• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Met a Girl Who Sang the Blues

So I’m flipping through the New Yorker while enjoying a frozen Amy’s lasagna for dinner when I come upon a picture of the late Maurice Sendak standing in the woods dressed in a black robe and holding a cane that could double as wizard’s staff looking like a little Jewish wizard or a scary cult leader. Beside him his German Shepherd, Herman. The dog, he says, is of “unknowable age, because I refused to ever find out. I don’t want to know. I wish I didn’t know how old I was.”  I wonder what that would be like not knowing your age. I mean you’d have clues, for instance hot flashes, grey hair at the temple, and constant irritability might suggest a women in her early fifties. Just saying. Still, I thought only the brilliant creator of Where The Wild Things Are would imagine a better life without the definitions and expectations of age.

And the interview ends with this: “It’s hard for me to be happy. Some people have the gift of pulling themselves up and out and saying there is more to life than just tragedy. And then there are those who can’t, and I’m one of them. Do you believe it when people say they’re happy?”

Do you?

94 Responses

  1. It all depends on the delivery. If you oversell me–no way I’m buying it. The lady doth protest (or proclaim) too much, methinks.

  2. Betsy,
    Those kind of happy people have always driven me crazy. My wife is one. She’s always telling me to be more appreciative, to look at the bright side. Thank goodness for Sendak. There aren’t many people who would dare admit to holding his philosophy.
    Oh, by the way, I’m the mishuganah guy from Colorado who was broken hearted that you wouldn’t look at my story, Jewboy of the South. I’m sending you the query and the first three chapters. Thanks for looking.

  3. I think someone could be happy. I would require a very specific definition of the word before I could be positive.

  4. A good friend used to tell us how happy she was. So so happy. Over years we learned how abusive her husband was, how controlling, and that they hadn’t had sex in 7 years. They constantly hugged and kissed in public, called each other “Baby this” and “Baby that,” and he bragged (when she was out of earshot) that their bedroom was like a circus tent. They put on one hell of a show.

  5. Speaking of Sendak and dogs, he talked with Colbert about ‘Higgelty Piggelty Pop!’, which he said was probably the best thing he’d written.

    A dog goes out into the world to find out, ‘is there more to life?’ and has series of adventures during which she proves her total inadequacy. But she accepts that and, Sendak says, “she just ends up a sweet, jerky dog, which she is, no one ever really wanted anything more from her.”

    Colbert: “Does she return to her master?”

    Sendak: “No. She dies. She dies. And she leaves him a letter, saying ‘If you ever come this way, look me up. But I can’t tell you how to get here.'”

    Then he says, “The book has had a very difficult life. All of it. Considered like, ‘Why is this a children’s book?’ Why not! What is a children’s book? I don’t have a clue! I’m famous for them, I write them, I illustrate them, but I don’t know what they are.”

    Re. people saying they’re happy, I believe them if they’re stupid.

  6. There was a point in my life when every conceivable depressing, scary, hurtful and maiming event beat a path to my side and competed for my attention. I was the dark cloud and there was no #%^ silver lining coating my insides! Finally, diagnosed with PTS, the notion of accepting those events as of THAT time, but not of the present, gave me another point of view: the option to seek happiness.

    Looking for the positive, the humor, even just the lovely flowers somewhere in the background is no small task. It was especially difficult in 2005. But I did and I believe it kept me sane. Still, happiness is like managing diabetes: too much sugar is just a bad as not enough.

  7. Re knowing one’s age: I still think I’m twenty-five, all evidence, including my birth certificate, to the contrary.

    Re happiness: I never think about being happy anymore. I either am or I’m not. What I think about is doing something worthwhile. I find that the happiness thing takes care of itself if I’m either doing something I love, doing something for someone I love, or even sometimes just doing something for someone. I’m not a do-gooder type, but I’ve had enough unselfish experiences (and even more of the selfish kind) to know that service in love is more satisfying than happiness. You can’t get happiness by pursuing it (sorry, Founding Fathers); it only comes as a by-product. The trick is remembering that fact, since the default mode for many of us is to chase the rainbow to get the pot o’ gold.

    After all Mr. Sendak has done, if it wasn’t done with love, in a spirit of service, then it’s no wonder he wasn’t happy, poor man. Still, he must have put great love into his work at least, which comes through to all of us.

  8. Brava

  9. It’s a lie, but a necessary one. If you reveal the depths of your misery, people will try to help you find happiness. Which is a total pain in the ass.

    However, I think most people have those fleeting joyful moments leftover from childhood, when for no apparent reason you feel the urge to rush at something and hug it very hard. I hugged the stuffing out of my teddy bear when I was a kid. Now its usually the barista or the TV when Game of Thrones comes on, or my son when he’s doing a difficult math problem and has to use his fingers.

    Is that what people mean when they say they’re happy? Is happiness quantifiable? Do the happy folks have a higher than average hug-rush tally? Then I suppose I’d believe them. But I don’t think that’s what they mean.

  10. In an interview a few years ago Sendak said he considered Outside Over There to be his best work. It’s a beautifully illustrated story about a young girl named Ida, who must rescue her baby sister after the child has been stolen by goblins.

    He was influenced he said by the German Romantics. After he finished the book he had a complete nervous breakdown. “I got that close to the fire,” he told an off camera interviewer. “That close.”

    Hard to be happy when surrounded by the incomprehensible. But you can be brave and you can be an artist.

    Because happy is not the same as joyful; just as pretty is not the same as sublime.

  11. Happy. It’s such a worn out word, isn’t it? Does anyone even use it anymore? Isn’t it like the names Gladys or Mary? Popular and sensible a few generations ago, and untenable now.

    In the espresso-to-espresso bumpercars world of now, ecstatic, I might buy. Or over-the-moon. The cocaine moments, you know? The rush and euphoria that crash lands like a jet in a recurring nightmare.

    Happy. Hm. Wrap it up and put it in one of those gifts bags with the sisal handles. Bring it to arts-and-crafts hour at the home.

  12. Happy? Ha!

  13. You had me at “constant irritability”.

  14. Sure, I believe it. What’s not to believe? Just as I believe what goes up must come down. Is it any wonder we call a man’s private part “Mr. Happy?”

  15. I can’t remember the last time anyone in my orbit declared their happiness. Gratitude that they might have skirted tragedy or the abyss? Maybe. It might be an east coast dark thing. We’re all kind of skeptical & moody around here.

    • I try not to admit my happiness to others. First of all, nobody wants to hear it. They much prefer to hear about my conflicts and inner turmoil. Second, it’s like a baby’s slumber. The moment you start gloating over how well yours sleeps, s/he’ll wake at some ungodly hour and continue to do so until you’re back on humble ground. I think you’re better off keeping happiness quiet. It lasts longer.

  16. I do not now know, nor do I believe I have ever known, anyone who claimed to be “happy.”

    You eat your lasagna frozen? Jeez. Does that make you “happy”?

  17. Sure, I believe them. Why not?

  18. I think it might be interesting to analyze the direct correlation between statements regarding happiness and the time of day, or night, comments are posted. I could be wrong but when the night stalkers are brooding, happy folks are snoring, or watching QVC, (0 balance Visa in hand), winning at Foxwoods or up for a 2AM feeding; ah…snoring, shopping, gambling and breast feeding could make you miserable too.

    All I know is that I’ve got one shot at life and I will do my best to be positive and happy.

    You naysayers suck. Pop a pill, eat a half galloon of mint chocolate chip, or fuck your neighbor’s spouse, do whatever it takes to put a smile on your frowney-face because you’re bringing me down and that’s not allowed because it’s all about me.

    If I went to bed earlier last night I’d be in better mood. Where’s my fucking coffee.

  19. Well, you can’t believe everyone who says they’re happy. Do I believe in happiness? Yes, but it is not like having brown hair; it doesn’t stay forever. Sometimes you have to abide until it returns. If you simply sit and bemoan its absence and envy it in others, it never comes back. You have to live. Like yesterday’s post, you’ll never reach a fork in the road if you don’t start walking. And just because you’ve chosen badly at one fork doesn’t mean there won’t be another. You have to go on as if happiness were right beside you, patting you on the back.

  20. I fight for happy.

    Whenever I’m at a kid function at school, a birthday party, whatever, there is undoubtably the group of women, the moms who run up to each other, hugging, discussing updates they saw on Facebook, kids soccer games, whatever.

    I sometimes feel bad for my kids that I’m not that mom, that because of me they may not fit because they won’t be praised for thanking someone, or excused when they misbehave…if I laugh at my kids it’s because they’ve been truly funny, not because it would ruin their fragile psyche to do otherwise. The happy moms have the latest yoga gear on and smile through entire conversations. I’m just not built that way. But maybe they feel the way I did when I met my writer friends…they just get to feel that way every day.

    • ‘I sometimes feel bad for my kids that I’m not that mom..’ I’ve been struggling with this. I’m starting to accept that they aren’t the problem. I am. I’m not willing to do what it takes to blend even though I could. I have made some concessions, but my poor kids.

    • You go to the functions at school and you don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. I’m guessing your kids are proud of you and love you.

      • I second that. Role models are rare these days.

      • Absolutely, Mike. I know they love me. I suppose the wonder I have is more to the point of what if I was just a more “normal” mom that fit in better. Does that make sense?
        As writers, I’m beginning to see that we truly only fit in with each other. There’s an observational gene that we seem to have that doesn’t do well with small talk, and the normal goings-on of the moms I see. I don’t regret the way I am, I just wonder if they wouldn’t have an easier go of it if I was made differently. Then again, for Halloween I was the only one dressed up and although I got looks from the Lululemon crowd, I made perfect sense to the kids. Either bigger than life or a wallflower, that’s me.

      • Yes, it does make sense. I don’t know how some people can fit in so easily. And it drives me nuts when someone is talking about how they don’t like someone else, but yet when that person shows up, the backstabber is suddenly all lovey dovey. Maybe it would be easier on your kids if you morphed into some popular social nitwit, but above all I think kids respect honesty.

    • What a perfect description of kids’ school functions, Lyra. And book club.

      • Ha! The book group. One of those ladies told me it’s obvious I have no passion for writing. Quite severe considering she’s never read me. Maybe more to do with the fact I wrote a book and she didn’t? She proceeded to go down the NPR book list and tell me about real writers. I told her no, never heard of them. Or them. Then I asked if she had read 50 Shades of Grey (Gray?) yet. It’s a good thing I drive a nice car or I wouldn’t be invited anywhere.

      • I was asked about 50 Shades at book club this week. They’re ALL reading it. I can tell I’m backing slowly out of the book club room — I didn’t even drink this time, just sipped my water and waited for it to be over. You know you’re done when you won’t even liquor-up to get through it.

      • Deb,
        You need to borrow my cape and mask. I mean, hell, if we’re not going to fit, let’s do it badass like a unicorn, baby.

      • Teri,
        Cease and desist. F the book club.
        Unless you want the cape next…

      • Oh yeah, I want a cape and a mask. Unicorns unite, Lyra!

      • I’ve put in a request for a west coast move, Teri. *Happiness* is polishing off bottles of wine while discussing good books with friends.

      • Cease and desist! Cease and desist!!

      • Deb, that woman in your book club sounds hideous. Do you have a writers’ group? I’d rather discuss a book with a writer than anybody else. I don’t think I’d ever join a book club. Reading is an intimate experience between me and the author, alone together, though I may invite my husband to join in for a three-way on occasion.

      • Don’t you think mean=frustrated, TP? I get frustration (but not mean). I hope one day this woman will realize she needs to take a leap of faith right off the hamster wheel.

        No writers close by, but I love my internet friends. The books that get chosen for group aren’t the ones I would usually read anyway. Probably because there’s no writers.

      • Deb, she may be frustrated, but frustration sometimes makes us say hideous things, and well I know it. To make a judgment on you, to say you have no passion for writing, does seem mean. What’s obvious to me is that you took it with a lot more equanimity than I might have. Perhaps you have a more secure sense of self because you’ve written a book. I probably would have taken such a comment harder because I haven’t.

      • A word at a time, TP. Then a paragraph. A page. Believe. (That’s the strongest word in the English language, you know.)

      • Thanks, Deb.

  21. I’ve experienced happiness. I’m not sure if it’s a propensity toward optimism, or if I’ve learned to cultivate the good in the midst of the dung heaps. Probably both. I don’t believe it’s big and loud though, something proclaimed with authority. It’s more quiet and reverent; a stray kitten fed with an eye dropper.

  22. Did you catch Sendak on The Colbert Report a few months back? For a children’s author he was uninhibited, funny and real – it made me happy!


  23. Happiness is overrated. But then we don’t all use the same scale.

    My happiness quotient is rising as I read Susan Cain’s QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and come to understand that this hyper-excited, gregarious American persona was created only about 100 years ago. Had we introverts lived in earlier times — or now, but in a different country — our sense of ourselves would be very different.

  24. If a child met sad Mr. Sendak in the woods, he’d offer the wizard a juicey juice and give a chunk of string cheese to the dog, after asking permission and with palm out straight; don’t want young digits to become finger food.

    No person of reasonable intelligence is happy all the time, but the smartest people I’ve met have been like the child with the string cheese and liquid sunshine.

  25. I’m sitting in a quiet house with music playing softly while friends sleep. This is a house of love and friendship and smart children, and I am untroubled, looking forward to the day.

    I don’t know if that qualifies as happy, but it’s pretty nice.

    • Untroubled. That’s as close to happy as you can get. Welcome back, Frank. Hope your trip was all that.

  26. Happiness is relative. If it isn’t pouring rain, or bombs, or snails, you feel ok. If you wake up with someone pounding on your roof or ringing the doorbell, not so good. I’ve been around for 7 decades and have enjoyed a lot of them. If I lived in Afghanistan, I’d jump off a cliff. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? So hang loose.

  27. Whoever said ignorance is bliss shoulda had a pole shoved up their ass–thereby condemning the us to the judgement that happiness and intelligence are inversely correlated. Having a glass of wine with my wife and neighbor who mowed our lawn (because we suck at that sort of shit and haven’t bought a mower to replace the one that died two years ago) and watching him with both his phone and bluetooth gadget with neither working for him made me insanely happy. Not because technology gone array is funny but because his eyes were caramel color and he liked the wine which was a present from my cousin who I just reconnected with. It was a lovely moment in a shitty day in a shitty ass week. Does that make me a happy person? I have no fucking idea. More that life is made up of moments that are varied in their emotional content and emotional shouldn’t be judged.

  28. happy? an opportunity for irony. i recently wrote a character named happy, a glassware dealer from Shanghai.

  29. Hey, stranger–you got any candy?

    Fuck all, let’s get happy.

  30. People define happiness how they will. Happiness is a skill, there’s an art to it, a method to its construction from nothing. I have met “happy” people. In fact, I am married to one. It’s out there, it’s just subject to subjectivity and so, hard to recognize as truth.

  31. I believe in the concept of happiness, but few of us would recognize it if we stepped in it.

  32. Was anybody else completely let down by the WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE movie? Pitching the wild things as a disfunctional quasi-Jewish muppet family just didn’t mesh with my childhood mindroves. AT ALL. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius? – not this time, Eggers. Way off, imho.

    As for being “happy”, I agree that you can construct happiness by the force of your own will. My mother is one of those people. Moroseness was simply not allowed. Zest was the order of the day. It was exhausting. I had to sneak away to my room with a bag of Cheetos and my own inner turmoil (“don’t give me that black look,” she’d say), to scribble in my notebooks during stolen moments between organized-to-a-t cocktail parties and two-day Thanksgiving preparation extravaganzas. It was my job to color in the paper pilgrims and construct the Cornucopia. Half-assed efforts were not tolerated. Once one of our Thanksgiving guests actually broke down in tears and had to leave. She couldn’t handle the glee, the perfection of the presentation, the aura of warmth and joy. My mother’s wasn’t just a manic keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality, although that was part of it. She could indulge a base tendency to look on the bright side. She was in love with her husband. She had plenty of money and didn’t have to work for it. She could spend her days perfecting her world and all who resided within it. And she didn’t just appreciate every morsel of her good fortune, she worked it. It was her mission in life to be Happy and by god she was going to do it, no matter how many bumps in the road. And there were plenty of those. Now, age and all its ravaging effects have taken the edge off. The chinks in her armor are getting deeper. But the weather’s still gorgeous.

  33. You know…this is just the nicest place. Writers are great and you guys are the best, from purple knobs to coffee spewed on the keyboard, we are a happy bunch of misfits. Okay I’ll only speak for myself, I am a happy misfit, most of the time. The rest of the time i’m just a misfit.

    • I’ve been thinking the same thing today, Wry. Wish y’all could be out on my porch tonight, drinking martinis. Anyone play a guitar? I’d like to sing.

      (Sorry, Betsy, I think that just might make me happy.)

      Of course, it’s all due to our Leader, you know who. Kissing your feet.

  34. That ain’t her feet you’re kissin’ TKB.

  35. Well it certainly seems like the popular thing. Everyone’s striving [working], for happiness! Personally it makes me more than a little bored. It’s only when I’m obsessed by being happy, or around others who are, that I become very unhappy.

  36. Yes. It is possible to be happy. Some have to work harder than others for it, but I believe them.

    I have happy moments. I would be very happy (and gratified) if this got published –

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