Never a Good Time

The book club I’m part of has one very convenient feature: two of our members are Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library librarians. They label and check out our books for us, and when book club is over, they gather them up and return them. So last month, when it happened that neither librarian could attend, we all looked at each other blankly and asked ourselves, “How will the books get back?” Lisa volunteered to take them.

There was no particular reason that Lisa should have been the one to do it. Continue reading “Never a Good Time”

You Are = You Do = Love (or not)

In January I read an article titled “6 Harsh Truths to Make You a Better Person”. It’s written in a style that is deliberately confrontational and provocative, but that’s because it’s meant to jolt readers off their butts and get them to do something. If you can’t get past the tone to the underlying truth of the article, go sit in your room for a couple of years and then try it again when you’re ready. I’ve read it about four times since I discovered it. Continue reading “You Are = You Do = Love (or not)”

Notes from Maine: Each Day’s Journey

After driving for about 10 miles through a very pretty kind of nowhere in particular, the road curves around to the right and you suddenly become aware that you are entering a village. A blink-and-you-miss-it road turns left to the country club. Before you is the Commons, a medium-sized field with a gazebo (and frequently a craft fair or farmer’s market), rimmed on two sides with a lot of old wooden houses and a crab shack. It is balanced on the right by the Traffic Triangle, grassy and adorned by a stone statue of an as-yet-unidentified man. Continue reading “Notes from Maine: Each Day’s Journey”

A Good Use of Time

As Sunday afternoon wore on, part of me felt frustrated. It complained, “Here’s the whole day gone and I haven’t done anything!”

The other part of me countered, “What I have done is go on a 5½ mile walk with my husband and my dog, stopping in the middle for a charming lunch at a sidewalk café. What I have done is lived.”

Why is it so hard to feel like that is a valid way to spend part of my weekend? Especially when there was nothing else I particularly wanted to get done that day? Continue reading “A Good Use of Time”

Stop the Boredom

The more we rely on external entertainments, the more bored we become. If you would stop being bored, stop trying to entertain yourself.

(Hint: the quickest way to stop being bored is to learn something or make something.)

Peeing on the Carpet

Our five-year-old dog, who had been pretty well-behaved since her puppy training, has recently decided that every time we leave her alone she’s going to, shall we say, moisten her surroundings. Because she clearly knows this is wrong, and slinks around the house as soon as we get home, we’ve been classifying this as vindictive, manipulative behavior, but I wonder whether it isn’t something else – whether, like most acting out, it isn’t an expression of simple unhappiness.

I can almost hear her reasoning. “It makes me so unhappy when they leave me. I’m sure if they knew how unhappy it makes me, they wouldn’t do it. But I can’t speak, so I’ll have to think of something else. I know! I’ll pee on the carpet. I know they don’t like it, but surely they’ll realize something is very wrong if a good girl like me does something bad like that.”

The thing is, of course, we know she’s unhappy. She frowns at us when we leave for work and assumes an expression of grave concern at any unexpected getting-ready-to-go-out.

Nor is there any way for her, as a dog, to understand that no matter how much she might wish otherwise, we have to go to work and we aren’t going to change our minds about leaving her on a Sunday so we can attend a friend’s wedding.

So the question is: when we encounter one of those situations in life that is what it is no matter how we feel about it, or in which the only way for us to express our feelings is to make a scene, hurt or cause discomfort to others, do we have the maturity to realize that what we want is not always relevant and keep our feelings to ourselves, or do we pee on the carpet?

This is Your Brain on Happiness

Happiness is scary. At least if you’re sad or frustrated, you’re motivated. But happiness is like a warm bed on a cold morning: there may well be, and probably are, things you need to do outside of it, but why would you want to?

And so, it seems to me, happiness can be its own enemy. The happier you are > the less motivated you are to deal with things, be it growth or grocery shopping > the more things pile up > the more likely something reaches breaking point > chaos and stress > not happy.

But is it maybe even scarier if you stay happy and float along in blissful unawareness of all that’s not getting done? Is that even possible? Or the similar problem – getting sucked into a vortex of contented routine and going along for years without noticing that the happiness is gradually evaporating. It’s unhappiness without motivation… until somebody wants a divorce. (Hmm, maybe I’ve been reading too much Ladies’ Home Journal lately.)

Happiness is like sleeping sickness for your brain and I’m happier when my brain is alert and childlike with curiosity and amusement. This is a strange conundrum. Strange enough that, while I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’s ever run across it, it feels like I might be.

Microscope vs. Telescope

One of the most educational aspects of my trip to New York was the hotel. I was allowed to book somewhere I had particularly wanted to stay and was therefore very, very excited – which is not something one can often say about business trip hotels – in spite of the very divided reviews on TripAdvisor. It seemed that people either love it or hate it, with little to no middle ground.
 
I expected that I would tend more to the “love it” side, and indeed, here is a partial list of Things About My Hotel That Made Me Happy:
  • The atmospheric (aka dim) lighting. It made it like a nightclub for intelligent people.
  • Keycards that NEVER demagnetized, even when I accidentally put them next to my phone.
  • The tiny perfection of the room’s arrangement, even if it didn’t always adhere to “Anatomy for Interior Designers” best practices (i.e., if you can’t fit through a space 9” wide, you’ll have to climb over the toilet to get in the shower)
  • The Library Bar. It’s a Library! And a bar! Together! Genius!
  • A very effective air conditioner which did not rattle, thus soothingly drowning out Blondie’s “Atomic,” which could be plainly heard echoing up from the courtyard 7 stories below at 9:59 p.m.
  • Hudson Hall. The concept pleased me – Harvard/Oxford-esque communal dining made cool (and also fitted out with a beautiful bar).
  • Unbelievably delicious bread.
  • Louis-something chairs painted silver and upholstered in mustard suede – the perfect blend of uber-formal and rocker-chic.
  • Potentially snooty design, very casually helpful staff. Almost everybody I dealt with was somebody I’d want to be friends with, too. The combination made the whole place fun and cool rather than pretentious.
To be sure, there were things here and there that were escaped perfection by some little distance, but I greeted them with cheerful indulgence. It was much like when Junior captures the neighbor’s cat and starts pulling out all its fur, only to have his doting mother exclaim, “Oh, boys will be boys! You can’t expect them to behave all the time!”
 
But eventually some of these things needed to be dealt with, which was more of a hassle than it should have been, and all of a sudden everything snowballed. I was going to present you with Things About My Hotel That Made Me Furious, but honestly, the list goes on and on. You know how it is – once you see one flaw, you see them everywhere. Eventually it overwhelmed all the positive feelings I started with until my whole mood and demeanor collapsed under the weight. 
 
I had to force myself to refocus. Get out of the room with patchy internet, and go sit in the Library Bar with a book. Don’t think about paying $19 for a nectarine (don’t ask), just take another helping of the spectacular bread. I was never able to get back to that early, effervescent delight, but at least I wasn’t angry all day.
 
The thing is, I still really do love parts of the hotel. (As a product, not an experience. I can’t help viewing all this as a lesson in Marketing and Brand Promise failure. But I digress.) And I knew almost from the moment I stepped inside that loving it would be the product either of them having a really good day, or my willingness to make allowances, my ability to ignore the less-than-ideal details and revel in the concept of the place. The hotel does not fare well when gone over with a fine-tooth comb, but if you zoom out a bit and add a bit of romantic blur to the picture, it’s irresistible.
 
From a marketing perspective, it’s great that the standard of service has been raised so much and customers have gotten so pampered, but expecting, and demanding, perfection isn’t the best way to enjoy it. Nor is it realistic. Things will never be perfect – and neither will people.
 
There’s an old saying that you choose on a daily basis whether you will be happy or unhappy. And we know that love is a choice too. Turns out it’s the same one.