Well here goes. Me trying to write about something I’ve been thinking about for a week but can’t seem to spit out onto the computer through my fingers. Why does this post always write itself when I’m lying in bed at 2am trying to get some sleep?
As some of you may remember, last Monday I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, give a talk in the theatre of the high school I graduated from. It was a great talk. I was very inspired and excited by everything she said.
Ms. Gilbert was funny, smart and insightful. Unfortunately, I was tired, unfocused and headachy.
Damn allergies. Almost everything she said flew out of my head almost immediately. I was hoping that a bit of sleep might resurrect some of the golden nuggets of wisdom Ms. Gilbert imparted upon the audience, but with no such luck. It’s been a week, and I remember even less than I did three days ago, so I guess I better hurry up and write something before it’s gone for good. How’s that for a big build-up? I’m just typing out loud here to get the fingers flowing and the compositional mojo going.
This is my process. Sorry if my process is boring. Perhaps skip ahead to see if I make a point.
I should probably start by calling Ms. Gilbert, Liz from here on in. We spoke. Our hands touched. She smiled at me. She signed my book. I have a very grainy photo of her on my cell phone. As far as I’m concerned, we’re friends now and I can call her Liz.
My friend Liz was hilarious. One of the first things she talked about was how she had completely spaced-out at the airport the day before and missed her flight. Liz said she wished she could blame it on being in some transcendental meditative state, but, in fact, she just simply forgot to get on her flight.
It was a great anecdote. Her point, I believe, was to draw attention to the fact that she’s a normal person. And normal people sometimes miss flights. It seems that Liz is burdened (in my opinion, not her words) by people who like to deify her as if she’s some sort of wise guru. I get her point, but I wouldn’t mind trying on that problem for a while. Or maybe not. Apparently one woman approached Liz at a book signing and said, “Should I divorce my husband?” Just like that. No preamble, no back-story. Just the big, huge question, “Should I divorce my husband?” As if Liz could, or would, give her an answer.
I laughed out loud. I mean, who does that? Seriously. I don’t even ask my closest friends if I should divorce my husband. And believe me, it has crossed my mind before. (Read this post if you want to see how my whole divorce thing turned out.)
Anyway, I’m sure there are tons of nutters out there who think Ms. Gilbert – sorry, Liz – has it all figured out. She wrote a great book. She’s a successful writer. She lives a wonderful, wisdom-filled life, right?
Well. Maybe. Maybe not.
But I’m thinking she’s probably reasonably happy. She may not be a wise and wizened guru, but she’s probably reasonably happy. I think I can bank on that.
Which got me to thinking about my own quest to be happy. For a while now I’ve been writing about my search for The Happy Girl. The short version is this: around fifteen years ago I worked in a law firm and the receptionist used to call me The Happy Girl. I guess she did it because I seemed reasonably happy. And in fact, I was reasonably happy. I was restless, but I definitely remember being happy. That was then.
Fast-forward fifteen years.
It’s just before last Christmas and I’m a stay-at-home-mom. I’m bored. I’m tired. I feel isolated. I don’t look the way I used to. I don’t laugh as often as I used to. I live in my mother’s basement. And with only one income and a child, we don’t have as much money as we used to either. So I don’t get out much. And The Happy Girl isn’t too interested in this life, so she’s moved elsewhere. I’m not sure where she went, but she didn’t leave a forwarding address.
I don’t blame her for avoiding me, but lately I’ve been trying to hunt her down and she’s proving to be quite elusive.
I can’t imagine what she’s hiding from? Or maybe I can. It makes me think of a quote I found the other day while surfing around on the awesome blog Thursday Drive:
“A man can stand anything except a succession of ordinary days.” - Goethe
Too true. This is my life. A painful succession of ordinary days. And as it turns out, being a sullen, unhappy mom only makes this pain worse. It’s also hazardous to the health of a marriage and, although usually well hidden from her, it’s also sometimes unpleasant for a beautiful young child to witness.
But here’s the upside:
I’m a pretty smart cookie and just before Christmas I realized this was a bad situation to be in. The fixer in me finally decided to get some help and I started seeing a psychologist. It was an extremely positive experience. I highly recommend it. I only saw her a handful of times, but it was just enough to pull me out of my funk.
And now back to the Elizabeth Gilbert part of the story…
Around the same time as I started seeing a psychologist, I read the book Eat, Pray, Love, by my good friend Liz Gilbert. To say that I loved the book would be a huge understatement. This book said exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. And it was funny too. I’m not exaggerating when I say I pulled an Oprah and bought Eat, Pray, Love for everyone on my Christmas list. In this book, I felt like I’d found my spirit again. It spoke to me in an extremely deep way and I wanted to share it.
As you know, I am a traveller. Wanderlust fills my heart. I lived on a cruise ship for two years. In a way, I once pulled a Liz too. She ran away to find herself through travel and so did I. Luckily, the catalyst for my wanderlust wasn’t something as dramatic as a divorce, but I did want to start fresh and try on a new skin for a while so I ran away to sea.
I think it was because of my previous experiences with travel and my current apathy and sadness that I could relate so well to Eat, Pray, Love. I wanted to run off again just like Liz, but the full time obligations associated with being a stay-at-home-mom precluded me from travelling for a year. Instead, I set off on an inner journey to find The Happy Girl within. This blog is all part of that journey.
I am not making any sense right now. Gosh I’m sorry. I apologize for meandering all over the place here but I’m trying to work some stuff out. If you’ve read this far, thank you. Bear with me. I’m attempting, in a rather round about way, to get to the point of this post. I really am. Like, Right. Now.
Last Monday night Liz talked about being happy.
Oh wait. I’m such a tease. Maybe the point won’t be Like, Right. Now. But it will be right after this explanation of what Liz said about being happy.
[Disclaimer – Contrary to the title of this post, this isn’t what she said. I didn’t take notes. This is just my interpretation of what she said.]
On the topic of happiness, Liz started off by discussing the much-hyped self-help concept of trying to “Live in the Moment” or “Live in the Now” by saying it was virtually impossible for a regular person to do this. (Personally I think it was a thinly veiled dig at Oprah’s flavour of the month Eckhart Tolle, but moving on). Liz said that many spiritually devoted individuals spend their entire lives studying and training to reach enlightenment and yet even they find “Living in the Now” extremely difficult to maintain on a daily basis.
So how could a regular stay-at-home-mom like me ever attain such an achievement?
I was nodding the entire time Liz talked about this. I mean, really. Can I ever truly live exactly in the moment? Am I not supposed to think about what I’m going to feed Csilla for dinner tonight? Am I not supposed to smile at the memory of something funny Balazs said last night?
Am I really supposed to just live in the moment as I clean the toilet? Or just live in the moment as I wipe up another yet another glass of spilled milk?
No. Sorry. I don’t think so. I think anybody who tries to make tasks like this all lovely and flowery by “Living in the Moment” and enjoying the beauty of consciously observing our actions is full of crap. Seriously. Wouldn’t these two daily tasks be just a little more enjoyable if conducted whilst savouring the memories of a lovely snuggle with Csilla from earlier that day?
I mean if I have to clean the toilet I would much rather live in the snuggle-memory-moment than the cleaning-toilet-moment while I am doing it thank you very much. I’ll be damned if I’m going to consciously savour the glory that is the cleaning of my grubby toilet bowl.
Who's with me?
Yes, Carolyn! Yes. We agree with you!
“Living in the Moment” seems almost impossible to me. In principle, I respect the concept, but in practice it’s just another thing for me to beat myself up about. I would have to meditate for a year straight before I could turn my monkey mind off for even two minutes. My friend Jan over at Crazy Lady on Road 80 left a comment for me the other day in which she said, “Brilliant minds have a hard time shutting down”. Amen Sister! I definitely have a hard time shutting down so I must be brilliant, right? Maybe not. Either way, “Living in the Moment” just doesn’t seem practical for me.
But here’s the point.
Liz offered a better alternative to “Living in the Moment”. She suggested that the happiest people she had ever encountered had this one single thing in common:
They had lots of great memories and they had lots to look forward to.
And that was my “A-HA” moment.
Right there in the theatre of the high school I graduated from, the big light bulb went on in my head. And just when I started to vibrate, Liz drove her point home by saying:
“What's my best suggestion for being happy?”
“Take lots of pictures and make lots of plans.”
Let that soak in for a minute.
If you want to be happy. Take lots of pictures. And make lots of plans.
In other words, savour the many great memories you have and always get ready to make more.
How simple is that? And isn’t it the truth?
Take lots of pictures and make lots of plans.
So this is what I’ve been pondering for the last week. In my quest to find The Happy Girl, where is she hiding in that statement? It took me a week to figure it out, but this is it:
My life is out of balance.
I have tons of great memories. Too many to count. More than any one person should have. I am extremely blessed. I’ve travelled the world. I had a happy childhood. (Really. I did. Read a little synopsis of my life here). I live in a beautiful country that is free and safe. I have a lot to be thankful for.
So why am I not happy?
How could I not be happy?
It’s because I’ve stopped making plans. My life is out of balance. I’m completely missing the second part of the equation - make lots of plans. I simply don’t have anything to look forward to. Now before you get all feeling sorry for me, don’t panic. I plan on changing this. I’m just observing my thoughts right now. Living in the moment as it were. Hardi har har.
The other day my friend Bendy Linda asked me where I saw myself in five years. The question stopped me cold. I drew a complete blank. I had no idea where my life would be in five years.
I feel like I’m in a holding pattern right now. And that, right there my friends, is why I feel unhappy.
I plan on doing something about it; but I’ve just figured out this much for now. It’ll probably take me at least another week to figure out how to rectify the situation. Right?
But at least I know what the problem is. And I do know there are a couple of things that might factor into my lack of plans, which I will also be exploring in the near future. And they are:
1. The Second Kid question. It’s a huge contributing factor to the holding pattern syndrome. Balazs and I just can’t seem to decide if we wish to procreate again. It’s a big decision and we can’t seem to make it.
2. The Quote of the Day issue. Have you noticed that my Quote of the Day hasn’t changed in two weeks? It's kind of a misnomer at this point. Look to the right on my sidebar. Near the top. Read it. Good. So here’s my problem. That quote is going to sit there until I’ve had a chance to analyze its contents because I currently do not know what makes me come alive. It’s a multi-faceted issue that I must to get to the bottom of.
I recently read a great quote on The Rotten Correspondent’s blog, which said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
I couldn’t agree more. This is exactly where I stand right now. The only way I can predict happiness for myself is if I invent a happy life for myself. My life must be happy. Exactly the way I invent it.
Am I making any sense? I hope so. I hope you got something out of this post. You’ve read this far. Was there some sort of reward?
Anyway, I’m tired and must go to bed. Sorry to drop it like it's hot, but I think I’m going to leave this discussion here. I have more to expand on, but this is all I can do tonight. Stay tuned.