July 27, 2010

Happy This

I have decided that I must read inspirational books about the search for happiness. Generally my nonfiction reading is anything that strikes my fancy on the Yahoo! home page or something grammar related (such as the article about sub-modifiers at the Visual Thesaurus site).

I used to read self-help books all the time. I am a fixer. And fixers need tools. I remember surfing the Internet looking for charts and calendars and top-ten lists so I could feel like I was taking control of the chaos. It never worked. Polishing a pile of shit just gives you shiny shit.

I am not unhappy. I think the fact I can even examine the idea of living better, of being better is because I am in a fairly quiet place. I have stillness. But apparently, I am also yearning. And I've realized that while I am deeply satisfied with my life, that is not necessarily the same thing as being happy. I still want things, and I still feel inadequate and worried.

I finished EAT, PRAY, LOVE by Elizabeth Gilbert and I loved it. Her inspiration was derived from living four months each in three different places: Italy, India, and Indonesia. As much as I dream about living my own version of "Under the Tuscan Sun," I don't really want to move to Italy. It just doesn't seem the place for a girl who can't eat dairy--and who doesn't much like the sun, Tuscan or otherwise. As fascinated as I was by Gilbert's descriptions of the Ashram in India and the beauty and strangeness of Bali, those two places are not on my "want to visit" map. Even so, I was inspired by her journey. Reading her words made me realize I still have a lot of work to do.

I have already expressed my reluctance to pick up THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS... by Laura Munson. I will. I want to read the book, but not yet. Maybe it's because she begins with a crisis point in her marriage, in her life, really, and it feels too acute. I don't want to read about how she had some epiphany that led to renewal of marital love and devotion. This response smacks of envy, I know. My marriage could not be saved. Or rather, I could not save my marriage and myself. I had to choose.

So, I opened up THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin with its perky blue cover and I read the section "Getting Started," which ended with: Whenever you read this, and wherever you are, you are in the right place to begin. I felt a hot lump in my throat, and sudden, inexplicable tears, and I thought "Oh, fuck," and I shut the book.

What the hell was THAT?

I was unnerved by this reaction. I had to think about it a while, dissect it the way I dissect everything, and I realized: I need to read the book. I also realized: I don't want to read the book.

Of course, I'm reading the book. Even as I absorb the simple brilliance of Rubin's ideas, I feel resentful. You may think it's stupid or strange to keep reading a book that invokes hostility, but for me, it's an emotional indicator that I will find something valuable in here. Something I need. It tells me that I am NOT as together as I previously thought, and I need to pay attention. So, I am.

This is also the reason I will read Munson's book. I don't want to because even that first chapter made my stomach flutter in so much recognition. I don't want to turn away from what makes me uncomfortable. I want to know why it does, and I want to deal with it.

Sometimes, as a writer, you have to go there, to those dark places, no matter how scared you are. Push through to the other side. You can do it, and you can make your characters do it, too. No doubt you've heard writers talk about "protecting their characters." That's the point in which you like your hero or heroine so much, you can't put them through the wringer. But the truth is this: The greater the tragedy, the greater the triumph. At least in fiction.

Sometimes, I wish certain events could be written under "The Past," and then each get a big red checkmark to indicate that it had been dealt with, and therefore was done. Forever. See the checkmark, Universe? That means I have completed the task, and it is not allowed to call me, or show up in the mail, or friend me on Facebook.

Life is messy. Fiction is not. Maybe that's part of why I write. Writing saved me many, many times. I write about worlds where characters are brave and strong and sure and lovable. They have flaws, yes, but ultimately, they are honorable. And at the end of the book, they are happy. And because I write romance, they are also deliriously in love.

I love writing. But though it is a reflection of living, it is not the same as living. So maybe that's why I'm delving into the inspirational journeys documented by other human beings. Maybe it's because I want to write my own story. No. I want to live it.
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