Happiness and material life

IMG_9288Another Tuesday on the couch with Winston the Dog, this time it’s morning.

On his blog the other night, Lee asked, “When things are fine, who cares about writing?” The question surprised me because, from his daily diary on Grammar Piano, I took him to have an enjoyable life almost every day, and not just this one day. Enjoyable = fine.

Is this true, when life is enjoyable, no writing? And the inverse, when life is not fine, lots of writing?

I think it was Amy Bloom who once said, in an essay she wrote for the New York Times Magazine, that being unhappy is not a required condition for good writing. She called herself happy in this essay, as I recall. (This is another one of those memories where I may have actually invented it. I sort of remember this but it’s not like I have the article in front of me, either on paper or digital.)

The timer is now on, 20 minutes, so this post will be a freewrite. I really don’t know what I want to write or what end I’ll get to. It’s more about noticing Lee’s question and wanting to start with it.

Sometimes when I’m worried and can’t write, I think of the Russians who wrote even while in prison – to me, that must be the ultimate in unhappy conditions – and I wonder what’s wrong with me. I suppose a prison cell is a room of one’s own, and maybe that’s really what’s needed: your own room, whether happy or not.

I’m sitting on the couch. I don’t have my own room (or office or study), and I don’t necessarily believe the solitary room is necessary.

I also read somewhere that Brice Marden has, like, seven houses around the U.S. or around the world and each of them is set up with a studio. The light is different in each place, and he accomplishes different art works in the different conditions. Whoever wrote this profile — probably also in the New York Times Magazine which I read pretty faithfully though I also despise it for the high-net-worth advertising alongside stories about, oh, post-partum depression or refugees or educational inequity — didn’t comment on his wealth as ridiculous. Really?? I wondered. I suppose I do expect some kind of struggle and even privation for art to be authentic. Not that you have to be Tillie Olsen, but you can’t make your life too comfortable. Don’t you need to find out something to make art? Not: which of my seven houses should I fly to today and make a painting in the utterly perfect conditions.

You might think I am jealous.

Freedom may also be a kind of trap – it could stop you from doing actually anything because what is there to desire if you have economic freedom? – and yet people with material wealth also make movies, fight malaria, and write novels.

How did I get on this topic of money? It actually seems like a detour. We can’t talk about what we really want unless we talk about money, and maybe the culture is like this. I can’t do X because I cannot afford it. Or, if I won the lottery.

IMG_9288 (2)

When the kids were younger, I would play this game with them based on the idea of If I Had a Million Dollars. That seemed like too much an amount of money to conceptualize, so I reframed it as If I Had $50,000. Each of them would make a list as to what they would buy or do if they had that amount, which their young brains could think about spending.

It was always funny to me that all three of them usually wanted an elevator from the first floor to the second floor of our house and also a couch for their bedroom. Maybe this was a way of being grown up, making one’s suburban house very apartment-like.

If I had $50,000 I would probably give the kids each a little and put the rest in the bank. Not to be so selfless and prudent, it’s just that there’s nothing I need right now.

Oh, well, there’s always experience. That can be purchased. Maybe we should take a trip, a $50,000 one.

That leads to the pressure of deciding where.

On my desktop, I have screenshots of two clothing items I have seen online and must be thinking of buying. One of the JPEGs I titled “dress, should I buy?” and the other “outfit with navy blazer.” Together, the items probably cost about $400. I may skip the dress and buy the navy blazer.

A navy blazer is something I would have worn in high school and in my 20s when preppy was in. Preppy has come back, or perhaps it never left.

Recently I said to Lydia that sometimes I look down at my outfit after I get dressed and realize that what I’m wearing is just a better version of something I wore in high school.

Do we change, or do we just become more ourselves, as we get older?

I always want to think I change, and that I am open to change, but here I am wanting a navy blazer and it’s 30 years later.

Time’s up. Did I get anywhere? I’m not proud of this. Sometimes my wants are petty.

 

11 thoughts on “Happiness and material life

  1. Yes, we change. AND we become more ourselves as we get older. Much of life is a spiral coming back the same place but higher up and lower down with, as you point out, more experience, which usually seems to make the ride less scary.

    • I think I agree, although sometimes I am a little disheartened by the constancy of some of my characteristics, even if good ones! Like, I’m patient, and this is supposed to be a good thing, but sometimes I worry that by being patient I might neglect to seize the day.

      Is the ride less scary with experience? I am at a moment in my life where I am not quite sure of that.

      • My “gyre” comment ended up in the wrong place. It was supposed to be in response to writerspilecki’s comment about “life is a spiral coming back the same place but higher up and lower down.”

  2. Ive been thinking lately about the familiar phenomenon of new clothing (and other forms of body “adornment” such as jewelry, cosmetics, etc.) making us feel new and revitalized. I don’t think we feel this way when we get other sorts of things such as a new book or a new blender, just things that have to do with presentation of self.

    • So interesting, PJS. Related to your comment is its inverse: over the weekend, I put two old, beloved sweaters in the Goodwill bag that I had been saving. It was pretty definitive. As I did it I felt: “I am no longer an old, worn sweater.”

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