow centers whose sugar and
honeysuckle scent my daughter and I gulped in by the lungful our cramped
apartment felt transformed the flowers dropped off in early March leaving in
their place tiny green lemons in the months that followed all but one of
those dropped off to the lone survivor grew and grew
bending the whole plant under its weight we harvested our enormous lemon in
August it was sweet enough to eat whole like an orange but instead we made a
small delicious batch of lemonade that we drank on our stoop in the late summer
Sun both of us aglow with the singular exhilaration of starting fresh bliss in
action happiness is not a station you arrive at but a manner of traveling
Margaret Lee run back my Blue Heaven and Gloucester it usually happens after the
tenth lap the weight of my body is released where it goes I’m not sure
dispersed through that particular light Bluegreen of chlorinated pools scene
through goggles dissipated by the steady back forth back forth of body through
water the first few laps are often dutiful even agonizing but when that
lifting occurs it’s all suddenly different I’m alone in my a quarter
capsule my carapace of skin if all goes well no one else to close ahead or on my
heels behind I become enmeshed in the water no care no worry body and mind so
often split through alien entities are for at least this brief time one for me
the world is to present in an aerobics class the sight of other people the
thump of the music and I never much wanted to compete to chase a ball or be
on a team it’s not that I’m a solitary person on the contrary I love people
which is all the more reason to regularly disengage to disappear from
the hurly-burly of the world for a while growing up I enjoyed jumping waves in
the ocean and an occasional swim in a Bay but nothing more then in my late 20s
I became friends with a woman I later called coach she swam obsessively a mile
every night after work and on the weekends too she never made dinner plans
for earlier than 8:30 because that’s when she was finished at the pool she
probably got her lean wiry body from her genetic code but her toned shoulders and
well muscled arms could have come only from those endless chlorinated miles I
didn’t understand her devotion until I accompanied her to the pool as a guest
one day I was smitten I loved the feeling of my arms pulling me along the
texture of the liquid all around me I slowly acclimated to swimming culture
learning the lingo of length in lap how many to a mile how to use a kick board
the way a flip turn improves your time I never got terribly speedy or even
approached coaches diligence but I did swim I joined her pool assembled my swim
gear bought a good pair of goggles and when I did my first mile 36 laps in most
pools I was inordinately proud it sounded so
grand an entire mile there was a ring of completeness to it an aura
of virtue slowly my arms developed a hint of muscle I got my mile down to 50
minutes a good time for a slowpoke like me I settled into a schedule sometimes
doing just 3/4 of a mile with a half mile as my bare minimum as I stroke up
the lane I count one on the way back I repeat one and I proceed from there
two-two three-three thoughts and ideas may crowd into my head but they are all
eventually banished by the slow steady rhythmic need to keep count four four
five five and soon that amazing lifting sensation comes the reward when I take
off and begin to flow everything I need to know I learned from a horse Jane
smiley a few days ago I found a photo that was taken of me at 43 sitting on my
new horse then 14 I look a little disheveled but happy he looks thin even
emaciated with very little tail and several scars where other horses have
taken pieces out of his hide what you can’t tell from the photo and what I
didn’t know at the time was at the horse whom I named tick-tock after the ticking
of our biological clocks was about to take me on a life-changing adventure
that has been more fun sometimes more troubling and always more interesting
than I could have possibly imagined I was a fearful person then the sword who
sneaks into the baby’s room during naps to make sure he’s breathing the sword
who imagines every late comer in a traffic accident I had always loved
horses though had ridden as a teenager and thought riding a horse might be a
more fun way to lose the last 15 pounds of pregnancy weight than riding a Nordic
track with my eyes glued to the Weather Channel
watching for tornado warnings I lived in Iowa then the horse had been around
most recently he had lived in a field with a bunch of other horses and before
that who knew but he was kind and easy to ride and most important the second
morning that I knew him he Nick heard at me that was flattering like having a
nice man call you darling but without any overtones of sexual harassment I
meant to ride three times a week I had a baby and other children and a husband in
a career but there I was four five six days a week not just riding the horse
but taking lessons asking questions hanging around the barn buying equipment
I was right about the pounds they were gone in a month but I was wrong about
everything else namely that I was an established grown-up who had it all
figured out the first thing I had to confront was
the same thing all adult riders have to confront fear was he going to step on me
yes if I didn’t watch where his feet were was he going to run away yes if
something scared him might he bucked me off unlikely but possible more
embarrassingly was I going to fall off once yes I was unbalanced out of my
element weak stiff beneath the fear I soon saw was a long-standing habit of
not actually paying attention to what I was doing it spent years thinking about
one thing while doing another I had in fact prided myself on this but if I
didn’t know what I was doing and neither did the horse he acted confused nervous
a little scary I had to learn quickly but was surprising difficulty how to pay
attention and then there was my body I would think sit up straight
but not be able to sit up straight I told my instructor that it didn’t seem
as though my head was connected to the rest of me he agreed
how embarrassing was that it was as though my nerve impulses ran through
Cleveland on the way from my cerebellum to my heels
this weight-loss project was turning into a challenge of my every habit a
challenge to the unconscious way I had been living but the horse loved me he
nikkor dat me every day came when I called paid attention flicking his ears
when I talked and when I did everything right even for just a moment or two the
fear the preoccupation an awkwardness gave way to grace and pleasure unlike
any sensation I’d ever felt a pure physical sense of rhythm and strength
that the horse communicated right into my sinews as with all positive
transformations the right moments accumulated into right minutes and
subsequently into delicious stretches of time that didn’t feel like time at all
what’s unique about writing is that the horse is always right there and not only
physically tic TOCs personality his intentions and his willingness were
always palpable I learned why out riding alone is an oxymoron an equestrian is
never alone is always sensing the other being the mysterious but also
understandable living being that is the horse that’s what gets me out every day
in weather I would never jog in my body is different now I have triceps and
biceps i gallop and jump and ride with intense pleasure I’m also more patient
self-confident ready for fun I’m more daring my old what-if has become more of
a why not I’m ready er to believe that if
something comes up I can deal with it even backing up the horse trailer
but the greatest change is my constant sense of an unfolding relationship and
growing knowledge I used to pepper my trainers and vets with questions why is
the horse doing that what does that mean at bottom who is he I discovered that
the horse is life itself a metaphor but also an example of life’s mystery and
unpredictability of its generosity and beauty a worthy object of repeated and
ever-changing contemplation Do It Yourself
Jessica brooder I am a lover of power tools in my gas station coveralls I’ve
wielded welding torches hoisted chainsaws and whiled away afternoons
with a belt sander I’ve mastered the plasma cutter the nail gun the grinder
but I believe the best tools are the ones that come standard at Birth our two
hands working with your hands is a big part of humaneness and for me happiness
a day in the woodshop or craft room or garden reconnects you with your body
which is a nice break from staring at screens plus calling a plumber will not
give you a sense of power and autonomy stopping your leaky pipe from leaking
will lately I’ve been using my hands to fix cars and grow tomatoes unscrew lug
nuts and screw together planter boxes jack up a chassis and haul bags of dirt
to the roof of my 4th floor walk-up I’m still a little shaky on the auto shop
stuff but I’m excited about the tomatoes even though the hands in question don’t
have green thumbs and once killed a cactus
no matter the results the experience will be meaningful our culture rewards
expertise and efficiency my tomatoes will reflect neither with the cost of
growing taken into account they’ll be more expensive than the ones at the
supermarket they may be less aesthetically appealing too but they
will be mine born of my hard work and gentle care and
that achievement that joy is something nobody else can create but me enchanted
forest Joyce Johnson I was seven or eight when
my favorite aunt Rose Wallman who often borrowed me from
my parents came to take me for an afternoon mushrooming expedition in
Forest Park in the borough of Queens aunt rose was equipped with a basket
from Woolworths and a copy of the little golden book of mushrooms Forest Park was
as close as you could come to a real forest in
Aunt Rose as much a neophyte mycologist as I was delighted me by appearing to
rely on my judgment in matters of life and death we would spot a mushroom and
consult the little golden book searching for a matching illustration mushroom or
toadstool years later I would find myself on a blind date with a dour tax
attorney who interrupted my story at this point with a withering
pronouncement there are no toadstools only toxic mushrooms to me at 8:00 they
were toadstools i said firmly and shortly afterward left alone anything
Aunt Rose and I both designated mushroom was promptly picked by the end of the
afternoon we had gathered quite a variety some were golden the rest in
various shades of brown they lay nestled in aunt Rose’s basket with clinging bits
of moss and pine needles my aunt was planning to saute the whole
lot in parsley butter but said she could not take the responsibility of inviting
me to share the feast all evening I worried about her until the phone rang
not only at Aunt Rose survived she reported to me that the mushrooms were
delicious and ever since I’ve regretted not
sampling that dish seasoned as it was with a bit of danger
I thought of Aunt Rose often after I bought a small cabin in Vermont on the
edge of the woods she would have been pleased that I finally had my own forest
park complete with deer moose porcupines and a bear or two where my lawn ends
there are wild apple trees and blackberry brambles in the fall after it
rains I’m likely to find bullets in the garden my friends and neighbors up there
are experienced mushroom hunters who wisely collect only what they’re
absolutely sure of and eat everything they gather strings of dried mushrooms
hang from the rafters of their kitchens if you’re out driving with them they’re
likely to stop the car to harvest giant speckled pheasants backs jutting from
dead Elms along the roadside or the slightly phosphorescent Shaggy Mane’s
that show up at night luminous in the headlights I’ve heard tales of giant
puff balls big enough to serve six and if certain outcroppings of morels and
hillside cow pastures if you ask but where exactly do you find
your morels you won’t get an answer such secrets are respected by all but you
will get an invitation to come to dinner and try some I bought an enormous
Illustrated tome on mushrooms full of Latin names and stern warnings and
symbols representing degrees of edibility I studied the picture of the
lovely white mushroom known as the angel of death learned how to make spore
prints on paper towels and felt properly nervous but still eager to proceed
finally I went off to the woods without my mushroom Bible which is far too heavy
to carry I was a middle-aged city dweller still unaccustomed to being
alone in the woods and sometimes I thought I had to be crazy as I scrambled
down the ravines and over a fallen tree trunks and wrenched my sneakers out of
losing mud if I broke my leg who would find me
perhaps days would pass before my friends worried after my rescue they’d
ask what were you thinking the truth would be somewhat ridiculous
I wanted chanterelles I’d been told they grow everywhere in Vermont and even for
a beginner like me the delicious little saffron trumpets were easily
identifiable I found only three or four that first day growing out of rotted
logs but still it was a victory I put them in an omelet I like the way the
urge to seek them cleared out my mind brought purpose and suspense to my
rambles I thought of nothing in the woods but of spotting a few dots of
cadmium yellow one day wandering contentedly in circles I lost my way I
headed toward the sunlight and found myself in a strangely familiar place
that turned out to be my neighbor’s yard there was a lone chanterelle growing in
his driveway where the twinge of guilt I picked it my city cat had come to
Vermont with me I’d kept her in the house but finally she made her escape
through some torn screening I ran after her tearfully calling her name but she
melted into the woods as I walked back to the house I found myself in a stand
of birches near the road only a few yards from my door the ground was
covered with small yellow trumpets more than I’d ever hoped to see him
spot they’ve been hiding in plain sight like the cat as it turned out she
materialized on the porch at 5:00 the next morning ravenously hungry and full
of fleas so thanks to her I have my own secret place I can only guess at what
makes the chanterelles so abundant there is it a particular amount of sunlight
filtering through the trees the birch bark and decaying limbs on the ground
mixed with just the right proportions of maple leaves and pine needles my
chanterelles keep coming back year after year and I gather them reveling in the
mystery of their bounty varied treasure lisa Congdon years ago My partner and I were walking
past a garage sale in San Francisco when I spotted a piece of mid-century
Norwegian enamel where a bowl in a Blue Lotus pattern it’s really rare a great
find the asking price $1 the bowl was worth
about a hundred and fifty dollars but it’s not about the money I love knowing
I was the only person around who understood its value I’ve always loved
that when I was a girl in upstate New York
I made my grandmother take me to the dump to look for treasure she was a
collector too when I was told to clean my room I would instead arrange my
collections arranging was always my favorite part there’s something so
appealing about an array of light things so orderly and pretty my advice is to
find something special to you and start seeking it out it doesn’t matter if it’s
worth money it just needs to be something you want more than one of and
it should be hard to find because the hunt is half the fun I like collecting
the way I like crime novels I want to awaken my inner detective the longer the
search the sweeter the find horizons expanded Heather Greenwood Davis we
arrive in Chengdu on a pitch-black morning on the overnight train from Xian
as my husband dish our two young sons Ethan
Cameron and I stumbled groggily out of the station
we sidestep poorer travelers huddled on flattened boxes on the freezing concrete
China’s 11th largest city home to a famous panda research facility feels
lonely and uninviting it doesn’t help that we’ve forgotten to have our hotel’s
name written down for us in Chinese and the taxi drivers swarming us don’t speak
English they pull at my sons who are clutching my waist suddenly a man
carrying a laptop approaches where are you trying to go he asks soon he’s
negotiating with a driver and not long after that we’re laughing with him over
breakfast at our hotel he turns out to be a visiting professor from Singapore I
couldn’t just leave you out there to fend for yourselves he tells us as we’re
coming over pictures of his baby daughter I lock eyes with ish across the
table we know this would never have happened back in Toronto in 2011 when
ish was offered a sabbatical from his job as a public health inspector we set
out to see the world for a year with our kids as a journalist my job has always
been flexible we aren’t rich or crazy we just saw an opportunity to live our
dreams and seized it selling our car renting out our house and exhausting our
savings over the next 12 months we visited 29 countries soaring in a
hot-air balloon above King Tut’s tomb riding ostriches in Vietnam and
scrubbing four ton elephants in Thailand but the moments we’ll remember most
involve people not places when we joined in a moonlit game of ping pong and a
Cairo alleyway with our city guides neighbours for example or dined on duck
confit in the minimalist home of a worldly Parisian family for whom we’d
snapped a photo in Seville or sat cross-legged on the floor of the
one-room home of a Cambodian tuk-tuk driver who wanted his kids to meet ours
we’d expect it to be for alone in the world but in these moments when we
relied on instinct and trusted strangers we became a part of it
I’d always taught my children to be wary of anyone they didn’t know but in Buenos
Aires I watched with pride as my shy seven-year-old gathered his courage and
marched into a soccer game some local kids were playing in the Galapagos
Islands I beamed when my picky nine-year-old tasted and loved lobster
tail on the advice of some new friends in our tour group as for ich and me we
learned that people are kinder than we’d given them credit for we stopped seeing
the planet as a list of places to visit and started daydreaming about whom
exactly we’d meet next back home in Canada we now chat with a grocery clerk
who’s Portuguese accent we can place and share a joke with the taxi driver whose
rear view mirror flag we recognize we linger to make a friend or once we might
have rushed by and we get a glorious connection a world size dose of
happiness in return the joy of discovery I believe that if you just stand up and
go life will open up for you Tina Turner burning questions Katy Arnold Ratliff remember when you were little and you
felt you might explode because you had so many questions why is the sky blue
why are zebra-striped how come I can’t have another popsicle and remember how
good that felt to find the world so fascinating that you had to learn this
second and in great detail exactly how it worked how did we lose touch with
that desire to ask ask ask was it when we became busy distracted overwhelmed
grown-ups feigning expertise acting like we know everything all the time no
everything were we even listening in intro to philosophy did we miss the part
where Socrates who supposedly said I know that I know nothing developed an
entire method of figuring out stuff based entirely on inquiry and that all
knowledge exists precisely because people have persistently and for
centuries asked tons and tons of questions have we established that
questions or marvelous momentous things and if so can we agree that asking
ourselves the right can have life-altering effects because
have you ever noticed how questions prevent us from settling for less than
we deserve that asking ourselves could it be better
is a great way to make things well a whole lot better that a bunch of our
breakthroughs triumphs and Joy’s occurred when we asked a few big bold
paradigm-shifting questions don’t we owe it to ourselves don’t we deserve to live
an examined life can it be said that asking questions is what keeps us honest
drives us to aim higher and is the very thing that makes us human in a word yes
no question about it the eye of the beholder sister Wendy Beckett how can I
describe what happened when I encountered for the first time the
spiritual power of great furniture in all my visits to museums I’ve usually
walked past furniture on my eager way to the real thing paintings sculptures and
ceramics but in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts some years ago I had the good
fortune to meet Jonathan a curator of American decorative arts and sculpture
and my eyes were opened I saw as he did how furniture can have a majestic
sculptural beauty that can stop one in one’s tracks one such work was the
Cogswell Boston bombe chest on chest of 1782 it swells in a stately curve up to
a surge of mahogany drawers and climaxes in an insouciant pediment crowned with
the American Eagle this was early Boston remember I was looking at glorious works
of art furniture indeed but even more they were pieces shaped and crafted by a
master hand beauty came at me from all dimensions from unexpected angles
offering an enlargement of spirit I still cannot wholly comprehend what if
the poki really is what it’s all about sooo
fleece while heading to the grocery store one morning I stopped at a light
behind an old Chevy sorely in need of a paint job a teenager was driving blaring
music with the windows down her bumper was scuffed one taillight was crushed
but she didn’t seem to mind her manicured fingers tapped the steering
wheel like red tip drumsticks her hair lifting in the breeze she’s saying at
the top of her voice ignoring the audience around her I liked her just
before the light changed and she drove off I noticed her car had a bumper
sticker what if the hokey-pokey really is what it’s all about then I thought
wait what if it is it could have been my mood that day or it could have been
destiny but idling behind that Chevy all at once it occurred to me that I’d left
no room in my life for simple delight I scheduled penciled in or planned
everything from my kids playdates to dinners with friends months in advance
just to get it off my mind which more and more was swamped with a non-stop
fire hose like onslaught of obligations where were the moments when I could rap
on the steering wheel with my hair blowing in the wind so now I’m trying to
make time to enjoy the sweet simple inconsequential bits of life wherever
and however I can we just celebrated my son’s 11th birthday at a laser tag arena
if you’ve never set foot in one it’s loud crowded and smells like feet the
old me would have gladly opted out waiting in the birthday party room
setting up the pizza and cake checking email the new me got suited up chose a
laser tag handle mom inator and ventured an alongside a dozen of my son’s friends
with vest laser gun and survival instincts in tow it was awesome I didn’t
even come in last it also turns out that when I’m not obsessing over getting
things done getting to the next destination getting my point across and
moving right along I hear a lot more yesterday my 9 year old wanted to tell
me his side of an argument had with his brother please mom he said
just listen before you say anything so I did as he asked I listened and I had a
revelation the outcome of the altercation didn’t matter to him as much
as being heard by me did I chose to be in that moment with him for as long as
it lasted I want more encounters like that I’m starting one foot at a time to
put my whole self in my own best friend Robin rom in my early 30s I moved from a
small bungalow in the Bay Area to a hippie barn in Santa Fe to take a new
job the barn with its tin doors and weathered wood had seemed novel a
radical change here my boyfriend and I would explore our mellow sides walking
the dog on dusty horse trails eating dinner at a picnic table it sounded
romantic but soon after we unpacked he left for a month-long writing fellowship
in another state I found myself in this new rural place alone and I panicked
though I’d grown up an only child I no longer knew how to sit with myself for
long stretches of time and honestly my childhood had been lonely my parents
both had busy demanding careers and a penchant for budget babysitter’s who did
little more than watch television and talk on the phone I spent great swaths
of time inventing games by myself in my room as soon as I was old enough to
drive I hung out constantly with friends a habit that persisted throughout my 20s
it wasn’t all that interested in reclaiming solitude during the first
week alone in the barn I called every person in my phone even people I barely
knew but after I talked to everyone after my eyes nearly fell out of my head
from watching TV I realized I couldn’t keep this up for four weeks so I did
something I’d always wanted to do I signed up for banjo lessons at night I
practiced looking out at the sunsets over the chimney so flowers the
jackrabbit sloping by when I got tired of the chord progressions I’d knit
or read and though I expected to be dogged by loneliness that mortal
childhood enemy I felt instead a surprising calm all this time I’d been
working so hard to avoid myself but as it turned out I liked being alone me and
myself had so many shared interests so much to say to each other if I’d
permitted it I was good company that felt like such a revelation the longest
relationship we have with anyone is with ourselves and yet that relationship is
often the first one we let slide maintaining it brings such comfort
though liking your company means that you always have at your beck and call a
person who gets you so if everyone departs and you’re left feeling lonely
and adrift or if you never allow yourself to be alone ask yourself what
you’d do if you had a friend over you’d be curious about her you’d engage with
her you’d be compassionate why not treat yourself the same way seeing in the dark
selma adams during the New York City blackout of 2003 on the 8.2 mile walk
from my Midtown Manhattan office to my Brooklyn brownstone a trek that included
to Mister Softee I scream stops and the crossing of one immense bridge I had
four unmapped hours to take stock of where I stood at 44 and spontaneously
consider how my life needed changing when I was in my 20s and single I’d had
similar moments in airplanes flying coast to coast on either end of the
journey life flowed in all its chaos and complexity its conflicting desires and
demands but airborne in the pause between departure and destination
strapped in beside strangers I often found myself contemplating my life as a
whole and reaching big decisions about it after the lights went out in New York
as I headed south in velvet slippers I’d bought months earlier in Chinatown my
high heels tucked into a bag slung over my shoulder I walked the same streets
I’d come to as a young woman from California I passed the Strand bookstore
the Little Italy apartment where a friend had shared a bathroom wall with
the gangster John Gotti the bar where my husband Ronald and I practically floated
the brilliant autumn day that we declared our love for each other
that’s weltering August afternoon people crammed the sidewalks in moods that
ranged from joy to apocalyptic panic among the frazzled the communal worry
was that this was not simply a power outage but a repeat of the terrorist
attacks of 9/11 the beginning of the end again for me something snapped that day
although I didn’t hear it for all the noise in the street darkness fell while
I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge I was tired and the soles of my slippers were
wearing thin I wondered if I would make it home if my family was all right if
the surprising piece of the afternoon would be preserved until I crossed my
threshold nearly 20 years had passed since I first came to the city I was the
mother of two small children when I wasn’t working writing a still
unpublished novel and reviewing movies I walked the streets with an over packed
stroller dreading the subways for their steep stroller hostel stairs and Ronald
who had moved to New York for me had debilitating asthma which worsened to
the point where he was allergic to the city itself the moles in the subway the
cockroaches in the basement the dust a year later inspired by what I saw in
my heart on that long walk on that dark night I changed direction we moved to a
hunting lodge on 14.5 acres in upstate New York and if I had misgivings at
leaving behind hard-won friends and perfect pizza slices they vanished in
the wonder that is country life in the country blackouts are a more common less
public occurrence a tree falls lightning strikes a stream floods its banks the
computer crashes mid-sentence the washer halts mid-cycle the electric lights dim
in then go out entirely we leave the
refrigerator freezer doors shut in hopes that the power outage won’t last too
long and we can keep that terrific lamb curry Ronald made for the last hours of
daylight we hang on cheerfully reading and coroner’s by the windows sweeping
the kitchen floor bundling the newspapers but as twilight falls and we
migrate toward the screened porch in the last shreds of light and the color
begins to wash from the brilliant gold finches at their feeder Ronald curses
the fact that we didn’t buy a generator 11 year-old Trevor experiences computer
withdrawal we draw around the stubby white candles buy in bulk for just such
an occasion and though I’m well aware of my son’s aversion to performing I
suggest the impossible why doesn’t Trevor get out his guitar and show me
what he can do after a year of lessons he drags out the left-handed instrument
I haven’t heard him play since the lessons began he runs through his
repertoire the chords G C II and his favorite g7 we get a bit of melody a
random made-up tune his even features are serious and keen and focused over
the frets and strings and I see why guitarists make girls fall in love after
Trevor plays his song he picks up the flashlight making wide abstract arcs
like ribbons against the blackness Lizzy begins to dance stomping her heels on
the cement Trevor flashes the light on his little
sister around her above her so that her shadow falls on the scrim of the screen
outside a bull frog croaks the finches prattle at the feeder the kids are still
playing together tied by the ribbon of light when we notice a revived glow deep
within the Forgotten house Ronald goes to check the temps in the fridge freezer
Lizzy turns on the TV Trevor reboots his computer and I head
to my office to check email we scatter in the light but in my head I can still
feel the rhythms of my son’s newfound chords my daughters
shadowy flamenco there is no big decision to be made now my life doesn’t
need changing but it is extraordinary to realize that this infinitely happy
moment framed in time not the memories not the expectations or ambitions is my
life and in this moment I changed tense I stopped becoming and just M the lesson
Hellena flans bum I am NOT an optimist I don’t believe that the glass is
half-full I am the granddaughter of four Eastern
European Jews who fled Poland to escape the pogroms when it is sunny I look for
rain when the phone rings after 10 p.m. I start planning the funeral my favorite
joke is Jewish telegram start worrying details to follow I tell you this so you
will not think of me as a perky upbeat person in denial of every dark emotion
she has ever had nor am i religious or even sure I believe in God I am dark my
hair is dark my eyes are dark and so as both an intellectual and a cynic I have
trouble admitting this but here goes having breast cancer changed my life for
the better lots of survivors say something like
this I have even heard some say breast cancer was the best thing that ever
happened to me I had always viewed this remark with skepticism boy that must be
one great antidepressant I had the bad mammogram on March 13th 2001 the first
day of spring break I was 42 years old and had two daughters 6 and 8 the year
before the technician had taken one picture come back and said simply you
can go home I can I asked I had expected worse in 2001 I got it the technician
took the first picture and came back for another
and another and then they made me wait for a sonogram then they made me wait to
talk to the radiologist he was unsympathetic grouchy even and unmovable
you were gonna want to have this looked at he said he didn’t say it’s probably
nothing but that’s what all my girlfriend’s had heard but he wouldn’t
say that instead when I pushed him for any comforting words he said gruffly
well if it’s cancer we’ve gotten it early
I have nothing cheerful to say about the next three and a half months it was all
horrible the waiting was the worst after the initial mammogram I waited three
weeks for her biopsy I know it was cancer but your mother never had breast
cancer friend said I knew I had cancer just as I’d known I would not just lose
the 40 pounds I gained during my first pregnancy
oh it just slips off women said slips off I thought on me it is not going to
slip off and I was right my mother’s friends said Oh she’ll have a lumpectomy
and radiation and be done with it I didn’t believe that either and I was
right after two attempts to get clean margins I had a mastectomy on the right
side the following year when the tech found three cancer cells on the left
side I had one on that side so after having a double mastectomy by the time I
was 43 where is the bright side first I noticed that I was noticing my life it
was as if someone had stood next to me in the supermarket line and yelled in my
ear in the loudest voice imaginable wake up I stopped sleepwalking through my
days I started paying attention I won’t say cliche things like color seemed
brighter or flower smelled sweeter I am Not sure they did
I just felt a new sense grow in me I became conscious of time I was alert in
a new way second benefit I realized I spent too
much time in my life doing things I didn’t want to
ooh when my in-laws wanted the family to fly across the country to celebrate
Thanksgiving I actually said to my husband no I am tired and I don’t want
to spend my vacation traveling I am NOT doing that I joined a highly compensated
committee where a belligerent and simple-minded colleague bullied me and
get this I quit just like that I don’t care about the money I’m not going back
I said to my husband and I didn’t third my husband and I stopped quarreling why
did we ever bother what could have been that important my relationship with my
sister got better half a lifetime of sibling rivalry evaporated like smoke
most important having breast cancer focused me on my children like a laser
I was always an attentive mother but no working one and a conflicted one the
feeling that I should always be in the other place trailed me like a whining
dog now I want to spend every minute humanly possible with my children they
are far and away more important to me than anything on earth I want to spend
time looking at their faces building their strength and courage and since
cancer I have without the slightest twinge finally and best of all I have
stopped expecting the worst worrying should prepare you for disaster but it
doesn’t I learned that nothing prepares you we
spend so much time in our lives suffering we don’t need any dress
rehearsals the worst will find us and you know what we will have to deal with
it when it does my life is better now more heartily felt last year I returned
to writing poetry all the poems are about the possibility of finding joy
this past soccer season I met my breast surgeon at the field
where his children play alongside mine we embraced like survivors of a
catastrophe who meet again after a long while who is that my daughter asked
afterward you really like him yes I replied I do really like him he was my
doctor when I was sick he is a wonderful wonderful man and I am better for having
known him would I have chosen a life where I did not get to meet him yes
would I’ve been happier in that life no I don’t think so awed and amazed you must have it
yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life Walt
Whitman walking with devotion Mary Oliver when I walk out into the world
I take no thoughts with me that’s not easy but you can learn to do it
an MD mind is hungry so you look at everything longer and closer don’t hum
when you listen with empty ears you hear more and this is the core of the secret
attention is the beginning of devotion graced by her present Megan O’Rourke like many people I want serenity in my
day-to-day life yet I’m obsessive enough about the smallest details that a moment
of calm is hard to find in my 20s I worked as if focus could be some kind of
salvation endlessly worrying about my next project and missing family
gatherings and forgetting to buy Christmas presents in the process once
when I managed to make it home for a visit my mother who had her
bird-watching books out put her hand on my arm and said I don’t want you to just
go from Hill to Hill Meg you should stop to enjoy the view after my mother died
at the age of 55 I thought a lot about what she’d said and I came to realize
she’d given me an important gift her presence
as my father put it one night when we were talking your mother just had a way
of being there and it made everything better listening to him I knew I wanted
more of that way of being there in my own life losing my mother as painful as
it was has brought with it a blessing I could not have anticipated it has led me
to realign my sense of focus my values my attention light nutmeg my mother like
to say when she saw how easily I became blindsided by anxiety now I try to honor
her example by learning to relax into the daily chaos by keeping in mind the
majestic strangeness of the world and the smallness of my place in it being
present is easier said than done of course presence requires letting go of
old habits complaints and hangups in my case it also required recognizing
my competitiveness and impatience I had to step back to notice the ways I’m hard
on people judging them when I should just support them insisting things be
done on my punishing schedule today I make more time to sit and listen when a
friend is troubled by something I climb fewer Hills my mother is a great gift
giver at once thoughtful and sly one year she put little bottles of energy
drinks in my stocking but her greatest gift remains the way she approached life
she didn’t let anything fragile her to the point where she didn’t have time to
listen and laugh with us sometimes I picture her face and feel the sting of
loss but then sorrow blossoms into the happiness of knowing how much she gave
me a joy spreads like sunlight and it’s as if I can hear her saying
lighten up Meg finally I know what she meant everyday magic Kathryn Sullivan I
used to live a few hundred yards outside the Johnson Space Center in Houston
each morning I Drive about three minutes to the center that was my commute on
October 14 1984 I was technically off for the day since I just landed from my
first space flight the night before but I wanted to see all
our photos I’d had this great experience one I’d dreamed of forever and worked
toward for ages and it had lasted only seven days I kept looking at the sky
still wishing I was up there on my drive in that morning though I noticed a bunch
of migrating birds flying in various V shapes forming and reforming as they do
crossing in front of the last bit of sunrise color in the sky now that’s a
good reason to be back I thought surprising myself sunrise and birds
nothing out of the ordinary but not something you can see in space suddenly
it was nice to be on earth again an extraordinary machine Lila Carrie I swim
lean vigorous strokes through an alexandrite blue ocean I laugh and dive
and let the Sun wash over my face i sprint and swoop and ride the waves and
then I wake up my bedroom develops like a Polaroid getting sharper as it comes
slowly into focus there on the night table are nine different pills and a
syringe I’ve set out for the morning beside them are the sterile gauze and
betadine I used to clean the catheter that’s sewn into my chest the bottle of
betadine not only disinfects it also serves as a paperweight for the Dozen
insurance forms that need to be filled out and mailed before the weekend on the
other side of my bed hangs an IV drip for nutrition and hydration what doesn’t
kill me sure does keep me from riding many waves I’ve had cancer for a third
of my life I’ve watched people get well and I’ve watched people die while I
scramble from standard drug to new procedure to experimental protocol
buying time till the next big breakthrough these treatments chip at my
body bit by bit they’ve screwed up both my kidneys and
damaged my heart they’ve made the soles of my feet burn and my fingertips numb
there’s no vision in my left eye my digestive system
shot and become severely prone to depression unable to have a baby or a
frozen margarita or any long-term plans what’s that old joke about the ad for a
lost dog blind incontinent no teeth missing right leg tail and part of an
ear answers to the name lucky I’d love to say that you’ve caught me at an off
moment but the fact is I whine a lot a fellow patient once told me he’d never
heard anyone complained so much and he’d spent 19 months in the Hanoi Hilton it
seems one of the unspoken side effects of cancer at least for me is extreme
crankiness my body has betrayed me and I’m mad as hell but wallowing in
righteous indignation only gets a girl so far so these days I’m focusing on
what this decidedly soft slightly used utterly ridiculous 41 year old body can
do and what I can do is make the best kid I know laughs hysterically simply by
feigning shock and revulsion at the sight of a plastic tarantula I can pitch
a baseball the word on the street is that I throw like a girl or worse like
Chuck Knoblauch I can cook a chicken Marbella
that makes people from Marbella okay Brooklyn beg for the recipe furthermore
I have what can only be described as a superhuman gift for picking ripe
pineapples I can listen closely to my friends my instincts and Glenn Gould
playing the Goldberg Variations which I’m told Bach wrote for a Russian count
with severe insomnia on my better days I can do laundry dishes and all things
sexual I can hold down a full-time job hold up my end of the conversation and
shop with the kind of frenzied abandon seldom seen outside of Times Square on
New Year’s Eve control isn’t always possible but feeling and imagination and
a touch of transcendence are I’ve taken to grabbing a cup of tea and heading for
the roof of my Lower East Side apartment building on
when sleep doesn’t seem to be an option last Thursday at 6:40 a.m. it was
pouring the drops of rain pelting against Tim flowerpots sounded like
bacon frying the air smelled like geraniums and lasagna the old Italian
restaurant on the ground floor was already prepping for the lunch crowd my
sweat pants were soaked my hair was dripping one of my slippers was floating
away but lights were starting to switch on all over the neighborhood
boy stur coloured trench coats and black umbrellas were beginning to make their
way down second Avenue here were people and puddles and pigeons and trees and
taxis and I got to experience every deliciously drenched inch of it I have
cancer but I also have windy summer mornings in the rain and an active sense
of awe at all that I can still touch and taste and see and hear and breathe in at
any given moment I have the crystal clear understanding that recovery is
worth only as much as the life you recover the big picture Neil deGrasse
Tyson throughout their lives stars turn basic elements like hydrogen and helium
into richer heavier elements when they die some stars then scatter their
remains full of those enriched ingredients into gas clouds across the
galaxy where they’ll later regroup and become part of a brand-new star system
it’s poetic the next generation of stars benefiting from those that came before
to me that’s a powerful message instead of worrying about getting older and
whether we’re as athletic or pretty or thin as we used to be we can focus on
leading a brilliant life that will be remembered make an impact even if your
job doesn’t help save lives you can create art or do something that will
bring joy to someone else you should celebrate each day that you’re able to
leave a lasting effect it means that even as you get older the universe will
someday be a little bit better because you’ve lived in it
oh what a thrill all I can say about life is Oh God enjoy it Bob Newhart the
cheering section Valerie Monroe I’d accompanied my four-year-old son in a
crowd of similar couples to a showing of Peter Pan we were a rowdy group lots of
running and screaming in the aisles seat jumping and general expectant
disorganized Glee but once the movie began we quickly settled into a quieter
mode many of the kids my son among them climbed comfortably into their parents
laps so there we all were cozy wrapped when Tinker Bell’s light started
to go out and Peter turned towards us with his plea to save her clap clap if
you believe in fairies instantly my son and all the other children began to clap
what sweet innocence at first in a light helpful patter but as tinks light
flickered and grew they clapped with increasing enthusiasm and at Peter’s
expectations they clapped heartily with great serious determination
very soon we moms and dads were clapping too and many of us also stamping our
feet and whistling till when tink regained her radiant spark the whole
place exploded in a triumphant ear-splitting crescendo of unanimous
rejoicing and I wept an ordinary Sunday afternoon a theater full of fancy kids a
story I had heard a thousand times who would have thought there would be
opportunity for such surrender and celebration but I shouldn’t have been
surprised for the longest time I have been falling face-first into it
everywhere puddles of awe as I noticed the intricate patterns of rain blown
against my window rivers of it as I paddle in a kayak beside the city and
turn to see a range of towering skyscrapers peeks of sparkling glass
majestic in the brilliant autumn Sun maybe you have these moments too
commonplace in every way except for your active
when engagement floods your senses drenching you in pleasure when there’s
no past to regret or future to worry over just the shining magnificent or
inspiring now naked and laughing Amy bloom the first time I really thought
about nakedness about my own naked body in particular about the fact that
animals were always naked and people almost never were I was in my neighbor’s
swimming pool I was around 8:00 and the older kids had gone to get snacks and
towels the adults were doing adult things I was the only person in a
50-foot long blue Basin filled with 80 degree water I slipped off my shoulder
straps and suddenly rolled down my suit caught it with my toe and flipped it
onto the cement edge of the pool I did the breaststroke for one lap and my own
myopic lifted head crawl for another for however long it takes three kids to make
bologna sandwiches and fine beach towels I was in a new world like the first man
on the Moon had Neil Armstrong been given – giggling no one had mentioned
this world to me I went from pajamas to underwear to clothes every morning and
back the other way every night and somehow no one had said anything to me
about what a good time was to be had between pajamas and underwear after my
Saturday of nakedness you might think there’d have been no stopping me
there was plenty stopping me my parents both of whom appeared even in my dreams
fully closed school boys cold weather but when I could I’d lie under our
willow tree shielded by its long green curtain and read PG Woodhouse and
Dorothy Parker in nothing but my socks naked and laughing best naked Saturday
since I was eight the man I love is standing in front of me in our bedroom
he’s not naked he’s actually more than naked he’s wearing an undershirt
very wide white and necessary mesh and velcro lumbar support wrap and the navy
blue socks that are usually hidden by his suit trousers his boxers are off
because he’s coming to bed his undershirt and socks are on because
his terrible back pain makes both the reaching up and the bending over
difficult he looks at himself in the mirror and laughs out loud he puts his
black fedora on his head and models the whole look for me naked and laughing
can’t beat it my unplanned adventure Catherine price
it was a Friday night in Shinjuku a Tokyo neighborhood famous for neon signs
subterranean shopping malls and rent by the hour lodgings known as love hotels
in crowded bars people tipped back beers and sang karaoke young men with black
jackets and gelled hair stood on street corners offering menus of available
escorts to passers-by in the midst of the action was a store window covered
except for a narrow strip of glass if you were to a stopped and look through
it you would have seen something strange my legs
submerged to the ankles with 600 flesh-eating fish feasting on my feet
this is the story of how I got there like many people I approach vacations
with a level of preparation appropriate for a medical licensing exam poring over
internet reviews reading guidebooks cover to cover and studying maps so I’m
oriented from the moment my plane touches down I research I plan I
strategize transforming my trips into long to-do lists I must conquer in order
for them to be judged a success this tendency was in full effect during a
recent week my husband and I spent on kawaii when I broke the island into
quadrants and made long lists of every activity we should do while relaxing in
paradise it was exhausting and somewhere in the process I started to ask myself
why I was doing this what was I trying to accomplish what if instead of
meticulously planning I were to just show up in a new place
and let the experience unfold by stage-managing every detail I realized I
was ruining one of the best parts of travel the adventure so I decided to
take a different approach I would go on a trip in which I relinquished control
no guidebook no internet research no list of things to see or do instead I
would base all my activities from where I stayed to what I ate or saw on the
recommendations of strangers even the destination would be chosen by someone
else I started by approaching a woman in the fiction section of a San Francisco
bookstore and asking her to tell me the most interesting place she’d ever been
she responded I love Tokyo and two weeks later I boarded a flight I had a map
that was it the ambition of this project didn’t fully sink in until the plane
took off and I realized I was going to have to ask a stranger where to bunk at
first that made me nervous and strangers the same people who steal
wallets and kidnapped children but then I looked at the passengers around me a
woman in the next row were a bumblebee neck pillow the girl in the seat next to
me had adorned each long fake fingernail with a plastic Hello Kitty charm as if
worried a customs agent might demand a finger puppet show these I realized were
not the strangers my mother had warned me about I asked a flight attendant to
recommend a hotel for the night and he consulted the rest of the Tokyo based
crew several minutes later he found me in the darkened cabin and handed me a
piece of paper with suggestions including Asakusa this is my
neighborhood he said introducing himself as Yuri and
this he pointed at a different word is a hostile popular was backpackers I hadn’t
even arrived in Tokyo and I had already learned two important lessons first it’s
not that scary to ask people for help second I should dress better one
hypothesis for why we love guidebooks so much is that relying on experts
alleviates our fear of the unknown and makes us feel more in control it’s an
approach that makes total sense except for one thing it’s an
ineffective way to plan a fun trip the problem with guidebooks has to do
with what psychologists call affective forecasting our ability to predict our
emotional that is affective reaction to a future event it’s a skill at which
we’re not particularly good we overestimate how much a positive event
will improve our lives we underestimate our ability to bounce back from hardship
and when it comes to travel we’re likely to be remarkably bad at predicting how
much we’ll enjoy the very experiences we so carefully planned instead of basing
our decisions on our own analysis we should just ask other people whether
they had a good time there’s ample research to back this up but I still
fall into the large camp of people who find it hard to believe that strangers
could be better than a guidebook at predicting what I’ll like so I was
surprised when I emerged from the train station at Asakusa the Northeast Tokyo
neighborhood would never have jumped out at me on a map but it was perfect
instead of the high-rise as an endless brand name stores that characterized
downtown Asakusa was filled with charismatic pedestrian streets lined
with small shops and restaurants and was home to the Sensoji temple the oldest in
Tokyo after dropping my bags at the hostel which was clean if basic I asked
for a restaurant recommendation in English from a young mother on the
street and ended up in a small restaurant that specialized in tempura
soon I was digging into the waitresses favorite dish a bowl of fried shrimp on
top of rice it wasn’t the best temp where I’d ever had but I didn’t care
alone in a strange city on my first night in town
I felt inspired by my experiences thus far and excited about what might happen
next before collapsing in the hostel I asked a woman who had helped me find a
towel what I should do if I woke up early a likely scenario since 2 a.m. in
Tokyo was 9 a.m. the day before on America’s West Coast she suggested the
Tsukiji market this wasn’t particularly creative Tsukiji is one of the biggest
tourist attractions in the city as well-known as the Empire State
Building or Times Square but at 4:00 in the morning what else was I going to do
when I awoke at 3:30 Sean’s alarm clock I was tempted to stay
in bed on principle but I fought the urge and headed into the dark the
streets were deserted the subway uncharacteristically empty and I was
surprised when I walked out of the station into a stream of people sweeping
me toward the cavernous market Tsukiji operated at the speed of a stock
exchange motorized carts barreled down it’s wet streets in unpredictable
directions forklifts hoisted pallets of sea creatures onto trucks and no matter
where I stood I was in someone’s way worried about meeting my doom under a
box of soft-shelled crabs I stuck close to a row of parked trucks and soon
entered the main area of the market rows of stalls displayed Styrofoam containers
of fresh seafood eels mackerel tightly coiled tentacles of octopus each booth
presided over by vendors wearing overcoats to keep out the cold the Sun
had barely begun to rise but at the back of the market the daily fish auction was
already underway dozens of enormous frozen tuna lay on
the ground in a large warehouse each with a round steak cut from its tail and
attached to its body by a piece of coloured plastic rope buyers and black
galoshes moved methodically from tuna to tuna jabbing the exposed flesh of the
tail with hooked tipped wooden sticks to determine the fattiness of the meat as I
watched a man climbed atop a small box and began frantically ringing a small
Bell then in a torrent of Japanese and hand signals he auctioned off the fish
despite the other tourists packed around me I felt exhilarated as if I’d stumbled
on to something secret I should pause here to explain my method of
communication figuring that most people’s English would be as
non-existent as my Japanese I’d had a fluent friend translate an introduction
and several key questions which I’d printed out on oversized cards and now
carried in my bag if I wanted to ask people their favorite dish or sight to
see I would show them the card have them write down the answer and have someone
else tell me what it said it was an excellent
system overall but beware google translate based on its software my
introductory card read put fear my name is Catherine price we are forced to
travel to ask your opinion of the residents there since the threshold and
what to look funny or what should I do other than seeking variety I had no
criteria for the people I approached the first person who made eye contact with
me usually got a card such was the case with a woman selling greens in a produce
market next to its Iggy Ji Won smile tossed my way and I thrust a question
into her hands it read what is your favorite restaurant so I tried to
explain via hand gestures what I actually meant was I’m hungry for
breakfast but already had a large bowl of shrimp tempura for dinner so could
you recommend something a little lighter she shook her head shyly and handed it
back a few days later a stranger recommended a restaurant called
amour when I arrived I sat at the bar which was decorated with a model train
set left over from the previous owner with one station in Asakusa and the
other in a German alpine village the Train was an odd addition to a French
Spanish restaurant in Tokyo but the food lived up to the boundary bending vibe I
tucked into a multi-course meal that included everything from smoked salmon
crepes – sea urchin consomme the chef and his wife hung out behind the bar as
I ate telling me their life stories we traded email addresses and I encouraged
them to contact me if they ever came to America she sweets lakelyn tongue I am
very happy the chef said at the end of the evening so was i I continued to
drift into experiences that I never would have had without strangers help I
met a former Seiko board member who was celebrating his 76th birthday with his
wife at a sushi restaurant called tuna people the man who spoke perfect English
gave me careful directions to a temple in his neighborhood north of Tokyo where
monks put on a theatrical fire ritual called a Goma ceremony several times a
day that night I asked the head sushi chef
for his favorite dish and after giving me both an unsolicited recommendation
for an art museum and a plate of julienned raw squid he
presented me with a row of negati topped with uncooked mollusks following the
suggestion of a young television host I met on the street I sought out a public
bath and spent a morning soaking in a pool of steaming hot water backed by a
mosaic of a blonde mermaid I asked an artsy looking woman with highlighted
hair and a fake leopard collar for her favorite lunch place and ended up in a
hawaiian-themed burger restaurant where the staff greeted me with Aloha I never
knew what might happen next I went to the Electric Power Historical Museum
experimented with something called an aroma computer visited a climbing gym
tried on a trendy wig took photos of myself in a subterranean photobooth
arcade and wrote a subway train at rush hour yes that was actually suggestion I
approached men women old people young people visitors from Taiwan and
Australia a toy store employee Starbucks baristas art students bank tellers and a
young woman dressed as a bunny rabbit and after each encounter I tried to do
everything people told me to do if you talk to me before the trip I’d have
predicted that my experiment would be stressful and indeed if it had lasted
longer my excitement might well have turned to anxiety and annoyance but
instead forbidding myself to plan for the future allowed me to be more
grounded in the present I felt a level of calm I rarely do in my normal life
where I’m supported not by strangers but by a loving network of family and
friends why was this and how could I bring the feeling home my last night in
Tokyo fell on a Friday I spent it in an area called the golden gai a dense grid
of alleys lined with tiny watering holes the bar I entered had six seats and no
standing room and I was presided over by a couple who led double lives as
professional voice-over actors for cartoon characters I chatted with the
bartender as her husband sat silently in the corner eating rice crackers what did
you do today she asked in hesitant English I told her about my project as
the bars other customers three men and messy business suits passed around my
cards when I announced that I visited acento a public bath she laughed
and interrupted me with a flood of Japanese that included two English words
dr. fish It was as if I were listening to am sports radio I could tell she was
speaking my language but I had no idea what she was saying you know she said
seeing my look of confusion dr. fish she made a nibbling motion with her
fingers to demonstrate eating your feet eventually I figured out what she was
talking about a beauty treatment in which you stick your feet into a tank of
water and let a special breed of fish nibble off your dead skin it got it
started as a treatment for psoriasis but now apparently was attracting a trendy
clientele this was not what I’d anticipated doing on my last night in
Tokyo karaoke maybe feet munching fish not so much but what the hell I’d come
this far on other people’s suggestions why stop now I had only one question how
to find a school of fish on call at 9 o’clock on a Friday night but that’s the
thing once you realize you can ask people for help it doesn’t take long to
find it the owner gave the name of the spa to one of the businessmen who made a
call and found out the fish were not only on duty until 3:00 in the morning
but we’re about a block from the bar excited the owner led me around the
corner and dropped me off in front of a glass window through which I could see a
tank full of fish nibbling on someone’s exposed toes I bought my ticket rinsed
my feet in the locker room and plunked them into the tank then began the most
ticklish 10 minutes of my life as fish swam beneath and between my toes
quivering as they flicked their tiny mouths against my skin I doubt many
philosophical treatises have been written in the company of doctor fish
but as a japanese couple join me in the tank and we giggled at one another like
love tickling needs no translation I had a thought
learning to trust life is like learning to swim first you flail convinced you’re
going to drown then you notice that if you calm down as possible to tread water
and once you let go and just relax you realize that the water was ready to
support you all along – for the road Justine van der loon we owe it to
ourselves to go on adventures my mother said she was dressed in a kimono
drinking a glass of wine in bed I’ve always wanted to go to Santa Fe I said
lying next to her in my pajamas eating a bowl of spaghetti
we had no extended family and because we were weirdos in our straight and narrow
Connecticut town I was a gangly 12 year old with a bad pageboy she spent her
free time painting cubist windmills few friends
Santa Fayed is my mother said with a flourish of her arm what’s stopping us
what should have stopped us was the soon to be discovered fact that my mother was
a terrible Vacation Planner dumbly adventurous absent-minded and a little
unlucky we packed our bags for New Mexico dreaming of winding mountain
pathways and red deserts we rose at dawn and hit the road after a hearty diner
breakfast we turned off the highway then off the main drag and then after
traveling for miles off the trail to take snapshots of each other
triumphantly claiming the flat desolate landscape as our own when we returned to
the car it was locked we peered through the window at the keys dangling from the
ignition the Coyotes will get us I moaned stand back yelled my wild-eyed
mother as she ran toward the car pitched her arm back and through a tiny Boulder
through the back driver’s side window six months later we toured the northern
California coast staying in hippie hotels and making
friends with people who owned Volkswagen buses one day we strolled barefoot down
an idyllic unpopulated beach gazing out at the cold Bluegreen Pacific hey I said
hooking my arm and hers what’s that big white thing floating in the water we got
closer dipped our toes in and shielded our eyes from the Sun
it looks like she began as her hair started to blow wildly several yards
away a helicopter touched down and a team of men in yellow uniforms ran
toward the water and hoisted out a dead bloated body wrapped in a tarp and
strapped it on a stretcher as they filed back toward the helicopter a swollen
foot poked out of the blanket bobbing up and down I don’t feel good I said me
neither she said one Christmas we drove through the lush and gloomy Irish
countryside taking tea at Hillside manors and writing melancholy poems in
the night my mother woke with a searing toothache
the cheery hotel clerk gave us a locals incomplete directions to the hospital
I’m not sure what the streets Namie’s but it’s by Malone’s barn and after
Dutch take either your second third or fourth right we navigated our way down
foggy dark curved roads passing sign after sign with only large black dots on
them what do those mean I asked looking at my mother’s white knuckles and
imagining her as a racecar driver they mean someone died here over the next
five years we rented a house in Maine that could have been a set for any movie
adaptation of a Stephen King novel and fled from a bed-and-breakfast owned by a
new aged couple who beat drums in the back yard at dusk my mother caught
bronchitis in Paris I fell off a horse in Utah when I was 17 we put on matching
straw hats and boarded a charter plane to a tiny Caribbean island it would be
our last trip together for a while I was leaving for college a few months later
this will be tropical heaven my mother said as the craft sputtered
onto a small landing pad strawberry daiquiris under an umbrella I said after
traveling through dejected villages in the back of an open truck we arrived at
a cheerless hotel owned by an unfriendly clan we trudged up the steps to a cement
room with two cots and mosquito net when I stepped into the
shower differentiated from the rest of the room by a drain in the floor I
realized that to keep the water flowing one had to hold on to a chain I’m sorry
my mother said hopelessly after dark we walked along the shore toward the
brightly lit resort in the distance two dark silhouettes pulling heavy baggage
along like smugglers in a clumsy attempt at gaining speed my mother swung her
duffle in front of her and then fell face-first onto the beach instead of
standing up she flopped onto her back sputtering sand I looked at her splayed
out lit by the moon and began against my will to giggle she joined me I really do
try she said next time I start to plan a trip stop me but I would never I lived
for our disastrous exploits other people messed up and had to answer to their
mothers my mother and I messed up together then we extracted ourselves
from whatever predicament we’d gotten into other people I imagined lived
boring lives always explaining themselves and staying out of trouble
I preferred our terrible team of two slightly bruised and plainly silly
getting into thrilling adventures that pushed the limits of absurdity each one
more delightful than the last family rituals Mary Ann ginger every summer
vacation my children and I returned to the cottage my parents built in the Blue
Ridge Mountains 35 years ago our holiday is never properly launched until upon
our arrival just before dark we scramble through the sloping drapery of foliage
and descend the ridge behind the house to the meadow where seen Oh Yvonne’s
hang like circus ropes from a canopy of trees parents and children alike
transform instantly we cut vines from the tangled roots and test them for
swinging strength holding tightly we let ourselves loose
upon the fragrant air soaring toward the distant Twilight mountaintops wreathed
in Crown’s of early stars the year of saying yes Patricia Volk I say no at the
drop of a hat I couch it as knowing what is good for
me then I have dinner with my friend Luisa who works in publishing late one
afternoon her editor says Luisa on the keynote speaker tonight and I’ve got a
scheduling conflict you have to help me out I found myself on a stage Luisa
reports with no idea what I was going to say then it occurred to me
Luisa you know more about this than they do and I started talking and it was fine
I would have said no I say and wound up at home in bed with a book what’s wrong
with that you’re not living Luisa says you’re in a cocoon you’re not stretching
stretching I have to keep stretching haven’t I stretched enough didn’t I
support a now ex-husband through Medical School while finishing my degree and
raising two kids haven’t I earned reading in bed with a bowl of great nuts
for dinner peace my new drug of choice Luisa and I kiss good night heading
uptown I argue with me me what’s so good about a book in bed since when don’t you
take chances I I’m relieved about what I’m missing me but what are you missing
how do you know I like arguing with myself everyone’s a winner by the time
the bus drops me off I’ve made a decision
starting tomorrow for one year I’ll strike no from my vocabulary
tomorrow morning begins the year of saying yes congratulations it’s a book
having a book published is like having a baby no stretch marks but it’s yours to
nurture so yes – Spencer Town Book Fair in
upstate New York even though it costs two hundred and ten dollars to rent a
car and I only sell one book and yes to the Caltech Athenaeum high tea even
though I spend more time flying to Pasadena than in Pasadena and yes to
talking to my friend Patti’s book club about my book I have a great idea Patti
says since your novel deals with the importance of secrets let’s everybody
tell a secret we’ve never told I go first
and tell a secret involving my ninth grade boyfriend Harry that once seemed
devastating tincture of time makes this secret hilarious or so I think but the
women sit there frozen nobody else will tell theirs I sell 11 books Broadway
debut my friend Martin Coe produces a show at the symphony space uptown would
you write something for it he asks I write a little ditty changing the words
– how about you why don’t you sing it Martin asks the big night arrives it’s
time for my Broadway debut so what if it’s Broadway a 95th Street there are
two shows 6:30 and 8:30 I print the lyrics on a doily in case I forget them
during the second show I’m so excited I forget to look at the doily and flip my
lines it doesn’t matter I read somewhere that when asked why he chose to spend
his life on the stage Sir Laurence Olivier replied by clapping I get it a
blind date he picks me up in my lobby we’re both wearing blue and white
gingham shirts he’s funny cute – even if I’m taller and out–we
him at brunch he gets sad talking about his late wife he won’t eat walking me
home he asks what are you afraid of I’m afraid I’ll never see a man in his
underwear again I say right there in the street he Yanks the tail of his belt and
starts to unzip I scream he says now if you hadn’t yelled so loud you would have
seen a man and as under where we take the long way home
walking miles through Central Park he raves about his new TV equipment then
offers to come check out mine examining the setup he says do you have some time
we walk more miles to a Best Buy where he discusses my case with the salesman
then we walk more miles back and he writes it all down
three days later blind date breaks up with me before we hold hands if I ever
upgrade my TV I’ll know just what to get what next the year of yes isn’t over
looming is a boat trip down the Hudson cooking for a fundraiser a hat making
class and ashram with my sister two speeches and participation in New York
City International pickle day when yes here is up will I go back to know and
grape-nuts maybe but perhaps less of both there
isn’t one thing I said yes to that I’m sorry I said yes to and look what I
would have missed no means safety and the numbing stasis that implies
unchanged the change has to do with the joy of being available to chance there
is a thrilling difference between being comfortable and being too comfortable
that difference makes you feel there’s no better word for it
radiant sharing delight to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to
divide it with Mark Twain spread a little sunshine Martha Beck I’m one of
those people who just want to make everyone’s day I love humanity each
man’s joy is a joy to me let’s be honest though I can’t spend all my time
bringing bliss to others I have work to do and bills to pay also someone has to
watch all six seasons have lost on DVD and to be blunt I don’t see you stepping
up but I digress my point is I’m sure you two
want to make other people’s days you with your six page to-do list and your
life devouring job and that will work for sleep expression on your haunted
little face that’s why I’m here to offer you not just seven ways to make someone
else’s day but seven ways to make someone else’s day without getting up
you may need to dial a phone but your torso can remain inert that is my kind
of altruism as you read the suggestions that follow monitor yourself if your
mind says great idea but your body says Oh too much work your body wins your
mind will tell you it’s virtuous to make someone’s day in ways that make your own
day stressful but trust me that just cancels out the overall benefit this is
simple math people undertake these do good strategies if and only if they feel
exceptionally easy one feel good around other people back in
the 60s and by that I mean the 1660s a Dutch scientist named Christian Huygens
realized that multiple pendulums mounted on the same wall always ended up
swinging in perfect synchrony even when he had set them in motion at different
times this phenomenon is called entrainment and in my experience humans
are just as likely to fall in sync as Huygens clocks at the very least many
neuroscientists believe that our so called mirror neurons can foster our
ability to empathize with the emotions we observe in others one rageaholic can
fill an entire office with anger while a truly happy person can lighten the mood
for everyone around her I once spent several hours in a room full of large
sleeping dogs who entrained me into such peace I now count that uneventful
afternoon as one of my life’s highlights to make someone’s day all you have to do
is stay physically near her while remaining in a state of contentment
humor compassion or calm getting deeply happy around any loved
one acquaintance or stranger refused to let go of your good mood you don’t have
to say or do anything else really it’ll make your day to see how easily you can
make someone else’s and before you know it you’ll be soothing entire
stressed-out crowds like the ones you find a food courts and matador
conventions to pretend people love you one of the statements that changed my
life comes from spiritual teacher Byron Katie when I walk into a room I know
that everyone in it loves me I just don’t expect them to realize it
yet I’m by no means certain that everyone in every room loves me but I
found that pretending they do works nicely when I want to make someone’s day
I spent much of my life wandering about armored against criticism and rejection
unaware that my weary defense appeared to others as inexplicable offense and
since everyone around me was also frightened their defenses escalated the
moment they encountered mine which in turn ratcheted up to me theirs and so on
this emotional arms race drives people apart in every home office subway car
dentist’s office rice field and square dancing school on earth but pretending
other people love you flips that vicious cycle into a virtuous one imagine how
you’d enter a public space say grocery store if you knew without a doubt that
everyone in it adored you how would you move how would you look at people what
would you say now imagine interacting with a loved one
while feeling so sure of her infinite unconditional acceptance that you had no
need for reaffirmation how would you behave you probably lay down some of
your armor then she would loosen hers then you’d relax even more and so on and
on and on try it right now you can do so without getting up pretending someone
loves you right where you sit will begin a day making spiral of love 3
stop worrying about everyone Barbara sits before me fairly drowning and
stress hormones her parents have come to the session with her would do anything
to eliminate her anxiety disorder and the panic attacks that go with it well
almost anything we’re so worried says Barbara’s mother Janice mom
dad says Barbara please don’t worry it just puts pressure on me
Janice is imploring eyes stay fixed on me what can we do
did you hear what she just said I asked he’s suffering Dave Barbara’s dad tells
me and what did she ask she needs to stop being so tense says Janice actually
she asked you both to stop worrying I say yes Barbara shouts well of course
we’ll keep worrying says Dave it’s our job Barbara turns to me and whispers
help mark this gentle listener love and worry are not the same if you believe
they are I point you in the direction a blogger Jenny Lawson who says a hug is
like a strangle you haven’t finished yet think of someone you’re worried about
now replace worry with something else creativity perhaps or singing or pseudo
coo I’m serious it truly will make that person’s day for advise people not to
trust you one of the first things I tell new clients is not to trust me why
should they they don’t know me my job is to be trustworthy while telling them to
put their trust where it belongs in their own sense of truth people often
tell me that simply hearing this is enough to make their day it’s like
taking spinach from a baby whoever coined the phrase taking candy from a
baby never had a baby I also advised my loved ones such as you
not to trust me it’s not that I’m pernicious or false
it’s just that I’m fallible if you trust me
before trusting yourself you’ll rob us both of excellent counsel so please
don’t trust anything I’ve said here unless it resonates his truth count on
your instincts to keep you safe they will doesn’t that make your day
five get someone else to help this may require a phone call so put a phone near
your Barcalounger then arrange for a third party not yourself to help the
person whose day you’re trying to make ask her what she needs groceries
delivered a cleaning person to detail the kitchen you needn’t bankroll these
services just be the one who makes the call many are the days folks have made
for me by enlisting help on my behalf and I didn’t have to feel guilty about
burdening them because I know that getting help for someone else is way
less arduous than asking for help yourself
so go ahead tell a nutritionist about your husband’s constipation schedule a
massage for your tightly my own best friend use that phone make that day six
gossip positively to praise people to their faces is to be disbelieved most of
us doubt or discredit positive feedback chalking it up to politeness or
brown-nosing or other social convention but what people say behind our backs
really sticks my life changed in an adolescent moment when I picked up a
phone extension not knowing the line was in use and heard a conversation about me
me me I don’t know what had gotten into the speakers perhaps a great deal of
what can only be called alcohol but they were saying nice things about me
this not only made my day it served as a foundation for emotional survival during
some tough times thereafter today mistakenly copy someone on an
email about his best qualities leave positive comments about your children on
notes accidentally scattered around the house admire people
loudly to third parties when you know the admired are eavesdropping praise be
seven help a loved one play hooky this is an ethically gray area so I would
never say you should do it I’m just hypothetically floating the
crazy idea that one day you might happen to call in sick for someone you love
well I think she’ll keep the hand if the bacteria isn’t antibiotic resistant but
it may be airborne once she’s free from school or work you
could do something that would enrich her life forever if that’s the kind of thing
you’d ever do which I would never suggest one day my friend Alan called in
sick for his girlfriend Jenny then took her scuba diving to a coral reef where
he’d previously planted an engagement ring
okay the diving involved getting up but the calling didn’t now Alan and Jenny
are married does she regret the memos she failed to
receive that day the emails that waited 24 extra hours for an answer she does
not go figure a river flows through us and really it was with a certain
timidity that I began reading Tom Sawyer to my son Charles we live in Italy and
Charles at 12 with a smudge of nascent mustache is one of those jaded
bicultural kids now produced in such quantities by this shrinking planet half
Italian on his father’s side half african-american on mine he spends
vacations in the States or traveling in Asia and Africa on a prodigiously
stamped Passport he’s a passionate reader both in Italian and English but
compared to the sensational premises of the books he suddenly started devouring
after James and the Giant Peach Tom Sawyer seemed parochial overly homespun
just plain small yet it seemed to me that a childhood without this book had a
dead spot in it I certainly didn’t want him discovering it on a reading list for
a college course entitled something myth and platonic motif and Mark Twain
so I resorted to trickery one September morning as we waded down at the end of
our driveway for the bus from the International School to appear down the
road I pulled Tom Sawyer out of my pocket and
said that though he was far too old to be read to I need to practice for an
upcoming book tour as Charles gave me a cut the crap
look I added craftily that it would be useful in his often described future
career as dictator of the Western Hemisphere 12 is a power-hungry age as
it was an American classic a key to the hearts and minds of future subjects then
I quickly started reading not at the beginning not even at the whitewashing
episode but at a point that instantly chimed with our immediate situation
Monday morning found Tom Sawyer miserable Monday morning always found
him so because it began another week’s slow suffering in school my son his eye
still clogged with sleep sat hunched on his backpack on the ledge by the
driveway fiddling with a castor bean pod the dog gnawing the toe of his running
shoes and listened to Tom’s encounter with Huck Finn on the way to school say
what is dead cats good for Huck good for cure warts with this is the kind of
conversation that in spite of contemporary distractions posed by
YouTube Borat and Andre 3000 still sings to the youthful soul I saw a glint in
charles’s I mark the page he commanded as the bus pulled up and he slouched out
of the gate and the next morning he asked me to start all over again at the
beginning after that our morning appointments with Tom Sawyer became a
ritual I read aloud in the dank northern Italian fog that rises off the Po River
at the foot of our hill on blazing clear days with a snowy line of the Alps
gleams in the distance in the rain huddled soggy under an umbrella as weeks
pass and the oak and castor leaves turned
brown and fell around us and the school bus chugged past withering vineyards up
the winding road we made our leisurely way through the white washing the pinch
bug in church tom staged death and glorious resurrection at his own funeral
the terror of Injun Joe the ordeal with Becky Thatcher in the cave the finding
of the treasure I recalled my own first reactions to the tale which I read like
many other books lying on a creaky glider on my Sun porch in a black
bourgeois Philadelphia suburb that spiritually was nearly as far from
Samuel Clemens as Missouri as our airy in the Italian Piedmont Hills my husband
who was born in Venice during the Second World War and whose childhood experience
of Americans was mainly limited to Gary Cooper movies and a standing maternal
order to avoid GIS and their offers of chocolate was pleased by our reading and
confessed that Tom Sawyer had been his favorite book as a boy when Charles and
I challenged him as to what he remembered he listed everything
precisely whitewashed funeral Becky cave treasure he said it reminded him of days
he’d spent on the lagoon with his friends messing around in boats fishing
swimming in canals Venice was cleaner then I always thought of the Mississippi
is looking something like the Judaica he added dreamily it’s well known that
great books are universal but I was struck by the ability of this slender
tale to delight any reader just on the verge of growing up one reason it does
so of course is that it focuses on the friction between the safe constrained
world of childhood and the terrible joys of mature freedom lawless adventure
romantic love the heroic pleasure of cutting a figure in the eyes of the
world I found unexpectedly touching the scene
in which Tom and his friend Joe Harper who’ve run off to live in a boy’s
paradise on a Mississippi island begin to sicken of freedom to feel the pangs
of desire for rules home the boundaries imposed by their mothers Swimming’s no
good says I don’t seem to care for it somehow
when there ain’t anybody to say I shan’t go in I’ve seen it many times at the end
of the day how boys what the height of their energy seem like Superman with
their alarming sophistication their rambunctious strength their overweening
need to push limits suddenly almost pathetically asked to be children again
both Charles and I sat riveted the morning I read Clemens is chilling
expansion into oratory as he describes the dying villains futile attempts to
gather drinking water from a dripping stalactite that drop was falling when
the pyramids were new when Troy fell when the foundations of Rome were laid
when Christ was crucified when Columbus sailed it is falling now it will still
be falling when all these things shall have sunk down the afternoon of history
and the twilight of tradition and been swallowed up in the thick night of
oblivion sometime later Charles said you forget that all this stuff is happening
to just one boy in a tiny little town it’s a big story big that’s just what I
thought and at the end of our reading I felt triumphant pleased that an American
River a small-town tale could reach over time and space the snug life Celia
barber the nicest thing I ever did for my single self was to buy an apartment
in New York City’s West Village I’d been slumming it for seven years living in a
fifth floor walk-up tenement and one day I decided that a proper home was no
longer a self-indulgence I was as real a grown-up as I’d ever be and deserved a
real place my lovely one-bedroom apartment had a park out front trees out
back a working fireplace and at 575 square feet was just big enough for me
and my cat and the occasional dinner party with friends no sooner had I
settled in then I met my husband Peter and he moved in we felt cozy life was
sweet sometimes at night we’d sit on the stoop
with two jelly jar glasses of scotch and watch the people passing by a year and a
half later George was born and I dusted off an old baby basket and placed it on
the floor beside our bed when Henry came along sixteen months after that he laid
claim to the basket and George was reassigned to our walk-in closet which
Peter a proficient carpenter had transformed into a nursery then Sidonie
was born switch switch switch George to a trundle bed built by Peter that rolled
under our bed Henry into the closet the baby girl in the basket and so we lived
snug as mice for a very happy little while last year we moved into a house
built in 1900 it has three storeys eight rooms and five bathrooms plus an attic
that smells like heat and a basement that smells like mold it has doors that
close and hallways separating one room from another places to talk privately on
the phone and to do yoga in the morning without having my torso straddled by a
kid who has suddenly perceived my untapped potential as a hobby horse our
house is not big at least by contemporary standards because it has no
superfluous rooms devoted to leisure or grandeur no family room for example and
no great room cowering beneath a cathedral ceiling we just have the basic
LRD r BR K study which is fine despite the fact that the kids are growing like
corn because all our rooms are living rooms by which I mean we live in the
mall the only time I find myself wishing for more square footage is when I’m
overwhelmed by stuff books faces wrapping paper hand-me-downs waiting to
be grown into chairs and daydream about building an edition where the flotsam
could comfortably reside then I think don’t be crazy Celia a home is a place
to do things not store things it’s not meant to house your possessions but your
life and it turns out that our lives together are quite compact yes during
the day we eat might spiral off into the wide wild
world the kids at school studying China or peninsulas bicycling around the
neighborhood or sledding down the hill Peter and I dogged Li pursuing our
careers but back at home we draw close this habit of being in one another’s
presence engrained unconsciously we collect in the same room
even if we’re each doing our own things the boys building Lego speedboats Peter
replying to emails me reading Sidonie communicating quietly to her stuffed
animals we may not be interacting with one another at all but having started
out like pieces of a single puzzle nestled together so neatly we still
return to that familiar configuration as individuals we may be big but as a
family we are really very small married with other people’s children
Veronica chambers all my adult life I’ve had a passion for what I call OPC other
people’s children I love introducing my nieces and nephews
and kid friends to my favorite books jump rope tricks and rhymes I tried to
have my own relationship with the children in my life I write them letters
call them for playdates go to recitals and plays and as I’ve gotten into my 30s
I’ve upped the ante it took me six months for example to find a Hawaiian
tiki hut slash lemonade stand and a pair of matchin grass skirts to ship to my
nieces in Philadelphia for Christmas the year before I’d given my nephews a
laptop I’ve opened 529 savings funds for their college education which turned out
to be easy with a minimum of a $25 monthly contribution I could set up an
automatic withdrawal from my bank account and after a while that $50 or
$75 didn’t hurt at all one year I sent my nephew Frederic to football camp at
the University of Pennsylvania he comes from a rough neighborhood and at the
time he was 13 and already getting into trouble with gangs he’s a talented
football player hence the cap but more than anything
I wanted him to get a glimpse of college life I loved driving him up to the Penn
dorms and seeing him fall in love with campus life the summer after that I sent
Frederick’s brother Jesse to a mountain biking camp in New Hampshire I was
looking for a place where Jesse wouldn’t feel like a fresh air fun kid but would
still get a glimpse of a different life Jesse spent two weeks biking down ski
trails riding through mud he also learned how to pitch a tent and surf and
I became the coolest aunt ever this past summer Jesse came to stay with us for
seven weeks for years we’ve been finding programs for our nephews writing checks
but having Jesse lived with us for almost two months took things to a new
level he had schoolwork to do and book reports
to write on his break we had to learn how to be disciplinarians we also had to
organize his social schedule the first day I had two 12 year old boys running
through my house I thought I was going to lose my mind
then came the day when I had four twelve-year-old boys running through the
house and I realized I had no mind left to lose and that was more than okay I
loved it there were hard moments times when Jesse let us know that we were not
his parents and we could rot in hell for all he cared there were doors slammed
and there were tears both my husband and I were trying to feel for the boundaries
in the end we decided we could only do what real parents actually do wing it
and pray that when we got it wrong we weren’t doing irreparable damage and I’m
guessing we didn’t because the last night jesse was with us he was invited
to a party where all the cool kids he’d met over the summer were going to be
hanging out and he chose to stay home and hang out with us instead after Jesse
left Jason and I had the conversation we’ve had a zillion times we would like
to have a family and we would really like to adopt but our nieces and nephews
are getting older each year these kids become more independent and interesting
I have fantasies of taking my nieces to Paris and my nephews to Tokyo of showing the
all the places I’ve been and loved some days Jason and I think why should we
bother reaching into the ether for children we do not know when there are
already these half-dozen children who stake their claim in our world again and
again we get stuck there we love our friends kids we love our nieces and
nephews we love being the relief pitcher parents but the problem with other
people’s children is that you have to give them back then again a week after
my nephew went home I walked into his room which had reverted to our guest
room and for the first time all summer it did not smell like owed to 12 year
old boy I put on a pair of stilettos and a sexy blouse and my husband took me to
dinner alone for the first time all summer
the waiter arrived with a lovely bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and we raised our
glasses to toast the best part of OPC freedom you’re welcome Lauren F winner last month my friend Mary and her sister
came to visit from Virginia their three-day stay was my great chance to
show that though exiled in Manhattan I could still haul out the southern
hospitality I wasn’t sure that I and my tiny dust
bunny grad student apartment were up to it and it turned out that we weren’t
quite I had to ask my guests to bring their own towels because I owned only
two well now I own for Mary sent me a pair of fluffy one 10 ply blue ones as a
thank-you gift I grew up on biblical stories about hospitality in Genesis
Abraham goes out of his way to welcome three guests strangers all they turn out
not to be weary rumpled travelers but angels who have come to tell the
childless Abraham and Sarah that they’ll soon have a son this story is echoed in
the Gospels which tell if two men who encounter a stranger on the road to
Emmaus as they walk the two men invite the stranger to join them for dinner and
while breaking bread they realize their guest is the Risen Jesus
fatality is supposed to be something we do for others but whenever I have guests
even those who don’t buy me towels or turn out to be angels or deities I feel
like I’m reaping the benefits hospitality involves sharing an intimate
private place and letting someone in shows trust it shows that we’re
committed to lasting relationships with our friends not just quick coffees when
convenient if Mary and her sister had stayed in a hotel when they came to New
York we would have met up for dinner one night but I wouldn’t have spilled my
romantic woes to her at 7:45 a.m. while her sister was showering and I was
curling my hair I wouldn’t have counseled Mary over late-night tea about
whether she should continue to scrape by as a writer or search for a teaching job
there simply wouldn’t have been time my mother a fine hostess when she sets her
mind to it rarely has overnight guests because she feels like she has to turn
her house into Martha Stewart Living to accommodate them she stalks the kitchen
with home baked goodies dust floorboards that were dusted two days before and
buys new hand towels soaps and lotions for the guest bathroom in the 1957
edition of etiquette Emily Post describes the endless trials of the
perfect hostess if the cook leaves the hostess will have to organize a
last-minute picnic unless she is actually unable to stand up a hostess
must keep any physical ailments hush-hush
the ideal hostess must have so many perfections that were she described in
full no one seemingly but a combination of seer and angel could ever hope to
qualify the first step to reviving hospitality is redefining it I can’t
imagine having time even to shop for dinner much less cook it but I can order
in exotic Swedish food that Mary and her sister won’t find in Charlottesville I
can scan my crowded bookshelves for the titles they’ll enjoy and leave them on
the bedside table and I can make sure Mary’s favorite Irish teas in my cabinet
guests aren’t looking for five course meals they’re looking for a little
comfort away from home a firm mattress a warm welcome and what they offer in
return is the incomparable joy of closeness the Joan show Jessica
winter my husband saw her first on a cold December afternoon the veterinary
clinic down the street from our apartment sometimes Park stray kittens
in its front window a scrawny calico with fur like dandelion fluff was
mewling at him through the glass as if he were an errant teenager who just
plowed his bicycle into her parked car he called me I hustled over when I
picked her up her body relaxed instantly as if she’d been rigid with anticipation
a long time and now could finally breathe easy she hooked her tiny white
paws over my shoulder and snuggled close she purred dreamily she sighed a little
kitten sigh half an hour later she was in our apartment now years later that
moment to the clinic remains the one and only time I have ever gotten a hug from
my cat first impressions to the contrary Joan my husband named her Joan as in
Didion for her poison figure does not like being cuddled when she submits to
petting it is often with the Wrigley distressed manner of a small child
surrendering to the attentions of a grizzled old aunt with an ashtray kiss
failure has touched much of my tenure as Joan’s CO Guardian I failed to teach her
to fetch I failed to convince her that the couch is not a potato that needs
peeling I failed to sell her on her water bowl faucets only I can’t change
Joan or even slightly modify her instead she has changed me it never occurred to
me before that I could love another creature so much without expecting
reciprocation I must be content to admire Joan
slightly from afar as one might admire a famous actor or athlete the upside is
that I have year-round tickets excellent seats two for the Joan show spinning
leaps through the air at a dangled dish towel vertical Sprint’s along our living
room walls heroic combat crawl missions into my parents garden from
which she emerges with voles attached to her claws like finger puppets and once
in a while should curl up beside us at bedtime or offer a friendly headbutt
maybe I’ll come home from work and she’ll trot up the hall to greet me
cooing like a Turtledove or maybe I’ll be crying over something stupid and
she’ll place the comforting paw on my knee come to think of it she does that
dainty paw pad every time and it always makes me laugh through my tears come on
get happy it is not easy to find happiness in ourselves and it is not
possible to find it elsewhere Agnes rep layer pleasure 101 gretchen
reynolds if you’re used to thinking of happiness as an elusive unattainable
quality that arrives only when everything is absolutely perfect good
luck with that you’ll be glad to hear that you’ve got it all wrong as it turns
out pleasure can be had quite readily provided you’re ready to try a few of
these simple steps chocolate can be a taste of ecstasy it not only releases
good vibe brain chemicals but also feels pleasant in the mouth it speaks to us
culturally of reward and indulgence then there’s music try listening to a
soothing piece a song that calms you close your eyes your pulse should slow
and your muscles loosen not happening put on classical folk rock soul hip hop
reggaeton whatever appeals let the music transport you make you forget where you
are how long you’ve been listening and you were saying something about troubles
go outside walk or drive to the nearest park or beach away from human hubbub sit
quietly listen for finches gulls the whisper of a breeze the bubble and
whoosh of a stream if someone is with you reach for that person’s hand smile
say nothing let the birds chorus look at something beautiful watching cnn’s war
and natural disaster coverage while good for your civic knowledge won’t do much
for your sense of well-being but there’s an antidote switch to a slow soothing
nature show lush landscapes and quiet scenes of ponds and streams quell
distress find a room with a view especially if trees grass and sky any of
you will help even of a parking lot to find pleasure look at life remember
memories often carry melancholy too and that emotion also is bound up in our
sense and our joys ask any mother of grown children who sniffs a newborn’s
peachy sweet head her pleasure will be plaited with loss it won’t necessarily
be any less boying for that though smell things sense can send you pleasure is
wrapped up with remembrance as Marcel Proust knew but neuro scientists are
only beginning to understand the smells that give you the most pleasure are tied
to your loves and longings and your life’s experiences think back to when
you were happiest was it your wedding night or the day you
got the job of your dreams how did that moment smell was your husband wearing a
freshly laundered shirt did your new employer have roses in her office do
some detective work visit fragrance counters and flower shops close your
eyes breathe deep keep a journal of the smells that unexpectedly transport you
then recreate them turn off the lights lie down and inhale a freshly picked
rose or burry your nose in one of your husband’s shirts preferably one he’s
just taken off as he slips into bed beside you could you be happier dan
Baker PhD it might seem a little mood ring era to suggest taking a happiness
quiz many people however are so used to being unhappy that they
barely notice it says psychologist dan Baker PhD co-author of what happy people
know it’s like living next to railroad tracks after a while you don’t hear the
trains using the latest research Baker has devised an emotional checkup based
on his theory that happiness develops from a number of internal qualities
including courage love humor altruism and a sense of freedom and purpose
although it’s impossible to quantify precisely how happy a person is this
quiz will give you a general idea of where you fall on the spectrum take a
moment to grab a pen and write down how often you agree with the following
statements never infrequently sometimes or frequently one I believe my life will
truly begin when the right person or circumstances come along never
infrequently sometimes frequently – I feel best when I give
unconditionally never infrequently sometimes frequently three when I think
about people in my life I focus on those who have hurt or disappointed me for
when I think about people in my life I focus on those I care about and love
five there is not enough time for taking care of me six I’ve helped myself
through difficult times with a positive attitude 7 I take myself very seriously
8 I believe it’s up to me to find meaning in my life 9 when things don’t
go well I feel trapped or overwhelmed 10 although life circumstances change my
beliefs and capabilities will allow me to survive and thrive 11 who wouldn’t
rather receive a gift than give 112 there is a spiritual power that I can
turn to for comfort whenever I need to 13 there are events in my life that have
left me forever scarred and impaired 14 life is a big joke and it’s often at my
expense 15 fear keeps me from standing up for what I believe in
16 I’ve grown emotionally spiritually through difficult and painful events 17
without enough money or love I can’t feel secure 18 I make taking care of my
health a priority 19 people hurt my feelings
20 life is good and I appreciate what I have 21 I’m unclear about the purpose
and meaning of my life 22 what matters most is enjoying
relationships 23 I have too much to do 24 I feel fulfilled never infrequently
sometimes frequently scoring for every time you
answered sometimes give yourself a – for even numbered questions never and
infrequently get a 1 and frequently gets a 3 for odd numbered questions never and
infrequently get a 3 frequently gets a 1 add up your total results 50 to 70 –
congratulations consider yourself a happy person 30 to 49 you’re not
miserable but your sunny side could use a nudge think about your strengths and
the activities you love focus more of your life on them obvious yes but so is
sleeping an extra hour when you’re tired the trick is to actually do it 29 or
less you could be getting so much more from life is your language including the
dialogue in your head destructive over time a little lingo substitution can
gradually lift the mood is your first impulse to find fault
try seeking out possibilities instead do you know any happy people if so what can
you learn from them when something bad happens do you fall apart that old
cliche about finding strength through adversity is a golden rule for happy
people finally are you assuming that money power or status will bring you
satisfaction or that everything will be great when someone else changes if so
and you get points for being honest try shifting your focus inward and take
responsibility for your emotions bottom line and you’ve probably heard this
every third day of your life but there’s a reason for that only you can make
yourself happy Cheers Lisa Funderburk many of us have a hunch
though it hasn’t been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that the only category
of humanity more annoying than Street mimes is optimists you know them
sunny pollyannas in denial about the world’s harsh realities skipping along
head in the clouds and no doubt we hope about to step in something unpleasant
but optimism is much more than reckless chirping through our days according to
experts is a high-voltage power tool in the life skills toolbox researchers have
characterized it as everything from a coping mechanism to a physical
patterning of neurobiological pathways established in our earliest years
optimists know how to bounce back they can see a setback as temporary
changeable if an optimist encounters a recipe she can’t make work she’s likely
to perceive the failure as external and temporary and I’m having an off day
while the pessimist makes it internal and indelible I’ll never learn to cook
victories are just the reverse optimist think of them as permanent and
far-reaching pessimists think of them as fleeting and situation-specific
if you nurture a sense of possibility and the expectation of positive
results you’re more likely to have a life in which possibilities are realized
and results are positive you’ll have a better chance of being promoted fighting
off the cold that’s been going around and attracting people to you
platonically and otherwise pessimistic people are two to eight times more at
risk for depression and researchers have found that optimists are less likely to
develop cancer or to die from heart disease almost everyone can learn to be
more optimistic even if that means distorting reality you can also begin to
recognize and catalog the negative messages you give yourself then dispute
those thoughts as if debating an external foe gradually the new responses
become automatic according to some researchers each of us has a happiness
set point we’ve each been dealt a happiness hand some of us with higher
cards than others but we can increase our potential for
joy by taking steps to get involved with people causes and ideas one of the
hallmarks of depression is self absorption and so optimism with its
emphasis on seeking and seeing what’s good outside of ourselves and in the
world helps us take those steps taking a chance on joy Roger Houston you know
those moments when nothing special is happening
maybe you wake up early one morning to the sound of a thrush outside the window
or perhaps to the whirr of the traffic below your apartment and a smile spreads
over your face for no reason you feel different aware of an ease in your body
that wasn’t there before with hindsight I’ve come to see that moments like these
happen when I have forgotten myself when for a moment or two the plot line of my
life dissolves and I am just where I am without the responsibility of playing
the lead in my own fascinating story my dramas worries and concerns my
aspirations and hopes and fears fall away I have no agenda nothing
want to do nothing I want to alter or improve upon the air is lighter and so
am i but then the world is not easy it can take all our time and attention to
avoid hitting the shallows or landing on the rocks that seem to be such an
intrinsic part of the human experience we have only to look at our lives or
those of people we know to see that pain and suffering strike even the most
fortunate so who has time to forget what we’re meant to be doing and where we’re
meant to be going life is a serious business and someone needs to be there
to steer the ship what is the use of gazing out the window
doing nothing I think our difficulty in accessing happiness lies in large part
right there we are usually preoccupied with being
useful doing something with an outcome in mind rather than being open to where
we are at this moment and we are largely convinced that nobody goes to heaven for
having a good time we think pain is virtuous suffering can be a great
purifier a forger of character no doubt about that but happiness can take us
into the wide world beyond our own self preoccupations it can join us to the
trees to other people to cows and to stones into the living pulse of
humankind itself it can join us to the China mug of tea in our own hand strange
then that it should seem so fleeting joy is weightless light is ether you
communicate it less in words than by a savor you leave in the air it is our
natural state it is the feeling of who we are when we are most at home in
ourselves it means that there’s nothing else to add to what we already have or
to who we already are why would we ever want to resist it I suspect it’s because
not having a big story to tell can feel undefended tender there’s not so much to
hold on to less substance in our identity when we are happy in the sense
of wanting nothing happy isn’t so interesting to talk about as sad and it
doesn’t have a through it is for now without any future in mind
most of our talking is about the past or future and when we are happy we are in
neither the world is so full of sorrows you might say how can we deserve or dare
to feel simple delight how can we afford not to
the poet Jack Gilbert asks in his poem a brief for the defense sorrow is
everywhere he says people are suffering deeply all over the world yet the women
in the brothels of Bombay laugh out loud and women at the well smile and sing
even as their neighbor is wasting away if we refuse our happiness we diminish
in some way their deprivation no we must risk delight we must have the
stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world stop
whining Roxane gay I have lived in rural America for nine years first in Michigan
whereas getting my PhD then in central Illinois and now in Indiana where I’m a
professor in a place where most people have lived the whole of their lives I
feel like a stranger someone on the outside looking in there are a few
things I enjoy more than complaining about my geographic isolation I’m a
vegetarian so there’s nowhere to go out for a nice dinner that doesn’t involve a
50-mile Drive I’m black so there’s nowhere to get my hair done that doesn’t
involve another 50 mile drive I’m single and the dating options are at times
rather grim the closest major airport is two hours away I recite these complaints
to my parents my brother’s my friends I complain and long pathetic emails and
essays it just feels so damn good to say I am mildly miserable behold my misery
alas suffering offers more nobility than joy sometimes it seems like complaints
are the lingua franca among my friends we’re all decided
was something back in Illinois my friends complained about the train to
Chicago and how it’s never on time my friends in bigger cities complain
about the expensive rent and strange smells on the subway my married friends
complained about their partners my single friends complain about the
wretchedness of dating I cannot even get into my friends with kids complaining
allows us to acknowledge the imperfect without having to take action
it lets us luxurious in inertia we all have grand ideas about what life would
be like if only we had this or did that or live there
perhaps complaining helps bridge the vast yawn between these fantasy selves
and reality but it also makes me lose sight of things while I may not love
where I live there are plenty of people who are proud to call this place home
recently at a party with some colleagues I was going on and on about everything I
couldn’t stand about our town when I noticed that they were mostly silent and
shifting uncomfortably that humbling moment forced a shift in me complaining
may offer relief but so does acceptance there is no perfect place there is no
perfect life there will always be something to moan about by focusing on
my grievances I risk missing out on precious startling moments of joy those
times when during a long drive home from the airport I stare out at the Prairie
flatness the breathtaking shades of green as tender buds of corn pushed
their way through freshly tilled soil at the wooden barns their paint peeling and
faded and at all a manor of farm equipment massive but there is poetry
and how these behemoths rumble across the land when I get home I stand on my
balcony and look up into the night sky and see all the stars and I know that I
have absolutely nothing to complain about dare to play brené Brown a few
years ago I noticed in my research that wholehearted people my term for men and
women with the courage to be vulnerable and live their lives all in shared
something else too they goofed off they spent their time doing things that to me
seemed frivolous like gardening and reading I couldn’t really wrap my head
around it where they slackers then one day while I watched my kids jump on the
trampoline in our backyard it hit me wholehearted adults play a researcher I
know describes play as time spent without purpose to me this sounds like
the definition of an anxiety attack I feel behind if I’m not using every
last moment to be productive whether that means working cleaning the house or
taking my son to baseball practice but I can’t ignore what the research mine and
others tells us play doing things just because they’re fun and not because
they’ll help achieve a goal is vital to human development play is at the core of
creativity and innovation play can mean snorkeling scrapbooking or solving
crossword puzzles it’s anything that makes us lose track of time and
self-consciousness creating the clearing where ideas are born which means it’s a
mistake to restrict play to vacations there are plenty of ways to incorporate
it into your everyday life create a playlist write down three activities you
could do for hours on end mine are reading editing photos on my computer
and playing ping-pong with my family now carve out time on your calendar
even when I’m busiest I schedule unstructured time it’s important to
protect play time the way you protect work church or PTA meetings play well
with others when my husband and kids made their own playlists we realized
that our usual vacations which involved sightseeing weren’t really anyone’s idea
of play so now we go places where we can hike swim and play cards things that
make us all our most silly creative and free-spirited selves on crumbling my
face Catherine Newman my son Ben peers over
my shoulder at the photograph in my hand I love that picture he says and of
course he does all he sees is his peachy six-year-old self in the foreground
blurred with happiness and dancing with his little sister pantsless and laughing
who wouldn’t smile to see them well someone wouldn’t whatever that thing is
in the background hunched in its robe over a coffee mug even from here you
can’t miss my scowl lines like the angry stomp of a pterodactyl foot between the
eyes it’s the kind of face that would make you pedal your bike faster if you
saw it in a window from the street listen I’m a feminist I’m not vain but I
mind looking like a bitch remember Dorian Gray how he remained baby-smooth
while an old oil painting of him magically wrinkled up into oblivion I’m
like that but on opposite day somewhere in the Attic there must be a smooth
portrait of me my face a glossy bisque to reflect the contentment I feel inside
but my actual face looks as if it’s been pressed onto the front of my head after
first getting wadded up like a big Mack wrapper I’m getting Botox I joked to my
husband Michael but not saw like younger just to prevent me from scowling at all
of you I’m totally kidding and then suddenly I’m not what if I were
physically unable to pull my face into negativity perhaps I would be paralysed
away from my own bouts of bad temper studies have proved this or something
like it a facial expression doesn’t simply reflect your moods it actually
shapes them frown and you feel sad laugh and your spirits left
he’s mood enhancement one of Botox his promises I can’t say since i’m too proud
and broke to consider it seriously also the word botulism unnerved me
instead I choose a moisturizer from the mile of products at the drugstore but
massaging it into my rutted forehead just gives me a scattering of pimples
then in the bath one evening I suddenly remember the Old Farmer’s
Almanac i paged through in the tub as a child in particular the ads for those
old-fashioned brownies beauty patches a kind of scotch tape for the face which
pulls your wrinkles apart in hopes they’ll stay flat the company still
exists it turns out the website offering smiling headshots of women and
guarantees of happy results plus they’re cheap i order some you’re supposed to
separate them at their perforations lick them and stick them to your skin all in
all they’re about as high-tech as pebbles or cheese my family understands
the beige triangle to be a symbol of my renewed benevolence when I sigh one
night over a pot of borscht Ben asks if he can get me a frowny the way you might
offer aspirin to someone with a headache my daughter birdie her own face aglow
with toddler sweetness touches it with a serious fingertip and asks if I pulled
this off then you’ll be grumpy well yes maybe because however bizarre this
ritual may be it’s working taped into placidity I can’t really scowl the more
I don’t scowl the more my family grins back and here’s the only part of my
strange experiment that isn’t crazy the more the people I love most smile at me
the happier I feel don’t go changing Beth Lavigne recently a friend asked me
if I’d ever been to Israel before I could open my mouth she added slyly oh
that’s right you can’t get on a plane I think she was trying to be funny there
was a time when I would have died a thousand deaths
she knows my dirty secret she’s making fun of me she thinks I’m pathetic I am
in fact pathetic this time however I stopped the tape in
my head and played a new one it said everyone has a screw loose somewhere and
having a thing about planes happens to be mine you have no idea how hard I’ve
worked to get here I’ve been a fearful flier since grade school
once I grew up I could why knuckle of flight but the months leading
up to it were full of panic attacks sleepless nights cancelling and
rebooking and once we landed constant worry about
the flight back along with fear came self-loathing I was
defective weak chickenshit why could everyone else just
do this my last flight was in 1986 a quick and uneventful trip on the shuttle
from New York to Boston I haven’t flown since oh I tried I tried cognitive
behavioral therapy classes tranquilizers meditation workbooks everything seemed
to make it worse I once got myself admitted to a Yale University airplane
phobia study my first meeting was scheduled for wait for it September 11th
2001 when the World Trade Center was falling I was getting ready to leave for
a fear of flying intake needless to say I didn’t go to the meeting I didn’t go
to any subsequent meetings I gave up but the self-flagellation didn’t stop look
at all the amazing experiences you could be having you big weenie so I decided to
go have some on a whim I auditioned for a show at a community theater much to my
surprise I got the part then another that involved singing and dancing
neither of which I do particularly well all my friends asked aren’t you
terrified that stopped me short I the queen of panic had zero anxiety about
and took much joy in doing something most people fear in other words there
were things I could do that other folks couldn’t maybe I wasn’t going to see the
Taj Mahal anytime soon but how many of my friends could blithely play a
ninety-year-old obese ex vaudevillian in front of an audience without an ounce of
fear life wasn’t passing me by because they couldn’t get on a plane he was
passing me by because I was obsessing about what I couldn’t do instead of
rocking the things I could fly or don’t fly I thought but don’t waste another
minute whining about it not long after while poking around a
gift shop I found a striated Brown with a word engraved in it gratitude it
took my breath away that one word distilled my shift in attitude for me to
pity myself not to celebrate the talents strengths and opportunities I have well
that would be ungrateful The Rock now sits on my dresser I think about its
message every day I am not my fears and my fears are not me my world is way
bigger than that ask away Elizabeth Gilbert one morning in 1993 I walked
into the offices of a famous magazine in New York City and asked for a job as a
writer I had no appointment no experience and not a single published
article to my name but I’d had an epiphany nobody was ever going to knock
on my door and say we understand a talented writer lives here and we’d like
to help her with her career no I would have to go knocking on doors so I did I
just walked in off the street and asked to be hired as a reporter and guess what
it didn’t work of course it didn’t work they weren’t dummies and I was totally
unqualified jeez how do you think the world works people but I still think of
it as one of the most important moments of my life because it was the boldest
when I went home that day I was still broke and obscure but at least I knew I
was brave I wouldn’t have to suffer the pain of knowing I hadn’t tried nearly
800 years ago the Persian mystic poet Rumi wrote you must ask for what you
really want he saw asking as a sacred duty and I
think he was right not because your wishes will be granted automatically
they won’t but because the mere act of saying aloud this is who I am and what
I’ve come for seems to awaken a powerful force within by articulating your wish
you’re making an announcement that you’re serious about bringing the next
great thing and real lasting happiness into your life the hurdle however is
that asking for you really want whether it’s a job as a
writer or a discount on tires can be difficult especially for women first of
all you must know what you really want which can be hard if you were raised to
please others secondly you must believe that what you want is worthy again a
tricky prospect for women long trained in the dark arts of self-deprecation
thirdly you must face the possibility of rejection that’s the worst one women
don’t like being turned down we get enough of that in our personal lives and
so like trial lawyers we often ask only questions to which we already know the
answers which means no risk which further means no reward the funny thing
is that rejection is not so bad really this is something I think men have
always understood but a glorious failure can sometimes be more life-affirming
than a cautious win this is why men are constantly asking for stuff they might
not even deserve or aren’t totally qualified to handle I don’t say this as
an insult to men either I wish more women would do the same because
sometimes you get a yes and even if you weren’t prepared for that yes you rise
to the occasion you aren’t ready and then you are it’s irrational but it’s
magical I can’t instruct you in exactly how to
ask for things it’s not my area of expertise and there are too many
variables to account for sometimes you have to be gracious and charming and
other times you have to be brash and bold but generally speaking it’s a
surprisingly simple formula just freaking ask because the essential fact
is that asking is the best way the only way really to get what you want to do
list or not to do list Martha Beck on New Year’s Eve when I was 21 I had a
chat with a friend I’ll call Vicky the last three months
sucked Vicky said I had 10 pounds to lose so I didn’t let myself leave my
room except to go to class until I hit my
goal weight she lifted her champagne this is a year I can really start living
two days later Vicky was killed in a traffic accident
I’m sorry if that story harsh your mellow it’s been on my mind for decades
since Vicky’s death I’ve never been able to stop asking how would I spend the
next three months if I knew they were my last sitting in a dorm room waiting for
my thighs to shrink has never made the list our culture loves the phrase it’s
never too late we want to believe we can toss every adventure onto our bucket
list and accomplish them all but life is brief there’s a lot we don’t have time
for chief among them in my book is worrying about our bodies specifically
wishing for completely new ones you can make alterations of course lose weight
or gain it have surgeons perform anything from liposuction to mole
removal ultimately you’ll still have to face the fact that we each get one body
per lifetime the one I’m in now is mine it’s puffy little fingers it’s strangely
shaped skull it’s inexorable mortality and the one you’re in is yours
Vicki spent her final months obsessing about her supposed physical
imperfections it’s too late for you or me to do the same instead consider this
you have trillions of intricate cells performing a vast array of functions
with phenomenal precision even if you do nothing but suck up pork rinds that’s a
miracle so enough with the self-loathing already and enough to with all the
things you don’t want to do but do any way to impress people what a waste
my client Gloria is a physician whose first words to me were I hate people and
I hate to touch them when I asked why she chosen such a people touching
profession she replied so I could say I’m a doctor this is what I call ego
candy the egos appetite for adulation is endless its capacity to create genuine
happiness nil it’s far too late to spend another minute starving your soul to
feed your need for praise nor do you have time for the toxic people you’ve
been trying to turn into healthy ones many people become wiser calmer and more
emotionally healthy with age and experience while other people display
neither psychological health nor interest in changing you may already
have spent much of your life trying to get the love you deserve and need from
someone in that second group I’m so sorry dear but it’s too late that love
will not be forthcoming here’s an idea how’s about you spend less time on
relationships in which you feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the
football Lucy and Vera bleep pulls away and spend more time with people who
don’t leave you crushed and disappointed over and over and over go find the
people who are waiting to love you because they do exist I promise you this
the time you free up can be used in ways you haven’t even imagined purging your
bucket list creates space for all the little things that make up happiness
like napping watching television petting the cat climbing trees or solving
crosswords what sane adult has time for such activities you may ask when there
are so many important things to achieve well I do I spent years working hard to
accomplish important things only to realize that I get limitless joy from
filling my bird feeder reading books about stuff that never happened and
sitting still for hours at a time not even thinking our culture doesn’t
consider these acceptable alternatives to a hard-driving high earning important
thing yet they’re the very activities we turn to
once hard work and self-denial have freed up a little time think of Vicky
don’t wait free that time now if someone accuses you of wasting time tell them
that a doctor would be me I have a PhD has just
informed you that you have a fatal condition life and don’t have long to
live even a hundred years is brief and say geologic time then go back to
learning origami or watching cat videos it is too late to postpone these things
any longer we are time starved people obsessed with fitting huge achievements
into our few years in the process we often fill our buckets with things that
don’t matter or work but when we give up on trying to change what can’t be
changed and simply embrace what we love a miracle occurs we notice that the
moment to be happy has already arrived it’s here now thank you for watching
this video my friends I hope you really enjoyed it make sure you leave a comment
below and please subscribe to this channel I want to give them so much more
thank you and I’ll see you next time Oprah Winfrey Presents: O’s Little Book of Happiness (The Editor’s Best Collection – Full Audiobook)

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