So there I was, thinking what a nice day it was for wishing I hadn’t lost my sunglasses, when I began to procrastinatorially consider all the people I knew due to leave Yale at the end of the semester, and before long it had morphed into an internal version of the “In Memoriam” section of the Oscars.
I was now both not working, which was bad, and sad, which was worse. I tried to whistle a happy tune but I can’t whistle. I tried clapping my hands, stomping my feet and shouting “I am!” on the grounds that if I pretended I was happy and I knew it and I really wanted to show it, maybe I could convince myself, but the only result was a complaint from a couple in the next weenie bin who claimed that my Heideggerian attempts to assert Being, whilst praiseworthy, were distracting them from having sex.
Happiness is weird. I’m just about old enough to remember the ’80s classic-of-a-kind “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” which included the lyric “Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style, / Ain’t got no gal to make you smile / Don’t Worry — Be Happy.” Anybody that happy would be the sort of person you’d really want to slap.
It’s an irritating will’o-the-wisp kind of emotion, because if you have to ask “am I happy?” (rather like “am I concentrating?”) then chances are you’re probably not.
There’s a great moment in “The Hours” when Meryl Streep’s character, reflecting on a youthful love, murmurs “I thought this was the beginning of happiness … I was wrong. It was happiness.” This suggests that happiness, unlike pain, can only be tasted outside the experience. It can’t be forced and it cannot be caged. Happiness is a bird that needs the open air.
Such philosophical musings, whilst diverting, were not the answer. Feeling that the answer was probably blowin’ in the wind, I walked out into the fresh air. As John Denver declared, sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy — except usually not on Cross Campus, where it just makes me bitter and envious of all the really attractive shirtless people.
At which point I bumped into Brian Valencia ’05, who, in the course of conversation, mentioned how he was always happy knowing that green apples could be cut into star shapes. I felt so much better for that. It’s so often the little, personal things.
Brian is the latest member of Yale’s venerable tradition of musical theatre geniuses, from Cole Porter ’13 to Greg Edwards ’05, which reminded me that, as a tyro lyricist, wordplay makes me happy. Mondegreens — misheard lyrics — are good examples, of which my current favorite is: “you’re the one that I want (you are the vol-au-vent).”
Also newspaper headlines composed without any thought at all, such as:
If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last A While;
Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures;
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges.
And inane medical reports:
The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.
While in ER, she was examined, X-rated and sent home.
Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized.
But when I really need a shot of instant cheer, I turn to the Happy File. Mock if you must, but my Happy Yale Stuff file contains all that is needed to brighten my day. It includes random compliments about my YDN ravings — I do receive them every so often, however unlikely that may be — including one from Johns Hopkins that concluded “thank you for your poignancy,” which had never been said to me previously and hasn’t since, and is therefore a shoo-in to the File.
Mostly, of course, it comprises the e-quivalent of the photos and letters threatening to annex the attic back home, individually pleasing but prized for their evocation of shiny happy memories for which I am deeply grateful.
Thank you, for instance, to Matt Devlin ’05, assigned by a professor to respond to an article by the prof himself, who planned “to describe the experience of reading it as similar to staring into the face of God himself and seeing Him smiling back, saying: ‘Of all my creations, you are the most magnificent.'”
Thanks to Greg Hamm ’05, who asked if I would “please give Sweep my best. Even though he doesn’t know who I am. Or couldn’t, for that matter. Because he’s a cat.”
To Powder Thompson ’05, for refusing “to let a mere dictionary dictate the limits of my vocabulary.” And to Reuben Grinberg ’05, for the baffling but somehow meaningful “did you ever see a llama kiss a llama on the llama? / llama’s llama / taste of llama / llama llama duck.”
Thanks to you — and to all the nearly departed not mentioned here but who hopefully know who they are — for making me happy.
Although if anyone finds a pair of prescription sunglasses with elliptical green-tinted lenses, that would make me very happy indeed.
If Nick Baldock makes just one person happy with this article, that really isn’t enough.