Saturday, October 16, 2010

Happiness is...

I must confess I didn’t ever plan on writing this. This posting simply doesn’t fit into my plan. I have a list of topics to cover over the next twenty-two weeks and happiness simply isn’t one of them.

You see, despite my dishevelled hair and tattered boots, deep down I’m a very structured person. First of all, my socks always match. Secondly, every morning I drink my tea from the same cup with the little grey pussycat on it. Thirdly (OK, I’ll stop with the linking words here), I pack my son’s lunch to rigorously cover the four food groups in their correct proportions. When I walk into class, I come armed with not only a meticulous lesson plan but also a bag filled with items for every possible incidental: scissors, Blu-Tack, whiteboard pens in four colors, tissues, water, stamps, anti-aging cream, cat food. (You just never know.) And before writing, naturally, I plan out the entire structure of the piece, including the examples I’ll mention. As if that weren’t enough, I also secretly rejoice in the satisfying symmetry of my first, middle and last name all containing double letters.

Being structured may not sound like much fun, but it does give me the license to go with the flow, if I choose to do so, and now and again to completely let loose: to, say, eat Raisin Bran at lunch, drive barefoot, stay up till 10:00 p.m., or change the topic of this week’s writing.

The inspiration for this piece is the ‘Happy Prize’ awarded to me for writing excellence by the über-talented blogger Noemi from Tazzina di Caffè, the acceptance of which entails making a list of ten things that make me happy. Of course, it’s a daunting task to choose 10 out of the 143,000 things that bring happiness. So my acceptance speech for the Happy Prize will begin by getting out of the way a few of the most obvious happy-makers.

Happiness is...

1) …the sound of rain on the roof

2) …the smell of newborn puppies

3) …burritos

4) …not having to suck in your stomach anymore because you’re pregnant

5) …scratching a mosquito bite till it bleeds

As you can see, the list could go on and on in this fashion for an embarrassingly long time. So instead I’ll narrow down the remaining five items on my list to those relating only to writing or language.

Happiness is…

6) …structure. How else can you write a 185,000-word book in seven months while working part-time?

7) …the ‘undo’ button on the computer. It’s something I constantly forget is non-existent in real life; for instance, if you spill granola all over the floor, you actually have to get out a broom and sweep it up.

8) …learning new words you never knew you needed. Like Triones, apparently another name for the Big and Little Dipper. Or noctilucous, shining in the night. Or, in Italian, zerbino, the humble doormat. How is it that in my ten years of living in Naples, not once did I require the use of this term? Astonishing, because now I literally cannot survive without it.

9) …learning cool trivia from sanitary pads. The waxy strip protecting the adhesive on Libra-brand pads is printed with the most scintillating knowledge. Frogs never drink. A cow produces 40 glasses of milk a day. Chicken soup was believed to be an aphrodisiac in the Middle Ages. Clouds fly lower during the night than during the day. The great thing about these trivia gems is that you can drop one casually into conversation and when, thoroughly impressed, your fellow interlocutor asks where you learned such a fascinating fact, you can say, “I guess it’s just something I’ve always known.”

10) …my toddler asking “Happy?” He poses this ungrammatical but perfectly intonated question every time a character in a book or film displays any sort of emotion on their face.

My answer is usually something like, “No, he’s angry,” or “No, he’s sad,” having interpreted his question to mean, “Is he happy? What is he feeling?”

Or he might look at me endearingly and ask, “Happy?” after whacking me over the head with his toy elephant. I interpret this to mean, “Are you happy that I hit you?”

My answer is, of course, no. Then I pretend to cry.

But my favorite instance is when, after an elephant or gorilla beating or perhaps for no reason whatsoever, I get a big sloppy kiss – replete with suction, saliva and teeth – smack on my nose.

“Happy?” he asks me.

Yes, happy! Indeed, it’s children who teach us the true meaning of happiness.