Stupid Seasonal Affective Disorder!

If I lived any farther north winter would be unbearable. It’s hard to imagine that a person living in the American Southwest could be hit with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but it happens to me with predictable regularity. My recourse has been to fill my life with as much variety of activity that I am distracted from the banality of my existence. The thing is, I lose interest in those distractions by the middle of December, and things begin to spiral like filth going down a drain.

In those times, caffeine tends to help, momentarily; however, I do maintain just enough of a spark for creating the occasional blog post. Ugh. This thing’s been staring me in the face like a god begging to be let outside to do his business. Yes, yes, I’ll get to you in a moment, I think. And I sit and stare back, expecting WordPress will simply relieve itself on the rug.

Writers have moments like these. I don’t call myself a “writer” often. I mean, yes, I can write, and I know how to form sentences and string thought together coherently, but I don’t know how to compel people to actually read my emesis-on-page. There’s no end to the inspiration – everything I see is worthy to be written about, even mishaps in the garden or finally learning that I’ve been singing the wrong lyrics to a song. It’s not that I have nothing going on in my life. My wife and I are taking dance lessons, and I love it. I’m super busy at work, finally getting to do some really cool stuff. I’m getting ready for a public speaking competition. And we’re gearing up for camping and hiking in the spring. There’s a lot to look forward to.

And yet, I don’t seem to be able to write shit about it. Whatever is wrong with me, they don’t seem to have a name for. Or maybe my perusal of the internet took me in the wrong direction. Or it could be that writers who can’t seem to sit down and write are off the radar just now. When we get on a roll, do we really want to sit here and tell everyone what a shit time we’re having?

So, where do I go from here? I want to be a prolific writer, but I’m not sure that exists. Sure, newspaper columnists appeared to be rock steady, but maybe Steve Blow just hammered together a few pieces all in one day just in case. Perhaps I should consider doing this, because when I get in that zone, I just go and go. It may  not be perfect. It may not even be any good, but I’m producing. So, yeah, there’s a strategy. I guess I needed to “hear” my thoughts to make sense of them. Then again, that’s sort of the fuel for the fire.

Some people talk about free writing. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a kind of therapeutic exercise where you put a pencil to a piece of paper and write and write without interruption, never lifting the pencil. And if you have nothing to write, you write that, “I have nothing to write so I’m going to continue to scribble my inane thoughts here on this page. Hey, how is paper made? How does the lead get inside the pencil? Why do they call it ‘lead’?” And so on. Kind of like what I’m doing here. I could be outside where it’s sunny and 24 degrees Celsius. But why would I do that? That’s actually sarcasm, in case you didn’t pick that up – ooh, that sounded condescending.

Crap! I have completely wasted a beautiful January day. Not all is lost. I’m planning to grill some bratwurst in a bit, and I did spend quite a long time outside yesterday. See? This time of year warps my brain or something. Aaaanyway, mission accomplished, I suppose, with that fly-a-banner-even-though-it’s-way-early kind of triumphant exuberance. We’ll see if I can keep it up, now that winter is over, at least here. Yeah, you’re thinking, it’s going to get cold again, just wait. I know. But it’s not the same. Winter’s over down here in the South. It might snow in February, maybe even March, but the days are longer, and the grass is green.

Screw you, winter.

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Happiness is …

Many years ago, when I still watched broadcast television (oh, you can probably guess my age because I say “television” and not not “TV”, and I publish in a serif font, and I know what that means) I was watching an episode of “Frasier” when Niles, played by David Hyde Pierce, asked the title character if he was happy. Frasier then spent the entire episode exploring whether he was or was not happy, and how anyone could be happy, or that happiness existed.

I’ve wondered this myself. Many people tell me I am happy, but I don’t know how they could possibly know this. My wife insists that anyone who laughs out loud in his sleep is, deep down, a happy person. She has known me longer than most people on the planet, and I trust her assessments of most things, notably, my choice of attire on a contextual basis. “Does this look okay to you,” I ask.

“Where are you going, and I’ll tell you.”

People like to assume that happiness and joy are intertwined. Most dictionary definitions of happiness use words like “contentment” and “satisfaction”, as well as “joy” and “pleasure”. We say things like, “I’m happy to meet you” which is interchangeable with “pleased to make your acquaintance.” (That last one is probably a little old-fashioned for us 21st-century types.) I find myself saying that I’m “pleased” lately, but that’s probably because I’ve been watching a lot of BBC on Netflix, and I tend to pick things up from people around me or stuff I hear. Right now, I’m hearing Matthew Perry speaking these words in my head as I’m typing them, because I just watched an episode of “Studio 60”. (Great show, by the way.)

Am I happy? It’s a hard question to answer, because we’re told all our lives that we should be happy, especially in ads. Fast food ads are the most pervasive. They show really attractive kids enjoying life in a slightly less-than-gentrified ambiance. It’s like everyone wants to live in the East Village. Ask the average person if they’re happy. They’ll probably jump right to that Bobby McFerrin song in their heads. “In every life we have some trouble,” the song says, but tells us not to worry, and to be happy. If it were only that simple.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

But maybe that’s the secret. Just will yourself to be happy. Like the song says, none of us is without suffering. This is a concept I first came to understand in Catholic school. We must all “take up our cross” and bear it, as Christ did, so the teaching goes. In truth, everyone will suffer in their lifetime, some more than others. This was so commonplace in times past that people looked for some cause for their suffering, be it as punishment for something they or their parents did, or as a curse, being playthings for the gods, we.

No one is immune from human suffering. And yet, people are happy, some of us. McFerrin’s lyrics say we should just be happy no matter what is happening to us, because, well, shit happens. Life, it turns out, is unfair. But we’re admonished for complaining too much. You may have heard the saying, “I used to complain that I had no shoes, until I met someone who had no feet.” What we’re to take from this is that we shouldn’t complain because there’s always someone worse off. Well, this kind of pisses me off, and it makes me want to complain further that I had to listen to this horrible advice. My answer has been that everyone has a right to bitch about their particular degree of suffering, even though they are destined to be outdone by the next miserable sod.

Many people equate wealth with happiness. The opposite seems to be the case, as a report that draws a link between expensive weddings and shorter, unhappier marriages states. But poverty is no picnic, either. It’s just that having heat and a fast internet connection helps in a lot of ways, and I rarely complain about it. Money can make you comfortable if not happy.

There’s always going to be something to make us miserable. I have my own share of trouble, but I think I am happy. You would have to catch me at the right moment before you ask, but for the most part, I am content, and I have joy in my life. I know people who could never say that, and I would probably declare them unhappy, but I don’t know what’s inside these people. I only know what I see on the outside. Sometimes, I am not pleased with things. I rant about how everyone seems to be meth addicts, and I would be okay if certain places on the map just were not there anymore. But I laugh often, sometimes in my sleep, and I sing when I’m feeling good, or when I’m being paid. Am I happy? Generally, yes. I wish more people were.