Every Exit Is Also An Entrance

The Happy ShowSte

Stefan Sagmeister – The Happy Show

Get your ass to the Chicago Cultural Center before this exhibit closes on Monday.


“To look life in the face, always.”

“Dear Leonard. To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard, always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours. “

This morning: time and temp can’t decide whether it’s 80, 70, 75, or something in between. The sun is shining, and I have my windows rolled down on Lakeshore. I’m speeding a little, and my hair is blowing around, and I’m singing along with The Cars. The lake is an impossible blue, the surface wrinkled by wind.

Driving to my new job, the one where I get to do all the things that I’ve loved about my last three jobs, and none of the things I haven’t. Driving with my new city behind me, marveling every day at my good fortune at actually getting to live here. Thinking about last night – good food in the company of a newly dear friend and her close friends – and the night before – bourbon and The Smiths until far too late, just like in the old days. Thinking about the morning already behind me, waking too too early, a breeze ruffling the curtains, my sweet cat curled next to me on the quilt made by my great-grandmother.

Feeling thankful for the wall of love surrounding me, for so many amazing people in my life in so many different ways. Remembering how three months ago, I ran head-first into my own sadness – and how this morning, driving through my new city to my new job on a perfect day, I was struck by the intensity of my happiness in that moment.

“I remember one morning getting up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling. And I…I remember thinking to myself: So this is the beginning of happiness, this is where it starts. And of course there will always be more…never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment, right then.”

Three months ago, I was afraid. Today I would say that I’m terrified, very deliberately using the word that a love and I once used to delineate our feelings about what we were coming to share: equal parts fear and delight. Terrified by the possibility that this just might be it, that this might actually be happiness, that I might have actually rounded that corner and found myself exactly where I’m supposed to be at this moment in time. Honoring everything that I’m feeling for what it is, and not needing it to be more or less. I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so thankful.

“And besides, feelings are totally full of shit.”

I woke up last Sunday adorned with the previous night’s glow sticks and feeling like someone had dropped a load of bricks on my chest. Such is the weight and effect of running into one’s own unhappiness.

The last two months have been endlessly stressful: holidays, moving to Chicago, moving out of our apartment, moving into my Unnamed Hippie House (which I’ve decided is its name, by the way), my uncle’s death, drunk people drama, sickness, job hunting, job interviews, the beginning of the semester, winding down a job, and living apart. It’s all fucking hard! Hard, hard, hard.

I’m a person who thrives in chaos, so times like these usually see me rising to the occasion. Five years ago, we launched Moodle at the beginning of the semester while I was also a full time doctoral student and a new gyne instructor – so I was essentially working two very demanding full-time jobs while taking on an emotionally and physically challenging part-time job while also maintaining a relationship and starting to focus on losing weight after four months away from the gym (and my bike) with a broken arm. Literally the day before Shane moved to DC, I had unexpected minor surgery after receiving scary lab results from an abnormal Pap and also got an estimate of $2400 to make the necessary repairs to my car so that I could move to join him – while also gearing up for the beginning of the semester and actively job-hunting. I’m not alone in my experience of shit stacking up in impossible ways, or of being able to put my head down and knock through it all to come out on the other side smarter and stronger.

But in and around the stress and stressors of the last two months, I’ve had a lot of time to think. The time and space and distance have allowed issues to rise to the surface that I’ve been ignoring or just haven’t been brave enough to face. And one of those is my unhappiness, a thread of pain through so many aspects of my life.

It’s no secret that I’ve been profoundly unhappy in my career in the last few years. In job interviews, I’ve spun it as “a series of right turns” – from instructional technology support at Illinois to reference librarianship at GW to web development at UM. From a position of authority and trust to the bottom rung of a soul-deadening bureaucracy to manual labor, working in a call center, finding ways of stretching 5-8 hours of work to fill 40, and then ending up in a position where I’m challenged and respected, but which is still tangential to any of the goals I can loosely define for myself.

I’ve been tremendously lonely in my relationships. I’ve focused my energies on my marriage to the detriment of my relationships with others – perhaps appropriately so, but still a stark thing to realize. I’ve been trying to change this in the last few months, but I know I have a long way to go.

I’ve tried to direct this loneliness and frustration into positive channels: running, the garden, cooking, blogging, teaching, and connecting with friends online. What I haven’t realized until recently is the extent to which my loneliness and frustration has been self-reinforcing. I’m lonely, so I go running alone. I like running alone, so I opt to continue with this solitary activity, even though it could be a great opportunity to meet other people and build relationships around running. Shane is often busy with hobbies or friends, and I respond by soaking up the much-desired solo time, which then leads me to support (rather than complain about) more time dedicated to hobbies, which then leads to more time alone.

Which leads me to this place: waking up on a Sunday morning feeling crippled by sadness. Grinding away on the track to meet a training goal but also to focus my mind on something other than the intractability of my feelings. Struggling to remember happiness, or to picture what happiness might look like. Knowing that the easy answer is more meds, or changing the meds, but being unwilling to accept that as an answer YET AGAIN.

I want to be happy.
I don’t know how to be happy.
I don’t know what has to change in my life for me to be happy.
I’m afraid of my own unhappiness.


thoughts for the day from nicole kidman (of all people!):

You reach a point, when you’ve reached a certain age and have a certain amount of life experiences, where you just go, Okay, well, this is the journey. I think there’s a beautiful line in The Hours when Meryl Streep’s character says: “I thought that was the beginning of happiness, and it wasn’t; that was happiness.” I think you go, Okay, there’s happiness, and there’s great sadness. There’s a gamut of emotions. If you keep waiting to be happy, that’s never going to happen. It’s more that it’s just life. The wisdom of that comes, unfortunately, as you get older. It just does. You wish you could have it at 14, when your mother tells you about it, but you don’t have it, ’cause you haven’t lived the life.

i really liked that. i like that definition or theory of happiness – that if you wait for it, it’s not going to come. you have to accept that what you have is happiness – and if it gets better, it gets better – and if not, that’s still happiness. and that is hard to realize and even harder to live – but it’s a good
thing to believe or at least to think on.

i had a nice weekend – n was camping in the northwoods and the bitter cold so i had almost two entire days of peace and quiet and cold in our apartment. i meant to cook and to get the cooking site up and get so much reading done – and instead i did all the dishes, slept some, and spent some time with my parents. i think mom felt sorry for me – she kept calling and inviting me over for dinner or whatever – so finally i gave in and had a nice evening eating dinner and doing puzzles. my parents are v. upset because they have been annexed into the city of rockford – one of the key selling points on their property was that they were zoned county and so were exempt from the ridiculously high rockford taxes. some benefits of being residents of the city of rockford, as presented to them by our esteemed mayor, doug scott:

  • City water – which they don’t need cos they have a well
  • City garbage – which is more expensive than the garbage pick up they already pay for
  • City sewers – which they already pay for and use
  • Free library cards – OK, this is a benefit
  • City elections – for someone other than Doug Scott
  • Plowing roads – but they live on a private drive
  • City responders for 911 – this is a benefit as well
  • City parking stickers – ooh hooray, we can spend more money!
  • City taxes – better bend over and get ready….
    needless to say we’re not v. happy. some of their neighbors are already talking about selling cos they can’t afford the restrictively expensive taxes. my dad is concocting a scheme involving donating the house to the church with a provision that they can live there until retirement/death – max tax deduction plus the church wouldn’t have to pay property taxes. it’s an idea.

    anyway, it was a nice weekend. yesterday i slept in, then got up and made lou’s mushroom soup and a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and read about two weeks’ worth of the news. our illustrious and wise governor decided to commute all the death sentences and essentially (in deed if not in fact) do away with the death penalty – which is a major victory for human rights advocates – but a lot of the people on death row were there for doing really REALLY awful things, so i don’t know how i feel about it.

    n came home around 5, beaten and sore from his adventure. no one froze to death or lost any extremities, thank goodness. i had a funny (well, funny in retrospect) panicked moment sunday morning, though. i was standing at the sink, doing dishes, and suddenly had a wicked chest and stomach cramp – like my entire torso cramped up. my first thought (after OW!) was “oh my god, my husband!” and then i said a small prayer to god that please please please don’t let my husband be dead or dying. later in the day, i talked to mom, who mentioned to me that the codeine i’m taking can cause intestinal distress – and i was quite relieved and felt very silly.

    another v silly moment: i went to the grocery to do my shopping for this week’s meals (lots of yummy stuff!) and could NOT find capers anywhere! i looked and looked and looked and then i stopped and thought about my pine nut adventure of 12/14/02. when i couldn’t find pine nuts, i stopped and said to myself “god, i can’t find pine nuts anywhere!” and then found them the next place i looked. mindful of this, i stopped and said to myself “god, i can’t find capers anywhere!” unfortunately, i still had to look for about twenty more minutes. ugh. i love logli cos it has so much fun stuff – but i’m more comfortable at hilander.

    i finished two-part invention saturday night – god, was it wonderful. i cried and cried and cried – and really felt enriched by the reading experience. i ordered my copy from amazon; – used, of course – and once i receive it, i’m going to reread the book and mark it up with all my comments. madeleine l’engle’s writing is familiar and comforting, even in the face of great tragedy and pain. i’m going to start circle of quiet tonight i think – it’s the first in the crosswicks journals series (two-part invention is the fourth).

    only three days til my birthday!!!! for those of you who still need to do your shopping, my amazon wish list is full of enticing goodies. 🙂