Learning the Hard Way (Again)

I´ll start by saying that I never have been much good at being happy.  Oh, I´ve had my moments, even periods of weeks and months when I was genuinely, truly happy, when the stars were aligned and things were going well and I recognized it and was grateful.

But those times never lasted, and when the light went away, the darkness welled up from its hidey-hole, and there I was again.  I´ve tried to fill that hole with all kinds of things:  sex, drugs, alcohol, food, friends, travel, books, jokes, you name it.  None of it ever works for long.

Last night I was texting with a friend who´s been going through a rough time (we both have), and I put it like this: Desire is a difficult attachment to let go of.  It´s so easy to think that if only x would happen, then I could be happy.  But even when x does happen, and does make you happy, it never lasts, because things always change.  And when they do, happiness evaporates.

For instance, I am currently traveling through South America, something that I´ve dreamed of doing for a very long time.  I am literally crossing something off my bucket list.  You would think that that would make me happy, in and of itself.  I would have thought so, anyway.  But it´s been incredibly difficult, not only because of the language barrier and the challenge of negotiating a different place where they do things differently, but because I am, at this point, almost totally and completely on my own.  Which is alright, since I am generally pretty self-sufficient.  But being on my own, and without the comfort and distraction of the familiar, I am finding myself face-to-face with that inner darkness that has plagued me all my life.

It´s like that old saying: wherever you go, there you are.  Well, here I am, and all my old tricks (drinking, smoking, chasing women) aren´t interesting to me anymore.  I already know that there´s only so far pleasure can take me, and it´s not far enough out of myself to get me away from the darkness, not for any length of time.

So here´s the thing I´m trying to teach myself, because my brain already knows it, it just hasn´t quite trickled down to my heart: true, lasting happiness can only come from within.

I know, I know, write a hallmark card and quit my whining.

Thing is, trite as it sounds, it´s a profoundly difficult thing to actualize.  You can´t just hear the words, flip a switch, and be good to go.  You have to find the thing in yourself that allows you to become happy.  Then, you have to cultivate it, nurture it until it´s strong enough to nurture you back.

For me, that thing is my writing practice.

I´ve realized that I´d been giving myself hints for a while.  After my plans for the second half of my trip fell through (along with the relationship that went with them), I told myself I would hunker down and write when I got to Argentina.  I flew to Buenos Aires, and after a couple of days in a studio in Palermo (Villa Crespo, probably, but anyway…), I moved to San Telmo.  I checked into a hostal called Entre Libros.  A stone´s throw away was a cafe bar called La Poesia.

The thing I´ve learned about Argentinians is this: they are a very friendly, generous, social people.  With their friends.  Strangers, not so much.  And their Spanish is especially difficult to follow.  And for the most part, they don´t care to slow it down for the gringo, because gringos are, by and large, for getting over on.  Anyway, it´s been difficult.  The closest thing to a friend I have made was a Colombian girl I met in an Irish bar who was having the same problem.

So I pulled out my notebook and started writing.

It´s been amazing, a real salve for my soul.  All I have to do is start.  The story assembles itself in my mind as if delivered on a silver platter, beamed straight from the mothership to my feverish hand.  The words come, the characters take on weight, depth, personality.  Emotional resonances suggest themselves, cloak themselves in subtleties, tell me how to show them so I don´t have to tell.  And so far, each of the three drafts that I´ve written has finished itself at the bottom of the backside of the page.  I don´t know why, but that just blows me away.

I´d like to say that I realized all this on my own, but I had a little help.  For months, maybe even years now, my friend Michael has been trying to get me to read The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.  It´ll kick your ass, he told me, and I believed him, but I just never got around to it.  Well, in Buenos Aires I did, and wow did it kick my ass, in all the best possible ways.  It´s one of those books I think any- and everyone should read, and I could not have read it at a better time.  It really crystallized a lot of things for me, and helped me to realize that pursuing my writing practice (which is not, by the way, synonymous with a writing career, which I´m working on having, but only as a side project).  It even gave me the second half of the idea I needed for the second story I wrote, Valediction of a Falling Man.

And please do not mistake me.  I have not acheived enlightenment here.  I am still struggling with the loneliness and discontent that has been my lot for as long as I can remember.  I still yearn for x, whatever x might be, that will appear in my life and make me happy.  But I´m also working, cultivating my writing practice, trying to take the exhiliaration and contentment that it gives me in the moment and stretch it over the rest of my life.  Trying to grow into a person who can be happy no matter what the world throws my way.  But even just the realization, the crystallization of the hazy notions floating around in the reagent of my brain and soul, has already given me so much that I would be a fool not to continue.

I started the fourth story in my notebook yesterday, wrote until my hand cramped up and I physically couldn´t, anymore.  With luck, today I´ll do the same.

2 thoughts on “Learning the Hard Way (Again)

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