Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Dearth of Joy Narrowly Avoided!

After writing a blog post where I pledged to prioritize joy in my life, by making a writing date with myself, to go somewhere (anywhere), on the bus (any bus), at least once a week, all week long I kept somehow managing . . .  not to do it.

Somehow I just did  . . .  other things. I barely even remember the other things, except there were a lot of them. I had made sure to keep my calendar 100 percent free on Friday just so I'd have a lovely stretch of time for this joyous bus ride to creative joy. But then the handyman texted to say he could come that afternoon to solve the problem of my two finicky light fixtures. It was hardly worth dashing off for creative joy in the morning, with the handyman appointment looming. And once he had gone on his way, the success of his mission seemed enough for one day. Did I really need to go off and have creative joy so late in the afternoon?

But this morning I realized it was now Saturday, with Sunday already filled with church commitments and theater tickets for a play in Denver. If I was going to keep the promise I made to myself - and how pitiful to break it the very first week! - I had to have my bus ride to joy TODAY.

And so I did.

Today, like yesterday, I had another thing I needed to do mid-day, but this time I couldn't allow that to stop me. So I planned a gala morning crammed full of BUS RIDES! I'd take the bus to the farmers' market to stock up on provisions to help me stay the course of my new vegetarianism. Then I'd write for an hour in a nearby cafe. Then I'd take another bus (more buses! hooray!) to visit my husband at the care home and help train him on his new I-phone. Then I'd take two buses to get back home again, glowing with joy!

First stop: farmers' market:
With gorgeous lettuce and fresh-from-the farm tomatoes stashed in my tote bag, I found a cafe and settled in to write, fueled by a vanilla steamer and blueberry crumb cake.
I finished the hour with two good pages of notes for my next book in the After-School Superstars series (to be set in an after school American Sign Language camp).

But as the morning went on, and I set off on the next bus ride to the care home, I started to realize some problems with my plan. The tote bag was now very heavy, and the writing project somewhat squished the gorgeous lettuce and fresh-from-the-farm tomatoes. It was hotter now, too, so as I walked from one bus to another the tote bag felt heavier and heavier. I felt heavier and heavier, too, given that the blueberry crumb cake, which I had scrupulously cut in half so I would NOT eat the whole thing, was now all in my tummy. Alas, instead of feeling light and unencumbered, as one should feel when riding the bus, I felt extra-encumbered and bloated as well.

Still, I was SO happy at the farmer's market. And SO happy writing at the cafe. And SO glad that I had gone on so many errands without relying on a car. And most of all SO glad that I had kept this promise to myself. Really, all I need to do differently next time is to have a small backpack for my writing needs, and a separate small tote bag for my farmer's market bounty. And somehow to keep myself from eating the whole piece of crumb cake. Or if I'm going to end up eating the whole piece of crumb cake, not to ALSO order a vanilla steamer with whipped cream on top.

I'll close by revising Edna St. Millay's hymn to trains to turn it into my own hymn to buses:

My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing;
Yet there isn't a bus I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going. 

PS: I also promised myself I'd write four blog posts this month, and I'm posting this one with six hours to spare!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Joy Takes Extra Time and Effort - Is It Worth It?

Today is my birthday. Yes, I get to turn 65 on - get this! - National Senior Citizens Day! I didn't know that such a date existed, let alone that I share my birthday with it. But I do.

In planning how to make the coming year the most joyful year ever, I've been especially eager to use my new half-price senior-citizen bus tickets, valid for the first time TODAY.
With these I can ride Boulder's dizzying array of local buses all over the city for a paltry $1.40 for three hours worth of rides. With the regional discount tickets, I can ride the bus all the way to Denver! The Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Art Museum, many favorite bookstores, can all be mine for $2.50 each way! Plus, with a regional bus ticket I can ride the bus for half an hour, and three thousand feet of elevation gain, to the mountain town of Nederland to ride the Carousel of Happiness!

Nothing brings me more joy than writing in Other Place and, even better, getting there on the bus (so light! so free! so blissfully unencumbered!) With these little books of discount bus tickets, I can take myself on weekly writing dates all over the greater Denver Metropolitan Area.Visions of bus-transported writing happiness are dancing in my head.

But here's the downside of this plan.

It takes time.

It takes effort.

I could get to all of these places much more quickly and easily by car. It will take several different buses to get to some of these sugar-plummy locations. I might spend an hour - or more - on buses to go the same place I could reach in a half-hour car ride.

As far as that goes, I can write perfectly well right in my own house, where abundant amenities are on offer: adorable teapots that can be filled with tea and covered with adorable tea cozies; fragrant candles to be burned; Pepperidge Farm apple turnovers that can be popped into the oven.

In fact, tea in a mere mug is lovely, and lit candles are unncessary, and I can enjoy a perfectly satisfactory toasted English muffin without heating up my whole entire oven. Indeed, I don't even have to put jam on it from my membership in the Jam-of-the-Month Club given me as a Christmas present by my sister last year.

So: why should I go to all this fuss and bother? Is all this time and effort really worth it, for a few little added jolts of joy in an already quite joyous life?

My answer, as I turn 65, is: YES. I'm not talking about having an extravagantly joyous writing outing every single day of the year. I'm planning this as a once-a-week treat - a once-a-week treat that will THRILL me and make me hug myself with remembered and anticipated happiness for the week's other six days.

I think there is a real danger, as we age  - heck, as we muddle through all the stages of our lives - to cut corners on joy because it's more efficient and convenient - easier all around - to get used to doing without it. It's a slippery slope: I'll start by deciding the bus is too much trouble - and then that even driving myself to a writing date is too much trouble - and the next thing I know I'll be talking myself out of spreading jam on an English muffin and settle instead for plain dry toast.

I'm here to warn my future self against the temptation of choosing ease over joy.

"Don't do it!" I'm calling to her across the years that stretch before us both.

Spread that jam!

Ride that bus!

Heck, buy that plane ticket and take yourself on a writing date to PARIS! (Watch this spot for details to come . . . )

After all, if joy - JOY - isn't worth a little extra bit of time and trouble, what, on this Earth, is?

Friday, August 16, 2019

Are We Allowed to Live Joyful Lives Even If the World Is Filled with Misery?

My ongoing project is to have a joyful life despite everything. I think I'm doing pretty well at it. Even through several years of horrifying health and legal crises for beloved family members, and nonstop hideousness for my country and the world, most of the time I chug along cheerfully. I take daily walks, giggle with friends, sing praise songs at church, write lots of books, articles, and blog posts, and ride with my two little granddaughters on the Carousel of Happiness in the nearby mountain town of Nederland.

But now I'm asking myself: SHOULD I be doing this? Is it permissible for me to whirl around on the Carousel of Happiness when so much of the world is submerged in the Sinkhole of Misery? What RIGHT do I have to be happy? How DARE I be happy?

I'm pretty sure the answer is yes, I'm allowed to be happy, and you are allowed to be happy, too. Indeed, some of the people I know who have the hardest and most heartbreaking lives are also the happiest people. The Declaration of Independence says that we are endowed by our Creator with an unalienable right to at least try to be happy. I believe more rather than fewer of us should dare to exercise this right.

And yet. . . . isn't this callous? and complacent? and unbearably self-centered?

Well, my claim that we're allowed to be happy even in a world filled with misery does NOT mean we are allowed to be indifferent to that misery, or willfully ignorant of it. We should work together to make the world a happier place for everyone.When it comes to our near and dear, those to whom we've made specific and heartfelt commitments of care, we should make heroic efforts to secure their happiness, even at considerable sacrifice to our own self-interest.

Here, however, writer Anne Lamott reminds that "Horribly, [happiness] is an . . . inside job for the few people you love most desperately in the world. We cannot arrange lasting safety or happiness for our most beloved people." We just can't. But, oh, we wish we could! And we do - and should do - our best to make them as happy as we can.

I'm doing my best in this regard right now.

 My husband is in a care home, totally incapacitated from advanced Parkinson's, unable even to squirm around enough in the bed to reach for the phone if it's inconveniently positioned. I visit him every single day, bring him favorite meals, do his laundry, keep him company.

One son is enmeshed in the criminal justice system. I've taken out a Home Equity Line of Credit, secured against my house, to pay the estimated $100,000 of his lawyer fees.

I support organizations that do good in the world: Oxfam America, Physicians without Borders, people working for justice for those imprisoned in cages at our southern border. I'm sure I should be doing much more on all these fronts.

But I don't think I owe my husband, or my son, or anyone ever, a duty to renounce all joy in my own life. Some people may simply be psychologically unable to have joy in such conditions (some days, some weeks, some months, that's totally me), but I don't think they - or I - have an obligation to live joylessly.

I could try to justify this claim by saying, which is true, that my being happy actually helps me help others more. Cheerful givers are preferable to sullen givers; the cheerfulness is itself another gift. Far from thinking we have a duty to be miserable, Robert Louis Stevenson even said, "There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world."

In giving ourselves permission to be happy, we thereby give others permission to be happy, too. I hope my example of being happy despite caring for my loved ones will give my children and grandchildren permission to be happy years hence when their turn comes to care for me. Isn't that what all of us want for our loved ones, even if we feel a nagging unease about wanting it for ourselves?

Rides on the Carousel of Happiness used to be $1 per ride. Now they're $2. It's still a huge bargain. The man who hand-carved the carousel's animals was a Vietnam vet who decided, after experiencing the horrors of that war, to spend the rest of his life just making people happy. I imagine that in the process he made himself pretty happy, too.

The motto of the Carousel of Happiness, which you can find on their T-shirts, is "Don't Delay Joy."

So: don't delay it.

It's okay to be happy. The world is a better place, for you, for me, for everyone, if it has more happiness in it.

Truly, it is.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Getting Excited about TURNING SIXTY-FIVE!

Five years ago this month I turned 60. With great jubilation I proclaimed that this was the start of Act III of my life. As everyone knows, Act III is the best act, when all the dramatic questions that have been put into play in the first two acts are answered in the long-awaited climax. As Chekhov famously reminds those engaged in playwriting, if you have a gun hanging over the fireplace in Act I, that gun needs to go off in Act III.


Now, five years later, all I can say is that Act III did not turned out as planned.

What happened instead was . . . life. Two little granddaughters born to parents who would almost immediately divorce with enormous hostility and bitterness. A husband who would be diagnosed with Parkinson's and end up, almost entirely immobile, in a nursing home. A son entangled in the unbelievably cruel and barbaric American criminal "justice" system.

And then me: puttering along writing my little books and giving motivational talks about how to find joy in your life despite everything. (Despite Everything is the working title for my memoir, if I ever write it.)

This month's birthday makes me officially a senior citizen (even if Denny's has already been giving me senior discounts for a decade now). I can officially count myself as a Wise Old Woman. Some women friends my age host "crone" ceremonies for themselves.

Maybe this is the REAL start to Act III of my life?

No. I can't just pretend that the last five years didn't happen. They did. They made me not only older and wiser, and older and sadder, but older and kinder, too.

But this IS the real start to something big and important - actually to lots of big and important things!

1. I can now get half-price tickets to ride on Boulder's fabulous buses. With yet another car wrecked this past week (this time, for the first time, in an accident that was NOT MY FAULT, unlike all the others), my plan is to reduce my amount of driving drastically. I will walk everywhere! I will take the bus when it's too far to walk! I will save money, sanity, and THE PLANET!

2. I have Medicare now, which is not a big deal for me as I already had excellent low-cost insurance through my former employer. But now I get. . . . Silver Sneakers!!! I've never gone to exercise classes, still haunted by the horror of high school P.E. But although I'm a faithful daily walker, my arms are feeble and flabby, and my balance and flexibility are poor. So I'm planning to trot myself into Boulder's fabulous rec centers to work on all of these things FOR FREE!

3. I'm going to become a vegetarian, which I should have done decades ago - actually, which I DID do decades ago but then lapsed, as I hate to be a Picky Eater. I seldom eat any meat even now, but I can't say I'm a vegetarian as I also seldom eat any vegetables. I'm more of an English-muffin-tarian. But I'm going to start finding ways to like eating vegetables - starting with shopping at Boulder's fabulous farmers' market. I bought myself a vegan cookbook and plan, terrible cook though I am, actually to COOK SOMETHING FROM IT!

4. I've become addicted to the Duolingo language-learning app, with the goal of reviving my many years of high-school and college French. Current plan: find myself a cheap airfare to Paris and go there ALL BY MYSELF (the best!) during some gray and gloomy month (my FAVORITE!), and spend a week eating baguettes slathered with butter and jam - and wandering the streets alone - and writing poetry in cafes while sipping hot chocolate. I AM GOING TO DO THIS!

And maybe  .  . . just maybe . . . Act III will start to develop its own strange and lovely momentum.