Happiness Is…

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When I was young, I had a tall glass that had a jubilant Snoopy and Woodstock and the words: “Happiness is a root beer float.” This stein, even when filled with milk or water, made me happy.

For me, happiness hasn’t changed too much since then. I still delight in birthday cake, mom’s cooking, and afternoon naps.

***

Yesterday, as I was Spring cleaning my office, I observed how I display, for students and for myself, all sorts of reminders about the value of happiness: a poem by William Stafford, photos of celebrations and loved ones, favorite words, quotations, papel picado.

In tidying, I noted that one of the photos contained a person who has, over the past year, hurt me. He seemed to hang on the edge of an otherwise fondly-recalled celebration.

So I lopped him off the picture.

***

I immediately was not sure what to do with him, this quarter-inch-slice. I mean, I wondered if I should slip him into a book, throw him into the trash, slide him into an folder and file him.

All I knew was that I instantly felt happiness that he was no longer in my  office.

So, I recycled him.

***

I have a sore throat. One of my friends says that a sore throat is from not saying what you need to say, but I’ve been to the doctor and it is just an end-of-winter cold.

Despite the fact that my voice was scratchy and tired, I told M last night, “I felt like a sixth-grader this afternoon. I cut X– out of that birthday photo of all of us on the patio. It made me happy.”

He laughed at me; he knows that happiness is sometimes acting like a kid who is not trying to making anyone else happy.

***

Happiness

–Raymond Carver

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

***

  • My colleague, K–, recently did an activity with her students to make abstract concepts tangible. She shared some of the creative images her creative students concocted.

Lost: a sad song trapped in an empty jar

Chaos: a spilled box of dry spaghetti

Forgiveness: the sweet taste of a Sour Patch Kid

Joy: A free scoop of coconut ice cream

Despair: Writing a ten-page paper for days and forgetting to turn it in

Here are some abstract nouns for feelings, what do they remind you of?

 

Adoration, Amazement, Anger, Anxiety, Apprehension, Clarity, Delight, Despair, Disappointment, Disbelief, Excitement, Fascination, Friendship, Grief, Hate, Helpfulness, Helplessness, Infatuation, Joy, Love, Misery, Pain, Pleasure, Power, Pride, Relaxation, Relief, Romance, Sadness, Satisfaction, Silliness, Sorrow, Strength, Surprise, Tiredness, Uncertainty, Wariness, Weariness, Worry

 

Sunday’s Child

IMG_8464It is winter, and the language exchange in the Home Depot parking lot continues. We talk about Trump’s politics, the Spring-like weather that has arrived for our class time (though there will be rain the rest of the week), what we had for dinner, what we did on Sunday.

Ariel wants to practice the seasons in English. We learn them and drill on them for a half an hour, mixing these new words with days of the week, months, colors, and questions to make sure he remembers the words. He does.

It is the Monday of midterms and the guys ask, “When will your English-speaking students join us?” I reply, “No puedo adviniar.” (I am not able to guess, predict, divine the answer to this.) And, this is one of the things I love about acquiring a new language.

Before knowing this verb in Spanish, I would utter only: “I don’t know.”

I go on quizzing: “Verano?” “Yes, summer.” “Azul? Okay, blue.” “Invierno?” “Right, winter.” “Viernes?” “Yes, Friday.”

I think about how I was born on Sunday, in the US, in California, in the desert;  I know these are forces that have shaped the happiness and fortune in my life. I say the “Monday’s Child” rhyme out, in English in nearly the same singing way I offered “Roses are red” in a Valentine’s Day lesson.

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.

“Monday’s Child” is a fortune-telling song to predict a child’s character based on the day of the week of her birth. In addition to the day of the week, humans look for astrology, numerology, graphology, palmistry, tarot, crystal balls, runes, tea leaves, ouija boards, pendulums, scrying mirrors, even a magic 8 ball to lend us wisdom into the universe, to help us know more than we do, to divine.

  • What prophets, soothsayers, clairvoyants, seers, or oracles might inform your story?

The world is composed of stories…

OLS Writers' Conference 2018 Flyer

The writers’ conference is coming soon!

Even sooner, we are seeking submissions through the end of February for the literary journal. Submissions can be posted online at: https://cosumnesriverjournal.submittable.com/submit

And, my online Creative Writing students are blogging at:

I Found the Little Businessman!

 

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After nearly a week of searching, I first bumped into Mateo (14). Immediately after, I encountered Cecelia and Agostino. Agostino immediately reminded me of how we first met, that I permit him to use my phone, that we sometimes have coffee over there under those trees, and popsicles, and corn, and… I asked him if he had a new show, any new tricks. He reported that he had nothing to offer.
I told him and Cecelia that I’d expect: chistes, bromas, burlas, una charla, or un show tomorrow. They both giggled and said they’d be ready with some kind of a stunning performance.
I wonder how long we will know each other, how things will change in our lives, what fortunes await us. Then, Cecelia informs me that Mateo is married and she introduces me to her sister-in-law, his bride.
I am stunned; I try to say felicidades. I try to understand. I try to remember Jane Hirshfield’s “A Blessing for a Wedding:”
Read the whole poem at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/53393/a-blessing-for-wedding
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days
  • What does your character fail to say? Why does she fail?

“Time as Memory as Story”

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On the drive from Dublin to Belfast, from the passenger’s seat, I drift into a deep sleep; I fail to distinguish this landscape from California’s rolling hills. I could be nearly anywhere.  The rain, the radio, my jet lag, and the driving monotony of kilometers of sheep fill me, drag me to dreams of lands radiant with sunshine and warmth.

I do not discern that I have arrived in Belfast until the car abruptly stops. Instantly I understand why people suggest counting sheep to summon sleep. In fact, I do not know where I am or that I am on a pilgrimage to learn where M’s father grew up, where his gran used to live, until M brings me into the cold afternoon to pose with him before a narrow door with the number 193.

It is as if I’ve been snoozing in a time machine; M’s eight again, visiting Ireland on summer break, heading to the candy store around the corner, searching for the spot in the alley where his father carved his name. Though I’m shivering and disoriented in his immense ocean of memories, I want to dive deeper with him into this past and startling tales he has hauled within him his whole life.

However, we must drive, because as Simon J. Ortiz reminds, in his poem “Time as Memory as Story,” “Time has no mercy. It’s there. It stays still or it moves./And you’re there with it. Staying still or moving with it./I think it moves. And we move with it. And keep moving.” We also keep moving because it is Christmas Eve and we are expected in Newry, the countryside, to meet M’s cousins for supper, to settle with them in their cozy home surrounded by a Mary Kay convention of sheep.

At breakfast Christmas morning, I am nearly lulled back to bed by a window full of livestock until I realize one of the conventioneers is stuck in dense brambles. I’m captivated by her efforts to break free, how another gets caught, and then how the others (sheep and people) join me in counting sheep.

Dia de los Muertos

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At this time of year, foremost among my ancestors, I officially celebrate my Dad-O.

Of course, I frequently thank him for his beautiful sunsets, especially when the brilliance saturates the darkness of a long day.

I have learned that I need neither pan de muerto nor an altar to commemorate my father.  Not a special day, not a ritual.  Not a bunch of flowers nor a floating lantern.  I have the light of fond memories to fill me.

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Fireworks

FireworksI missed Fourth of July fireworks in the US.  I always like the big aerial shows that boom over the valley like a Thunderstorm.  I like the sizzle and singe of the night sky, the smell of barbecues and cooling lawn.

I also love the curbside show we have with family where we throw blooming flowers, snakes, and strobes into the street with fountains and smokes to round out the show.

Here, there is the sound of fireworks at least every night, a boom (or more) that can cause me to flinch every time.  But sometimes the show is spectacular and comes in brilliant colors as it booms across the valley.  Sometimes it is so much like home, I feel like I’m small again and home in the desert I grew up in, lying in the bed of the old truck, mom and dad and Heidi ohhhhhing and awing right beside me.

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