Recently, at the Los Angeles Public Library, Calvin Trillin gave a reading and a talk on his new book, About Alice, a memoir about his late wife. Trillin had written numerous pieces throughout the years about eating and travel, and Alice figured into so many of them that many readers felt they knew her.
Talking about the new book (which began as a great piece in the New Yorker), he said he knew he had the book when he realized that he didn't have to write about her disease or her death. Rather, he wanted to write about her life.
Was this writer's decision a repression of pain or a denial of grieving? I don't think so. After all, even happy memories can be laced with melancholy. Then again, why the need for melancholy? Why is there a public appetite for pain?
As I thought about this on the way home, I thought about a recurring conversation I've been having with friends I hadn't seen in awhile. It usually went something like this:
--How are you doing, Jen?
--Good, I'm doing good.
--Are you sure?
--Yes. I'm happy.
And the conversation would go on and on as Jen drank more pints. I worried that my contentment was boring to my fellow drinker. Still, I try not to live my life as a cheap melodrama. Cheap melodrama takes up too much energy.
Is it enough to be happy? Why are we always looking for the unhappiness under the happiness? Have tabloids trained us to look for the story behind the story, the hidden truths, exposed in blurry pictures and conjecture by sources close to us? Must we always look for the conspiracy in private lives?
And why not be happy for a little while? Personally, it makes me feel better. Does the internal have relevance? Should internal calm and contentment be studied as much as internal calamity? Perhaps, the internal joke contains the clarity necessary to continue on and on. If I view God as a comedian playing to an audience too scared to laugh, perhaps I ought to start laughing internally a lot more.
Is laughter a remedy for woe? The act of laughing is a loss of control. To be truly laughing is to be out of control. To be crying is also a loss of control. Within ourselves, we hold the ability to lose control.
If laughter comes from happiness, perhaps we should view happiness not as a contentment, as achieving a level of civility, but as a foray into undisciplined delight. When I say I'm happy, I do not mean that I live contented. Rather, I exist in a series of tiny laughters and moments of uncontrolled exhilaration.