17 Things I Need To Be Happy

Today I hate winter.

Wallace Stevens has this poem called The Snowman that starts with,

“One must have a mind of winter…”

And that line invaded my consciousness as I stared at the kitchen thermometer that read minus something.

(As soon as there is a minus sign, all possibility for happiness is gone, so it doesn’t much matter what number you put after that minus sign.)

I was thinking, Wallace Stevens notwithstanding, that I definitely don’t have a mind of winter.  I have a mind of summer. I have a mind of wisteria, and viburnums, and lawn mowers. I have a mind of ice cream.

I have no patience with stupid snowmen standing stoically regarding junipers shagged with ice.

Fuck snowmen. Fuck ice.

So today I will focus on things that make me happy. (Note the glaring absence of snowmen.)

Happiness Makers

Enough sleep (9 hours, preferably.)

High quality food, and a nearby market to buy it.

To sweat and detox daily.

Yoga. Every. Single. Day

20 minutes of Meditation. Every. Single. Day

Regular fun and play.

Order in my surroundings.

A clean kitchen.



A Hot bath. With bubbles.

Wine (in moderation)

Inspiring people in my immediate surroundings. Real people. Not online “friends.”

Beautiful, natural surroundings to live in

One cup of extraordinary, extra bold coffee every morning.

A big, warm, soft bed to sleep in. Alone.

Somebody to speak my soul to, to share my neuroses with, and to tell me (even if it’s not true) that I’m not nuts. Every. Single. Day.

Not “Needed” but Nice

2 ply toilet paper


ski tracks


We are what we love.

We are what we love. It’s as simple as that. If we do the things we love, we show our real selves to the world. If we show our real selves to the world, that will give us the best shot at living a happy life.

So try it.

Start making a list of all the things you love.

Include everything: people, places, states of mind, activities, food and drink, objects, times and seasons, nature and senses.

Nothing is too trivial.  If you love it, list it.

Dryer lint.

The little spit sink at the dentist.

Mallow cups.

Getting a letter in the mail.

The more things on the list, the better. Get subtle. Get nuanced:

Looking down at the ground from a plane.

The faces of kids in line to see Santa.

The smell of viburnums.

List it all out. List out at least 100 things. Keep the list on your phone and add to it as you think of more and more things. Add to this list for your whole life.

List out all the things you dislike or hate, too:


Parallel parking.


Try to get at least 50 things on this list. We are also the things we don’t like.

Why do this?

Because when you know what you love, you know who you are. You have self-knowledge. This self-knowledge allows you to make conscious choices about who you hang out with, what you do for work, and how you recreate.

If you know you love the outdoors and talking face-to-face with people (because you have these on your list) you’re less likely to take a cubicle job in a call center. You might not know what your ideal job is, but at least you won’t make that mistake.

Your list can function as your “true north.” You can consult it whenever you feel bewildered, or have to to make thorny decisions.

It is incredibly helpful to have a printed list of who you are, because even though we think we know these things, we forget. Then we get lost. And then we make really big mistakes from this lack of self-knowledge.

Mistakes which might have been avoided if we had just consulted our list. It’s like forgetting to get the milk because  you thought you’d remember. You should have put it on the list, dummy.

We frequently forget that we are a complex composite of all the random and incongruent things we love. We forget that if we want to be happy, we can’t forget the milk.

If our friends and our work and our fun activities are all aligned with the things we love, that is our best shot at being happy.

That’s why we need to put it on the list.  So we’ll remember.

list pic


The Life-Changing Magic of Everything

Life-Changing Magic

I bought this book because of the title.

I am a sucker for life-changing magic of any kind.

(Tidying up is the least of it.)

How about instead of “Tidying up” we go with “The Life-Changing Magic of:

Getting Your Work Done

Overcoming Obstacles

Walking the Edges

Weaving a Latticework of Community

Hacking the Follow-Through

Staying in The Game

Making Stuff Happen

Doing What You’re Good At

I would buy all of those books. I could even write most of them.

I have a raw draft of a book I wrote during NaNoWriMo crying to be “cooked” and no time to cook it at the moment because of all the hoo-hah that is Christmas.

My book is a workbook for people who feel they are not maximizing their full human potential, but want to. It gives them a surefire method for finding what they should be doing with their time, with their “one wild and precious life” if you will.

This book needs a sexy title though, and I have yet to hit upon it, so I am super jealous of this title. I think as soon as you put “life-changing” and “magic” in your title, you win.

That, and “belly fat.”

The Life-Changing Magic of Everything

A Book Snob Finds Love On the Bestseller List

This year I set a goal to read a book a month, which seems pretty wimpy considering that I used to read a book a week in my college and grad school years.

But the thing about reading now, as opposed to then, is that now I am reading for me, for my own edification, curiosity, and pleasure, and not to write a paper about the book.

In college I didn’t so much read, as process books into papers. Armed with a pen, I would take copious notes on thematic approaches, character development, and how this novel might illustrate the philosophy of Aristotle or Nietzche. I was on the hunt for the meaning in those books, and also to be able to manufacture enough verbal garbage to fill up 10 double-spaced pages.

If, god forbid, I got to the end of a novel and I didn’t have a thesis statement and a rough paragraph plan for a paper, I knew I was totally screwed.

Even back then I knew this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with these books. Even back then I knew this was a travesty. I longed to let those books marinate, to seep into my psyche, into my life, my soul. I wanted to enjoy them, and understand them, not dissect them like a frog.

But I couldn’t. There was no time. I had a list, a syllabus, other classes to deal with. I couldn’t muse about anything. There was no time to let a book rattle around in my brain for a while, because hot on the heels of one book, was yet another one to be read and “papered.”

When I think back to all the classic Lit. I read between the ages of 16 and 23, I could positively weep. I was too young for Tristram Shandy, for the Red and the Black for Anna Karenina for Ulysses.

I couldn’t even maneuver my car onto the turnpike let alone follow Leopold Bloom around Dublin for a thousand pages.

Now that I am free of academia, I long to go back and re-read everything I read there. Nabokov said that the best reader, the only good reader, is the re-reader, but do I want to start over again? Now? At this late date? I don’t have that much life left, and even if I did, do I really want to go back and re-read the classics? I am out of shape for iambic pentameter. I’d have to work back up to Shakespeare, to Proust. I no longer have the attention span for the semi-colon. I twitter now.

But one thing I have become painfully aware of in the last few months is that, probably due to all that reading of classic Lit in my “childhood” I have become an insufferable literary snob. I expect a lot from books. I may not have gone deep into the classics, but I went wide enough to know what real artistry is, and I know how to appreciate it.

Funny, I am not this picky about any other art: not music, not painting, not theater. But when it comes to books, I have my standards; I make demands.

I expect structure and voice and poetry and beautifully articulated ideas. I want to be lured down the rabbit hole of a book and feel happy to live in that world  for a long, long time.

I don’t pay attention to themes or motifs or character development or (god forbid) meaning anymore, all I want from a book is to learn something new about the world, and possibly a new way to look at my life.

Even though I am not consciously on the lookout for theme and motif anymore, I still care about them. I still care about character development and pacing and poetry. And I especially care about those delicious silences built in between the words, and the way when things are left out, that makes all the remaining things glow.

I am not often disappointed in anything I read nowadays because one, I don’t read much, and two, my policy is if I get to page 3 and I am not entranced, I will close the book and quietly donate it to the library’s book sale. I don’t waste my time on anything that doesn’t thrill me. And this is why I call myself a snob.

I am a snob because I don’t want to be disappointed, and for that reason I tend to limit myself to Pen/Faulkner Award winners, National Book award winners, Booker Prize winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners. (And yoga books, good and bad.)

I get all squinty-eyed and smirky-faced when it comes to the New York Times Bestseller list, especially when it is littered with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey.

But recently I have read and really enjoyed “Bestsellers” in both the fiction and non-fiction categories that friends have recommended. I found Haruki Murakami on a friend’s recommendation, for example

Recently Emily (my daughter) said she was reading Gone Girl so I picked it up just to see, and got sucked down its rabbit hole. I admired Gillian Flynn’s storytelling, and especially how meticulously crafted her story was, and was flabbergasted when I saw her picture on the back cover. So young!  I could not believe someone that young could craft such a remarkable book.

The book I am reading now, Quiet, is also on the Non-fiction bestseller list (NYTimes) but for some reason I don’t feel as embarrassed reading bestseller non-fiction. Is this just being snobbish? I don’t know.

I recently ordered Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (the 2012 National Book Award winner) so I can compare it to Gone Girl in terms of its artistry. I really wouldn’t mind being called out on my snobbery if Gone Girl holds up against The Round House.

All I know is that I love living in someone else’s dream, in their word world. I love the interiority of reading, the listening inside that it requires. It’s such a relief to have the voice in my head not be my own for a while.

This winter has been especially long, and tiring, and dreary, but I have been consoled immeasurably by the books I have read. I am happy I have mustered the self control to put down the IPad for awhile and let my brain marinate in books. I feel nourished in a new way already, and it’s only the end of March.

Here’s a list of what I’ve read since January.

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Worlk that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Have you read anything lately that has made you feel nourished? Care to share?

A Book Snob Finds Love On the Bestseller List

The Bests

Every time I sit down here, I try to think of the standout moments in the day, good or bad. But mostly I look for the “Bests.”  What were the best moments of this day?

My yoga practice this morning wasn’t “the best”–it was hard and I was frustrated with my limitations and my weakness, but today I practiced to my new playlist, which is a mix of modern and more “typical” yoga music, and I really liked where it took me.

(If you want, I will give it to you, but you’ll have to ask.)

The next to the last cut is a Joni Mitchell song I love called “Shine.” Here’s a YouTube of it. The person did a nice job weaving in lots of vintage pics of Joni with the lyrics.

I really appreciated this song today, because man,  I really needed a little light to shine on all those Astavakrasana prep poses that killed me.

“Shine” was a “best.”

My “affliction” (which is how I am referring to this cough/cold/low energy thing that I’ve been battling all week) started lifting today and although I am still congested, the brain fog is finally lifting.

Best, number 2.

The weather is nothing short of crazy-spectacular. I think I should move here. If this was the way winters were all the time, and we got a “spring” like we are having now? And if I could shine a little light on all the gas drilling activity and make it go “poof!” and disappear? I could totally live here.

Weather: Best #3

All my Best People came to Happy Hour Yoga tonight, and what did I do to show them my undying love and appreciation? I lied to them, and then I freaking killed them. They died, then rose like little Phoenixes. It was awe. some. You should have been there.

Best, #4.

My Emily got an Ipad today and we Face Timed! Oh my god! I got to see my kid! I got to see her laugh and smile and push back her bangs and everything! She is amazing.

Best, #5.

I walked Boomer this evening up Cardiac and as we were passing the football practice field I heard….

Peepers!  Spring Peepers!  There’s a diversion ditch that runs along the edge of the field and that’s where they were. Peeping their little hearts out.

Holy moly. March 16th. Peepers.

Best, #6.

And now it is Friday night and I am nestled on my comfy couch with a glass of red at my elbow, and A Path With Heart beckoning.

Best, #7.


The Bests

A Good Place

Do you know the Holstee Manifesto? It’s amazing, it really is, (I have a copy of it hanging in my studio).

It has even, so I hear, sparked a small movement of people trying to write their own manifestos;  trying to write down, in list style, what they stand for, even if they often fall short of putting these things into practice.

I tried to write my own manifesto once, and I put it in terms of personal “Commandments.” I wrote this about 3 years ago:

Thou shall be kind.

Thou shall look in the eyes of others and see there you own eyes.

Thou shall be focused of mind and strong of body.

Thou shall take care of yourself and of everyone you love.

Thou shall forgive.

Thou shall be patient.

Thou shall write thy book.

Thou shall write thy truth.

Thou shall create beauty and order in your surroundings.

Thou shall express gratitude daily.

Thou shall develop sweetness and kindness and focus and strength.

Thou shall practice incessantly, with reverence, for a long time.

Thou shall be an agent of change.

Thou shall expand the sphere of thy concerns.

Thou shall not worry about outer geography.

Thou shall travel deeply inward and that will take you everywhere you want to go.

Thou shall know thyself.

Thou shall be intense.

Thou shall be disciplined.

Thou shall pause often.

Thou shall love everything extravagantly!

This was part of a post on this blog, and one of my readers questioned me about “Thou shall not worry about outer geography.” “What did I mean by that?” she wanted to know.

I have never felt connected to the place where I live. Never. And I am not the only one. The other day I ran into a woman who I’ve known for almost 30 years. Our daughters went to school together. She said, “You know, I have lived here for 30 years, raised my family here, and I realized recently that I really don’t have any friends here. We have our house on the market now. I am moving back to Illinois, where I grew up, and where I have deeper friendships than I’ve ever managed to make in 30 years here. What’s wrong with this place??”

Answer: Wrong tribe. If you can’t find your tribe, you will always live on the outskirts, always feel estranged, always be the minority.

If you can’t resonate with the predominate paradigm, you will spend a lot of time “screening” and “filtering out” stuff you just can’t bear hearing and seeing.

Then, when you happen to find yourself in a place where you don’t have to screen and filter, you feel wonderful, like you fit, or at least the fit is better.

There is no perfect place. I will say that again: THERE IS NO PERFECT PLACE.

But there are places that are better “fits.” When I wrote that I shouldn’t be concerned with outer geography, I was trying to find my true home inside myself, and it IS there. I know that and I believe that.

But I also think that where you live and the people you live among DO matter. Why spend all that energy screening and filtering and practicing patience and forbearance when you don’t have to? When you might find a place that is a better fit? Where there are more people who share your values and your worldview?

I really need to find that place.

A Good Place


Back in December I made a reading list for myself. One book a month.  Thanks to Leap Day tomorrow, I will be on track.

My January book was 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. This was not on my original list. Somebody handed me this 900 page tome in early January, and I thought: Aw, Shit!  I am such a sucker for a long novel, and this was going have to be added to the list. There were no novels on my original list, so, “Here you go!” the universe seemed to be saying.

I totally fell in love with Haruki Murakami and fell down the rabbit hole of this books for weeks.  It’s one of the best novels I have read and I recommend it highly.  I just found this interview with him, and this is what he said about his work habits:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

Love this.

This is sort of what I am trying to do with all of my daily “fundamentals” and especially with my meditation practice.

My February book is helping me immensely with this.  My February book is Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram and is changing everything I have ever thought about meditation.

I am now, thanks to the clear instructions in this book, training in concentration practice.  No more sitting there wondering, “Is this what I should be doing??”

Nope. Now, thanks to this generous, sane, often hilarious, book, I know how to work on the cushion.

Good times.