HOW TO BE HAPPY
Happiness is elusive, abstract, glimpsed in the rear view mirror while we continue to move forward, admiring that stunning sunset, yet determined not to pull over. This morning I thought of Cafe Des Artistes a beautiful restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I was lucky enough to have several meals, once with the late Harold Brodkey who told me being a novelist was punishment and another with the British publisher of my second novel who pronounced me talented and adorable which coming from a 60 year-old man who loved my work was nothing but flattering. I was poor, living as a tenant in a rent-controlled apartment but New York City was my neighborhood and I was young, hopeful and strong.
There was a meal, a picnic, with a boyfriend that featured cold roast chicken and fresh bread that I still recall as the best meal I ever had in my life because we were so in love and I was wearing a white sundress and he was planning our future which consisted of lots of sex and lovely meals and adorable children. We parted horribly, tragically, bitterly. I have struggled to get another novel published after the third. I think the British publisher may be dead now given his propensity for rich meals, wine and cigars. Cafe Des Artistes has been shuttered. And yet, my memories serve to remind me to register happiness even if the glimpses are so rare and fleeting.
Twenty-two years ago my only child was born after seventy-two hours of hard, back labor. I remember in the early morning of the third day of pain the thought that while I was relatively young, thirty-five, I had experienced happiness and while I so wanted to be this child's mother, I could accept death without anger. And then he came and opened his sapphire blue eyes and I forgot all that acceptance. Every disappointment was erased in that moment. And last week he graduated from college, mortar board askew in his typical jaunty fashion, my ex-husband and I briefly reunited to see our son receive his diploma.
My third novel received an excellent review in the Sunday New York Times. I opened the page expecting anything else, mediocrity, doubt, derision and was given such encouragement it was almost painful. I remember thinking, don't forget this feeling, hold on to this joy but it was a matter of minutes before I became anxious and also resentful because I felt I had not been supported by my publisher well enough and also people would probably hate me for my success.
I turned fifty-nine this week and am fully aware I can no longer count on my life continuing to change if I don't grasp every opportunity to be happy, to fail, to be afraid and to create. Knowing how lucky I have been to have danced with my best friend in Paris, a friend who died of a brain tumor two years ago, to have published three novels and made my writer father proud, to have mothered an independent, strong, good man, to have known great love, pain, remorse, disappointment and, finally to accept that this life is a good one. When I was little and lonely I read certain books over and over. These included Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and A Member of the Wedding. Each of these novels was about happiness and great loss, disappointment and failure. But in each there was also hope, faith in love and a belief that life is a miracle. Our breath is taken by the sunset because darkness hovers.