I haven’t posted in a while, my paean to the toothsome flat-picking genius David Rawlings notwithstanding. I’ve had much to contemplate and minimal time to get down and do it.
The month of March was way busy. The kids transferred to an absolutely wonderful charter school — goodbye, Fondant Hotdog PTA — and I started a really terrific new job at a very interesting company. So I had stress, and change, and adjustment. The learning of procedures, the gaining of familiarity. The twins and I have met some super neat-o folks in the process. So life is not so terribly pathetic.
Now is as good a time as any to write about the Solid Happy.
I love to create order out of chaos. (Former colleagues who knew my desk when: I’m tidier in my forties, trust.) Extracting narrative from a jumble of feelings and crap makes me, well, glad. I like to spray Windex on bad stuff, do some buffing, some debridement, and reveal a smooth and sanitary surface. No, I do not perform Brazilian bikini waxes as a hobby.
I am good at what a therapist friend of mine calls perseverating. This verb, to my mind, is the cerebral version of excoriating. As in, let’s fly our OCD freak flag and gouge holes in our scalps, or forearms. To perseverate is to obsess. To pick, to mull, to marinate, to not let go.
Novelists perseverate. We walk around with characters in our heads, and when we’re lucky, they talk all by themselves via our fingers on a keyboard. Since becoming a mom, I have compartmentalized my perseverating of characters. I have also written less.
Being naturally ruminative has real benefits when you channel it in the right direction. When it’s goal or project oriented, perseveration is right on.
When you’re torturing yourself over sundry nonsense, perseveration sucks.
Last year I felt like a real failure. I got to know writers who work in a different industry, one which is highly competitive and which does not underpay its participants. It was fascinating in many ways. Like anything else, there were people who were incandescently talented, people who probably weren’t, people who’d been in the right place at the right time, people who clearly worked their butts off to get to where they were. Some — interestingly the most powerful of the bunch — were profoundly, endearingly nice. Others were acerbic, with flashy sweaters and no discernible love of language. I’m glad I got to know these people, as briefly as I did.
I think any writer who gets paid to write is lucky no matter what.
I am one of those writers who do not get paid to write.
Does that make me unlucky?
I first wrote, “paid to do what they love.” I scratched that in favor of specificity. I love to do a lot of things. I love a lot of people. I am reasonably certain I am loved back by some of them. The compensation isn’t monetary.
Last year, in an attempt to make myself feel better for not having “made it” as a writer — for giving up in 1997 when my agent told me bad news — for not perseverating — for not keeping on — for giving my longstanding fear of failure the run of the house — I formulated a two-part model. The Bad Chichi and the Solid Happy.
The Bad Chichi means living in a place where words and talent are only as good as the money they earn.
The Solid Happy means living in my here-and-now life. It could be sauteing Russian kale or flirting with the artisan coffee guy. Buying hand sanitizer and colored pencils for the kids’ new classroom. Planning Granny Smith paint for my kitchen cabinets. Crunching Altoids with a young friend to stave off hypoglycemia while waiting for Jenny Lewis to come onstage. Cleaning two pairs of stylish preteen eyeglasses.
Not unlike Green Acres, the Solid Happy is the place to be. Because feeling like a failure who will never sell a book does not a properly perseverating writer make. Novelists do not write novels in the Bad Chichi.
And bopping around the Solid Happy is fun. Brings me new material all the time. (Speaking of new material, my new job TEEMS with it.)
The Solid Happy aside, success is such a crapshoot. It happens, it doesn’t. As I told my buddy Emile, a very talented musician with his own Bad Chichi struggles, If you do it, and you love it, and you’re good at it, then tell me, where’s the failure in that?