Friday, July 1, 2011

another awful day in berkeley: the happiness conundrum

Another awful day in Berkeley — with one exception.  Brunch with a friend.  One of those friends that you really talk to.  One of those friends who both listens and talks. We were talking about 'happiness.'  Did you see that?  I just put 'happiness' in quotes.  There. Now I've done it twice.  It was either going to be quotation marks, or it was going to be italics. I'm not sure which is worse.

Italicized happiness I think implies only emphasis intended.

'Happiness' in quotes means I think it's a crock.

That's what we were talking about.  Not happiness as a crock, but that I can't just let it be.

The problem at hand being that I'm happy.  Which is making me unhappy.  The problem isn't the happiness itself. It's a sustainability issue.  I'm actually happier with the pursuit of happiness — not the happiness itself.

My friend said those terrible words:

just enjoy it

And all I could think of was, well, you just don't understand.

Jewish here.

Can I blame that?  No probably not.  I do have a Jewish friend who's downright happy most of the time. She's got this fabulous authentic smile, a great life, she's smart, talented, bakes cakes. Belly dancer.  She's fun.  She's happy.

I think she's an exception to the rule.

What I was telling my friend is that through all the death and dying traumas of the last two years, I've just plain coped magnificently (or at least fairly well) under pressure (and with help) — and just taken one problem after another and been competent, efficient, and helpful.  I haven't fallen.  Haven't resorted to drinking. Haven't called a therapist (the Jewish equivalent to drinking).

But a month or two of happiness? Surely time for psychotherapy.

He didn't understand this at all.

just enjoy it

Unclear on the concept.  It's the sustainability thing that gets me.

The optimist expects more of the same. More happiness. And why not? If we can do it now, we can do it later.  If we're careful. If we pay attention. Right?

The pessimist (that would be me) expects nothing at all. And that nothing at all leads to great joy at the littlest thing — since it was so unexpected.  To expect happiness — well, first of all it's rude. Presumptuous. We need low expectations to be (accidentally) happy. We need happiness to sneak up on us and scare the shit out of us.

I think pessimist happiness is a happier sort of happy. If that makes any sense.  Because we're in such shock.

But tell us to expect more of the same?  Too much pressure.  Tell us to just enjoy it?  Not dissect it. Not analyze it. Actually, that's part of the problem.  It's so much easier to write about misery than happiness.  I mean, happiness.  What's there to say?

I think that's the problem: all the awful little stories that I love to write — they've all just flown my head.  I sit down to write, and — too happy to write.  Why would I want to sit down and write some dreary tale, when I'm too blissed out even to sit down.

Happiness.  It's ruining my writing.  Any more of this, and I'll be a complete illiterate blubbering in the corner spewing nothing more than 'vomit factor' dribble.  Definition of 'vomit factor' in case you missed it: the gooeyness that people in love spew out in public that nobody wants to be around.  It's just too sappy.  And that's where we've been heading: happy sappy brainless spew.

just enjoy it?
My brain is melting.

So. It was good, then, I suppose, that I had a really shitty day in Berkeley today.  Back at the Republic of Berkeley Parking Division. Turned out they returned all my applications and checks for Caregiver Parking Permits.  This time, I got parking right in front of the building.  Right at the door!  Paid my parking meter up full, expecting another long wait, but this time I was going to get-something-accomplished.

They were closed, of course. Thus the good parking spot.  Closed on Fridays.  I do believe the city just can't pay workers for more than four days work per week.  Every office except one is closed on Fridays. Monday's a holiday. Come back no sooner than Tuesday. I had a nice long chat with the doorman, however, about the woes of city employees in the Republic of Berkeley.

That's how the bad day started. And it went downhill from there.  I've actually promised myself that I wouldn't write about it. Wouldn't explain it. But without that, it just eats away my insides.  More to the point, is that I handled 'it' (the awfulness) with grace and even humor.  I did the troubleshooting. Ran interference. Apologized for the insulting rudeness of others.  Took-care-of-business...

I'm so good at it.  Gimme a good shitty day, and I can turn it around and save it.

What do you get to do with happiness?  I mean, really.  What are you supposed to do about it?

Oh. Right.

just enjoy it


Fine.  I'll do that.  But my writing's going clear to hell.


  1. I just happened upon this entry. Surprise, surprise ... I think I'm you're actually happy Jewish friend. That may be because I'm 100% Sephardic; it's the Ashkenazi in you that enjoys the unhappiness. It must be something about all those centuries in cold winter weather ... as opposed to hanging out around the Mediterranean. As I once read somewhere, "The Sephardics like to party; the Ashkenazi like to suffer. Anyway ... are you already back from Paris??? Did you ENJOY it?

  2. Or maybe it's that your Sephardi ancestors were island people and mine mainland people — island people having all the fun? It's my Sephardi side that's Holocaust obsessed. The Salonika Jewish community (that had been one of the largest and most vibrant in the world) was entirely wiped out during the Holocaust. Not to mention the family obsession with the Reconquista and Inquisition. So. Both sides expect us to DO something about it, however. "Lest we forget —" is the family raison d'être.

    And yah — the Paris trip was about as good as it can get! And I'm not talking just the bookstores!

  3. I can't even write it without the "just" —

  4. Still an optimist over here in the Police State of Oakland.