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Writing Bliss

Porcelli Joey
By Joey Porcelli

My friend Val works in a bookstore. I read everything she recommends. This summer, she raved about The Geography of Bliss written by National Public Radio correspondent Eric Weiner. This humorous quest for happiness takes the author to Qatar, Bhutan, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, India, and elsewhere to ask what makes one place happier or unhappier than others. Is it the money? Climate? Food? Drugs? Social status? Success?

So, in the spirit of Weiner’s book, I will now ask the same questions of writers. What makes us happy? Do we find bliss in our work? Are we satisfied with the latest novel, column, article, poem, or essay? Is it the royalty checks, accolades, or a perception of success that sharpens our quills? If not, why do we pursue the challenges of a writing life? And, how do we stack up to the happiest people in the world?

As we discover our wide spot on the road to bliss, I would venture to say that at moments we resemble the people of India who experience happiness and misery side-by-side. We writers often relish the rush of personal achievement and then immediately sink into a “What’s next?” syndrome. We torment ourselves wondering if we will ever get another decent assignment or write a single significant word again. We go from insecurity to achievement and back to insecurity. The writing life has more ups and downs than a cobra in a snake charmer’s basket.

Or, perhaps we are more like the Swiss who shun envy as the great enemy of happiness. Let’s admit it, writers often envy our peers, especially the ones who make it to the New York Timesbestseller list or appear on Oprah with a first novel. And how about that new guy in the critique group who found an agent who found a national publisher in less than a year? Envy. Yes, it rears its ugly head, but, fortunately for us, this source of unhappiness soon dissipates when fellow CAL members freely share their contacts, their talent, and their writing skills. Do camaraderie and mentorship make us happy?

Or is it food?  Thankfully, Weiner draws a connection between eating and bliss. Writers are quick to reward themselves with mounds of dark chocolate, buttered popcorn, and a plate of nachos before we write, while we write, and after we write. Could junk food be the necessary fuel to navigate our journey to happiness? And, to travel further down that path, we might draw a comparison to the people of the Netherlands where mood-altering substances enhance their wellbeing and worldview. Does the hashish pipe or fluke of French champagne free our minds to wander into unknown realms of creativity? Let’s face it; we all like to imbibe a little after a dry day at the keyboard. But, the only true addiction that counts for a writer is to make the word count and the words count.

If there is a link between climate and happiness, we should have it made here in Colorado. Unlike dreary Great Britain, we have no excuse for malaise. Writers here do not experience sunlight deficiency syndrome or debilitating drizzle. We can still get out to the coffee shop to write, to monthly CAL meetings to learn, and to our publisher’s office to hand in that 300-page manuscript on time.

Fortunately for us, Weiner concludes that money doesn’t buy happiness. What a relief. He cites the residents of Qatar who roll in mounds of cash but have little sense of connection. Colorado writers do have connection, to our history, the landscape, and especially to one another. So, although we may agree that money won’t bring bliss, a royalty check now and then would sure help.

Deep down, I think we most resemble the people of Iceland, one of the happiest places on earth. Why? Because this is a country where failure is a key component. Icelanders admire failure because they believe their citizens always have the best intentions but may just not be cutthroat enough to surpass the competition. People in Iceland go ahead and sing and paint and write because nobody says they stink at it. Weiner says, “If you are free to fail, you are free to try.” This philosophy brings kudos to the author who sends his manuscript out for dozens of rejections and yet perseveres.  In Iceland, it’s the trying that counts. What a concept. All we have to do is think we are talented and nobody will dispute us.

Another similarity to the people of Iceland could be our temperament. Egill Skallagrimsson, an Icelander who lived 1,000 years ago, is according to historians “a man who wrote some of our most beautiful poems but would also throw up on his host and take out their eyes if he felt in any way offended.” Not sure that would go over at the next Cal luncheon, but I bet we’ve all had moments of wanting to confront a critic or defend our work against unwanted editorial change.

But, we probably most resemble Iceland because it is the land where “language is lauded as a source of joy.” That’s our kind of place. To a writer, language is everything. We reach Shangri-La with the words we invent, weave, juggle, balance, merge, and immortalize. We revel in the research, outline, assembly, and edit of words. When a little scrap of paper appears in our coat pocket or the vegetable crisper with a brilliant idea scribbled on it, happiness oozes through our pores. We may not even remember jotting down the protagonist’s plight on that napkin or matchbook, but we certainly recognize its genius.

Writers find bliss when time suspends in mid-sentence. Hours go by without a look at the clock or a trip to the gym. It surfaces when a book title appears to us in a dream or a fictional character’s voice begs to be spoken. For writers, happiness comes in the discovery of a single word, the juxtaposition of a few words, or the golden chain of many.

Kant once said, “Happiness is an ideal not of reason but of imagination.” This, to me, sums up the writer’s road map to bliss.

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