When I read “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol,” I wished I was famous. I wished I could write a book containing everything I ever wanted to say — and people would read it. My take on life.
But then I realized that if I wanted the people reading this book to understand it, I’d have to start small. I’d have to define some words:
“The Vocabulary of Susannah Bragg.”
My dictionary, not unlike Czech novelist Milan Kundera’s compilation of 63 words, would contain those small words that are the biggest of words — the ones that, according to Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, “make us so unhappy.”
But I do not presume to lecture you about the giants like “love,” because, really, what does Susannah Bragg know about defining love other than “Oh, these few words strung together sound rather pretty and may or may not have any meaning after I’ve let them float around in the air a bit.”
Besides, this is scene. We want social words. So let us start at the beginning:
“Cool” — You are or you are not. You cannot become cool, and most people never will be. We use the word subjectively to say someone is “actually cool though nerdy,” but an actually awesome nerd is not cool; he is awesome.
Cool people master the social games so expertly that they almost never embarrass themselves; they do not break the rules of what is cool. But cool people also never escape the game. They are often jaded.
“Chill” — chill is a great new invention because it is more inclusive than cool. And chill is almost necessary, since it redeems you of social flaws: “She’s a complete drug addict and talks to birds, but if you hang out with her, she’s chill.”
Or “he’s the essence of dorky but when you chill with him, he’s chill.”
(Chill is the it-verb for “hang out,” so if you are not chill then you do not hang out. This is a problem).
But alas, like capitalism as Marx describes it, chill contains the seeds of its own destruction. It is inclusive, thus it is not exclusive. It’s relatively easy to be chill. It’s not exciting. It can even have connotations of sluggish: “She’s chill but I’m not throwing myself on her doorstep because, well, she’s a bit accessible.”
Which brings me to:
“Happy” — to me, the most attractive thing a person can be.
Please, I beg you, don’t misunderstand the word in my oh-so-elementary personal vocab lesson. I do not mean happy as in always happy, as in “La di da, I am great and stable and Buddha-esque”; god knows if that exists. Happy entails all the emotional ups and downs of the rollercoaster we call life but remains, in the end, optimistic.
Happiness is magnetic. It escapes the conformism of cool and the sluggishness of chill, but more importantly, a happy person does not need you. You are drawn to him because he is not trying too hard.
Over time, happiness can be off-putting in a partner — you want someone to be happy with you, not with or without you — but the laws of nature long ago decreed that whatever first attracts you to a person will ultimately drive you crazy. Your confident crush becomes your egotistical boyfriend, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
More than anything, happy is smart. Maybe he cannot write you a stunning analysis of “Ulysses,” but a happy person knows how to love living his life.
And it can be so easy!
Two nights before I left Siena, Italy, I went swimming in the fountain in the middle of the crowded central piazza. I splashed around for 10 minutes with a marvelously crazy girlfriend amidst cigarette butts, feathers and greasy Italian men. It was the best moment of my summer.
Now I am addicted to fountain-swimming. I tried the one underneath the Spanish steps in Rome and — in pouring rain at 4 a.m. — the Women’s Table on Cross Campus. I have dreams of the Trevi. And each time I try a new fountain, my only word for it is “beautiful.”
Che bello! It’s so beautiful! You can figure out happy. You can’t become cool, you can’t rely on chill, but you can learn happy — even if only in moments.
It is not simple; the day after your euphoric fountain swim you will undergo a despairing low (nothing can exist without its opposite).
But, as Andy Warhol loves to say, “So what.” I am happy even in my saddest moments because, however I feel, I am feeling something and happy I am alive to feel it.
So maybe take a dip in the Women’s Table while it’s raining. Maybe it will make your year.
Susannah Bragg talks to birds but it’s okay because she’s really happy.