Noticing Happy

This is a picture of my old living room. Back in Northeast Minneapolis. In a previous life. Circa 2013 or something. I found it on Zillow. It’s grainy. But it’s also comforting.

Why a picture of my living room? I’m surprised to share it, but maybe it’s because of this:

It’s April now, and the sun has been shining. Starting to, anyway. I went for my morning run last Saturday. I decided to turn right instead of left. Found myself on an empty, country road. Running towards the small mountains behind our house. Green fields surrounded me. I was rolling with these rolling, Central Pennsylvanian hills. Fresh air. Wild spaces. It was very peaceful.

An image came to me as I ran. My imagination found its way back to my old living room. I remembered an ancient, Saturday morning. It was probably 2008 or 2009 or something. It was probably April. I’d survived another long, Minnesota winter. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. I woke up early, because I never sleep in. Opened all the windows. You can’t tell in the grainy picture, but there are five windows in that sun room. I made some coffee. Put on an Iron and Wine record. And I sat in that sun room. Sat with a gentle breeze. Bathed in warm light. Nothing in my head. It was very peaceful.

I hadn’t thought of my old house in a long time. But the memory cheered me up. My favorite author Kurt Vonnegut says we are terrible at noticing when we are happy. I was really happy sitting in that small sunroom, sipping hot coffee, and letting spring roll over me. I was really happy on my run, too. Surrounded by sunshine in Pennsylvania.

***

Last week was hard.

This quarantine is starting to wear on me. The constant energy of the boys. Their need for attention. A seemingly infinite number of virtual obligations. Here’s some of the things I did last week: 1) taught college classes, 2) facilitated an improv rehearsal, 3) advised students, 4) attended editorial meetings, 5) attended my annual review, 6) wrote and recorded a reading of a play, 7) submitted an essay to a journal, 8) graded essays, 9) etc., etc., and etc.

What a list. I’ve got nothing against anything on this list. I actually like doing all of this stuff. Most of it, anyway. It’s just that all of this things “happened” in the screen in front of me. I probably spent – and I’m not hyperbolizing here – 40 hours in front of my computer at work last week. Burned out isn’t the right word. Fried is more like it. Blackened.

Here’s the kicker. There’s a constant hum underneath all of this virtual work. It sounds something like this:

“Dad!”

“Yes, Samson?”

“I have a question!”

“Yes?”

Samson holds up his stuffed cat. The cat’s name is cat.

“This is my cat and its name is cat and my cat like to eat cat food so I’m going to get her some cat food because cats eat cat food.”

“Okay, Samson.”

God bless them. I know this is hard for the boys. They don’t want to be cooped up with us, either. But between Samson narrating every aspect of his day (in the form of a question that isn’t a question) and Solomon’s mood swings (one second he is laughing and the next he is screaming) something has to give. There’s a frenetic buzz in our house. And our house doubles as my office.

That’s probably the hardest part. The blurring of boundaries. I’m always working, always parenting, and always trying to decompress. So I’m never really attending to any of these tasks as well as I could. And the screen is always in front of me. So I’m also reacting to emails, to messages, to whatever.

I feel scattered.

***

This pandemic is serious. A dark thing. There’s no way around it. No way to mince words. And this blog isn’t about looking at the bright side. Or seeing the silver lining. I don’t think that’s what Vonnegut was writing about. He was writing about noticing those moments when we are actually happy. Not faking it. Not putting on a false smile.

Solomon and Samson came downstairs as I was writing this blog. Solomon was holding onto a piece of paper. They weren’t being wild. Weren’t shouting or screaming. It was a rare moment of calm. Solomon handed me a piece of paper with five hearts on it.

“I made this for you.”

“Thank you,” I told him. “That was very nice.”

Then I gave Solomon a hug. And Samson a hug.

“I’ll come up when I’m done,” I said. That’s what I always say. My passive aggressive way to be kind when I tell them I’m working on something. The boys wondered back upstairs.

There were two things I noticed about this little interaction. One, I was a little irritated that they interrupted my writing. I’m always irritated when they distract me from something I’m trying to finish. The other thing I noticed is this. They can be such kind, loving children. And it made me happy to take Solomon’s picture and give them a big hug. Genuinely happy.

That’s worth noticing right now. That’s all.

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