Summer is fully half over, and I haven’t accomplished much.
I’ve done a few things. I went to New York City, saw Hamilton (I work that into conversation as much as possible). I went to Kansas City to grade a thousand AP exams. I taught an online class. I got a gym membership, and I started reading again. I found a new apartment and did my best to avoid all thoughts of moving and starting school again. I went to the pool.
It’s easier to count by the things I haven’t done, good ole pessimist that I am. It’s also easier to look ahead and get afraid, get stuck and mired in my own anxiety about what is to come.
The world isn’t helping in that regard.
2016, man. Giant losses. Enormous violence. Heated political rhetoric. In the last two weeks, we’ve had shootings and hate crimes, a sit-in on the House floor, and the departure of the UK from the EU. Also, Zika is still a thing. I mean, what is this life?
It’s a changing life, is what it is. It’s changing like crazy, seemingly for the worst. This world is a pretty rough place these days. People are mad, sad, and afraid.
And yet. My friends are having babies, itty bitty humans that will be living in this world we’re creating. Other friends are getting married, trusting that a life together won’t make the gloom dissipate but it’ll be less gloomy. On my darkest nights, I wonder how they’re so brave, in such a unpredictable and broken world. On my lighter days, I’m grateful for them. They might not see it as such, but their choices to move forward are a middle finger to the darkness, saying we will choose this joy despite your presence, despite the uncertainty. Their acts of bravery cause ripples of changes.
I’m taking my own steps of bravery: moving cities, starting grad school (again), finding a new community in a new Texas town. On my darkest nights, I don’t know how I’ll be able to do it. On my lightest days, I am grateful — not a condition that comes naturally to me.
I’m more of a realist/pessimist. Brené Brown, God bless her, says in Daring Greatly that a common coping mechanism is to approach anything joyful with deep foreboding. This can be thought of as a “continuum that runs from ‘rehearsing tragedy’ to what [she] call[s] ‘perpetual disappointment'” (121). Yep. I know that tendency. If I expect the good to turn to bad, then I won’t be upset when it happens. Besides the fact that’s blatantly untrue (I’ll still be upset, obviously), that negativity taints the joy that is right in front of me. Instead of seeing the beauty, I am waiting for the inevitable rain.
Sure, the rain’s gonna come, but it’ll be easier to manage if I’ve let myself be vulnerable and joyful, and I store those memories for a rainy day. Thus, Brené’s solution is gratitude. Remembering the good things that have happened and will happen again.
So, in this hot mess of a world, I’m working on making gratitude a more central component of my life.
I listen to this podcast (Pop Culture Happy Hour, by NPR) that discusses movies, tv shows, books, music, anything pop culture at a deep and critical level. Yet no matter how deep or critical they get, they always end the episode with the things that are making them happy. Each week each member of the round table has the chance to gush over something they are enjoying. Not only does the segment give the listeners new things to Google, it ends the episode with a subtle undercurrent of gratitude for the good things in life that make us happy — whether it’s a tv show, a band, or an experience.
The things that break our heart need airtime, but so do the things that fill us with light.
And so, this is my inaugural posting of “What is Making Me Happy Right Now.” I’d like to say it’s going to be a weekly posting, but I can’t get my act together right now, so we’ll just see what happens.
So, here’s what has made me happy this week. I’m fighting the darkness by being grateful for these things and many more.
1) Chef’s Table: This documentary series on Netflix is giving me life. Seeing artists describe their culinary work, along with the struggles they experience to do what they do, reminds me that we’re all in this together, fighting for our passions. Also, the food is deliciously gorgeous, as is the storytelling of this series. Highly recommend.
2) Lin-Manuel Miranda: If you don’t know Lin, he’s the mastermind behind Hamilton. He’s an amazing artist, but he’s also a really generous guy in so many ways. Sometime soon Imma write a whole fan letter post to Lin, describing what this guy is doing for the Broadway community, the music community, the Hispanic community, the world at large. This guy, though, posts nothing but light on Twitter. He deals in words, but he knows how to use those 140 characters to brighten and soothe and delight those around him, even though most of us have never met him. He’s my best Twitter friend, hands down. Follow him at @Lin_Manuel.
3) Iftar: Tonight the Islamic community of my town invited a number of local church parishioners to share iftar with them, the breaking of their Ramadan fast. They welcomed us into their center, prayed with us, and then made us precede them into eating the most flavorful and delicious food, which they prepared even while they fasted. I looked around the room tonight, after hearing a rabbi, a Baptist minister, and a former police chief speak words of unity and inclusion, and I only felt love for my Muslim, Jewish, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc. brothers and sisters. We were a community.
Fight the darkness with gratitude. What’s making you happy this week?