Saturday, April 19, 2014

You can't say no to happiness...

Thank you for all your replies to my last post on happiness, and what it is that gives us those fleeting moments of contentment and joy. In the two weeks since I've thought about it a lot more. I happened to write that post at a time when I hadn't been feeling a lot of joy, worn-down by an attention divided too many ways, not enough sleep and anxiety over all the good things that are going on in my life. Worrying about good things? Silly, I know. But in order to make those things happen, we've had to work pretty hard and having one too many projects, plans and jobs to juggle, doesn't leave me with enough mental space to really enjoy it all.

However, as previously established, these things we all juggle, are in fact, the foundations on which future happiness will be built: the right work, the good friends, the things you love, the money you need to live, creativity, self-sufficiency, whatever it is that makes you happy in the long term.

And yet piled altogether and all at once, they can make you wholly unhappy. Not only that, but I have found that it is consistently pretty hard to take the daily steps needed for the feeling of happiness and all too easy to choose a momentary satisfaction that mimics real happiness, say watching TV and eating candy, instead of going for a run,  meditating, or engaging in real emotions with real, actual people (that's not to say that watching TV can't sometimes bring you genuine happiness).

Everyone I know that meditates, including teachers and long-time practitioners still says its hard. I've never met anyone who says watching Mad Men is particularly hard. Yet TV almost perfectly mimics the "loosing your self" aspect of joy. You are less within yourself when you watch movies, television, plays, surf-around the internet, or read.

Of course he path of least resistance is always, always easier to take than the high road, but personally I think that a little bit of both is the way to Shangri-La. Choosing that which will increase your happiness to come often, yet sometimes also letting yourself choose that which will unwind your racing mind.

So why talk about happiness? Why is every lifestyle blog full of tips for "staying present in the moment" and why does NY Times keep running articles on transcendental meditation (And why do so many of all articles about meditation have pictures of thin white women?), why is instagram filled with the hashtag #hundreddaysofhappiness (apparently according to a dear blog friend most people don't complete this challenge 'cos they don't have the time! What?)? Why can't we, myself included, just shut up about it already and just be happy?

Because, it is the one thing that we all strive for. If anyone denies their desire to be "happy", they're probably full of "shit". It is the ultimate goal of…well…life. I don't know if all societies, always have spoken of happiness, or if it once was implicit. If the fall from Paradise, is a myth remnant from the moment when happiness stopped being our natural state of being and became something we aspire to? The one universal thing we all want, so much so that pursuing it is written in the constitution of this unhappy nation.

The pursuit itself may be as old as civilization, but it seems to remain a wild goose chase, that many, if not most, of us are going about achieving the wrong way.

In this world, the world of complexity and endless choices, where most people do not do something meaningful for a living, where many people have no spiritual foundation, or no community, where everything is all at once up to our individual choice, and at the same time, we are more or less powerless to affect the larger framework within which we live, happiness can be hard to find.

We often confuse it with lust, love and want, with money, possessions, altered states, security, conforming to societal expectations.

The hardest thing about happiness for me is two-fold. On the one hand being happy with what you have, on the other working hard to achieve that which will create more happiness. Sometimes even identifying the things that make us happy can be a hard, having them obscured by those afore-mentioned, confusing substitutes.

In my last post, I talked about moments of transcendence, trying to each day stop for even a short while to examine our surroundings for the signs of silent bliss. Yesterday, for instance, I watched Charlie lay in the sun-warm grass with our cat, I stopped to look at the new chicks as they ran for the coop door, having never been outside of anything in their lives and intuitively still knowing that it is where they belong, I constructed pictures of myself, of all things, yet forgot myself, framing them, and all this made me happy.

But at the same time, I did this in the midst of completing an epic task list, reserved for this, my sole day off. Yet the expectation of completing all of these things didn't make me anxious, resentful, or depressed, simply because they are the things that make those other moments possible and more abundant.

It may not make me happy to spend my day off weeding clumps of grass from our still completely unfinished garden, even though it is mid-april and I'm still only getting started on the first bed, which is to house potatoes; but it makes me happy that we will have a garden, full of greens, peas, radishes and those potatoes. It makes happy that our busy farmer friend took that time to help us till it. It makes me happy that in a few brief weeks it will be something,  a living growing thing we accomplished.

I would love to spend my days writing, kayaking, reading the Tarot, but in the end, building something that will feed us, or making money that will shelter us, buy us time for those pursuits should also fill me with happiness. Not the blissful joy-kind. The steady, sweaty, job-well-done, we'll-be-sleeping-sound-tonight-kind.

Daily happiness may not be just about looking up and recognizing the joy you have, it may also be about identifying the things that bring you joy, contentment, that make you feel like you've  accomplished something, and then pursuing them; at times relentlessly in spite your exhaustion, at others, when you have the strength and concentration. At times it really is the experience of flow in even the most humbling, mind-numbing work.

Because even if I'm not writing, or doing the other things I'm passionate about, I'm still doing the "right work".

I've slowly come to accept that even the "wrong work", the day jobs, being tied to the computer, instead of the woods, can be the "right work", so long as it serves our greater purpose.

I'm also learning that sometimes the things we love the most can come second, can stay on the back burner for another little while. Rushing to complete the weeding, the sauerkraut, the etsy photos, the cleaning, I was in my head planning for this morning, how Charlie and I were going to get up early and go kayaking, finally a tranquil time alone in nature. Yet waking up early today to list stuff on my shop, to maybe write this post, though I did not know what it was going to be about yet, I realized that it  would stretch the day too thin, that he was too tired, that I had too much to do still. Laundry, gifts, notes for a meeting I have, plans for work. Instead of being sad an disappointed, feeling like I'm failing, I'm writing this. Soon, Charlie will get up and we will drink coffee together and walk to the neighbors and go on with what we need to do today.

I'm perfectly happy about it. I can't make more time, he can't function on less sleep. We'll still have the day, with friends and costumed parades and cold cloudy weather. We will not go kayaking, but I will write a letter to someone who needs it badly, I will do the laundry we so badly need.

Happiness is in the cards.

Happy Weekend!  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Once More, With Feeling

I promise this is the last of my Portland posts, but seeing as I suddenly find myself back to the grind that sometimes is my life in the spring and summer, I'm going to relive my recent vacation times once more with feeling. When I'm really only getting through days by taking several deep breathing breaks throughout, it's nice to remember that there's ebb and flow to this madness, and I just jumped into the overflowing creek from the tranquil shores of Portland.

As much as I love my reality and try to remember that it's beautiful and inspiring,  I can't help but being a little nostalgic about a few things from last week's reality.

So long to wandering with intent and stumbling upon art and odd, interesting things.

So long to magnolias, cherry blossoms and the thousand yellow suns of my new favorite flowering plant.

So long to the sweetest little five-week-old, with wide open eyes and a love of stretching out in all directions.

So long to unhealthy breakfasts and forbidden coffee drinks.

So long to dry pavement.

So long (for now) to sunshine everywhere.

So long to city clothes.

So long to unpredictable and friendly fauna, and the kind that tries to rob your bagel from your hand.

So long to the f***ing squirrels.

So long to the endless pictures of flowers and magic hours.

Before I get too bogged down in glorifying tea houses, thai food, flowering tees and vintage frock stores, I should mention that I am trading all of these things to baby chicks, baby goats, kayaking with husband, wildcrafting season, building a garden, new challenges and long walks.  Well, once I'm done with work week from hell…so any minute now well return our regularly irregular programming.

How's your reality doing?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Little Talks

Did you know that cities have languages? That each one has their own individual parlance that reflects the mood, the civic order, the weak and strong points of a town. This language is not spoken (though of course there is always that), but rather written all over its sidewalks, electrical boxes, murals, street signs and on the walls of its abandoned houses.

I like collecting these writings wherever I'm visiting, because I feel like they offer insights into the layers of history and the true character of a city. Whether they be cool murals, illegal graffiti, signs from long ago businesses, or words chalked onto the sidewalk, the words of a city speak for themselves. Here's a choice few from Portland.

The cliche wall…

The cheapest form of advertising.

Kill your TV.


Post 93.

Where Freud drank.

Because milk is just ice-cream waiting for its true purpose in life to be revealed?

The essentials.

Screw highway signs.

Mayhym? Project Mayhym?

Public services.

A common mistake. Still, thanks Portland.

I will.

Got a favorite piece of street art? I used to live in London in the early days of Banky's reign and spotting the works of the then obscure artist was the best way to pass the time in East End. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Drink Coffee, Drink Whiskey

This trip, I haven't done enough of either of these two. Hanging out with a mama and four-week-old baby and with Piper and Mali working all the time, my time here has definitely been a little whiskey deprived, but I've made up for it with amazing green tea, flower ogling, chatting with random locals, and eating way too much Pizza and other treats.

While I won't deign to know PDX well enough to offer actual travel advice, having mostly hung out in about twenty block radius in the Southeast part of town, I did thoroughly enjoy a few local spots, enough in fact to visit them multiple times.

One of the awesome things about Portland for us Washingtonates, is that everything is much more affordable and there's no sales tax. I usually try to go to Oregon with an agenda of buying a few specific things I actually need.

My favorite vintage spot was for sure Artifact, a space with an eclectic mix of new, old, handmade and unexpected. Perfectly curated, yet entirely un-curated seeming, it's a really sweet place for a treasure hunt. I found quite a few adorable dresses, some useful household items, and ended up chatting with one of the folks who run it and they expressed interest in selling my jewelry. Expect to see more F&N in your neighborhood Portland readers!

I really couldn't be more thrilled with that development.

Though I spent a lot of time adventuring around on my own, I did have a couple of really sweet guides to the city.

It was so fun to see these two gals, who let me crash at their sweet pad and took me to good places to eat and talk about anything and everything.

It almost made me wish I was in my twenties in a new city again.

I was super impressed by how much focus these guys still have on their interests, their own thing, in spite the pressures of city life, new jobs, new people and surroundings. It'll be really exciting to see them pursue their crafts in a bigger setting.

Drinking tea, watching Piper work with wool, hanging out on the couch was a good antidote to meandering the city, people and flower watching, the overwhelming newness of it all.

I always feel really inspired by new scenery and get tons of ideas from surroundings unlike my own. Often, I go to places without guidebooks, or an agenda, a set schedule, or a list of -must-see things. I like to find sights for myself, to feel like I'm really exploring, not just following a lead, a pre-approved itinerary. Traveling this way sparks your imagination in a different way, and there are no disappointments, no grief over how small something seemed in reality, how lackluster. There's just wonder over all you do get to see.

And now I'm excited to head home to put those ideas into good use...