In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, there’s an interesting question and answer in Dan Ariely’s column, “Ask Ariely.” The column title is “The Two Types of Happiness.”
(Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and is the founder of The Center for Advanced Hindsight and also the co-founder of BEworks.)
The person who wrote in asked Dan why things that make him immediately happy—like watching basketball or going out drinking—don’t give him a lasting feeling of contentment, while the things that feel more deeply meaningful to him—like his career or writing a book—don’t give him much daily happiness.
I loved this question. It’s a dilemma I face daily if not hourly or minute-by-minute. I’ve been so busy the past few weeks with my book tour that I haven’t had many unscheduled days in which to be able to make these choices, but yesterday afternoon was one of them. My husband was out of town and I had caught up on paperwork and domestic chores. My foot is healing (I fell and tore a ligament in my ankle a couple of weeks ago) so I couldn’t use it as an excuse to watch TV all day and night, but that’s still what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to sit at my computer and work on my new novel.
Ariely addresses my quandary in his column:
Happiness comes in two varieties. The first is the simple type, when we get immediate pleasure from activities such as playing a sport, eating a good meal and so on…. The second type of happiness is more complex and elusive. It comes from a feeling of fulfillment that might not be connected with daily happiness but is more lastingly gratifying.
I thought about his words as I reflected on how “happy” I have been these past few weeks on a book tour for my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. Each event—whether in a book store or a private home—has brought much immediate satisfaction. Reading and signing my book and discussing it with an audience makes me happy. But that book didn’t write itself. It didn’t just happen while I was watching TV or out drinking or doing other “fun” things.
So as I sat down to work on my new novel yesterday afternoon, I thought more about something Ariel shard in his column:
The social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues distinguish between happiness and meaning. They see the first as satisfying our needs and wishes in the hear-and-now, the latter as thinking beyond the present to express our deepest values and sense of self. They found, unsurprisingly, that pursing meaning is often associated with increased stress and anxiety.
No wonder I don’t want to sit down and write my next book. What if I can’t do it? What if it isn’t any good? What if….
I often seem to come back to seeking balance in various areas of my life, and maybe this is another one of those situations. Maybe I need to balance the times of “fun” with the times of hard work (as I write this I feel like you are thinking, “Duh, of course!”) in order to experience both happiness and meaning in my life. But Ariely’s advice isn’t about balance; he leans towards the more difficult path:
Simply pursuing the first type of happiness isn’t the way to live; we should aim to bring more of the second type of happiness into our lives, even if it won’t be as much fun every day.
Again, this isn’t rocket science, and it might sound obvious, but I needed this reminder right now.
Someone sent me this hilarious sign they saw on Facebook. He sent it because this past Friday night I rolled a joint on the square in Oxford, Mississippi, following my reading of Tangles and Plaques at Square Books. The joint was my left ankle. I had gone to dinner with a group of folks following the reading (with over 80 in attendance at Square Books!) and was walking back to my car when I missed the edge of a curb and fell. Thankfully I didn’t break a hip or hurt my neck or back or something more serious than my ankle.
And also thankfully it’s not broken. This morning’s x-ray shows some torn ligaments that should heal in a few weeks. Back in 2013 when I broke my other ankle and leg in a car wreck, I had two surgeries, wore a cast, then a walking boot. The walking boot was uncomfortable because it made my stride uneven, I didn’t have any safe, flat shoes that were high enough. Now they ‘ve got this cool new thing called an “Even Up” that you put on the bottom of your shoe to make your feet at even heights. What a difference that makes!
I posted lots of pictures on Facebook from the event at Square Books Friday night, and also at Lemuria in Jackson on Saturday, so I’ll only repost one here. It was so much fun seeing several of my Tri Delt sorority sisters in Oxford (including my “big sister” whom I hadn’t seen since my wedding in 1970!) and several high school classmates and other friends and family in Jackson. Great reception at both Mississippi events. Thanks to everyone who helped organize them, and to everyone who came to the readings and bought books! Next event for Tangles and Plaques is a salon in a private home here in Memphis, then on to WordsWorth Books in Little Rock, Arkansas on the 18th. What a ride!
I’ve just started writing a new novel. Without meaning to, I drafted the first few pages in present tense—the same thing I did initially with Cherry Bomb, my novel that’s coming out in October. But at some point I changed the entire novel to past tense, and it read more smoothly. So why is it I automatically revert to present tense when I begin a new one?
This article gives a fairly good argument for using past tense for novels, although it also says, “Of course, there are plenty of novels out there written in the present tense (more so in literary and mainstream fiction than genre fiction)….”
Since I tend to write for literary and mainstream rather than genre fiction, maybe I’m not on the wrong track.
This Writer’s Digest article, “The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense,” offers some food for thought.
I like what Matt Bell calls the “reflective present tense” in this article, “In Defense of the Present Tense,” which quotes several authors who teach or have taught writing:
I also use the present tense as a way of talking about the past, even though the speaker is really telling the story from the present. I think that’s a pretty common tactic, actually. I’m actually doing a similar thing in something I’m working on right now—the reflective present tense, which is the way both memory and trauma often work.
The “reflective present tense”… I think that’s what I’m after. Guess I’ll keep writing and see if I run into problems when I use flashbacks. It’s a process.
There’s an excellent article in the November/December 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest called “How a Month of NaNoWriMo Can Lead to a Lifetime of Better Writing” by Grant Faulkner. If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it the National Novel Writing Month that takes place each November. Participants sign up with a goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, or about 1,667 words a day. At the end of the 30 days, some people have actually completed a novel, and others have made a great start. I think it’s the discipline of writing for an extended period of time every day—and knowing that others are doing the same (like in an exercise class)—that encourages people to participate.
Faulkner’s article cites the importance of “practice” in order to excel, noting that most successful authors write thousands of words that end up being thrown away before ever publishing anything. I certainly did. So even the words you produce during NaNoWriMo don’t end up in a final product, at least you are writing in a disciplined manner. And the program includes “pep talks” from bestselling authors to each participant during the month.
Finding time to write is crucial for most writers who also have (1) day jobs and/or (2) children at home. Since I don’t have either of those commitments, and consider myself a full-time writer, time isn’t my problem. It’s how I choose to use my time that matters. And yes, I’ve been productive these past few years, and the work is paying off in the form of four published books coming out between January 2017 and spring of 2018, although two of those are anthologies I edited rather than books I wrote. So now I’m ready for another project, and I’ve decided to write another novel. This is so much harder than organizing and editing an anthology (at least for me) so I know I’m going to need some motivation. I’m not going to wait until November (NaNoWriMo month) but I am going to take some of their concepts to heart. Since I’ll be starting a book tour in just over a week, I won’t have an uninterrupted month until June, but on the days I set aside for writing, I plan to look at them as though they were part of that month. As though I had a deadline. One advantage, according to author Hugh Howey, who has participated in NaNoWriMo since 2009 with successful results, is this:
Piecing a novel together over a year or more, one paragraph at a time, with days and weeks off in between, does not produce the same quality for me as writing full-bore.
Writing full-bore. That’s how I need to approach this next novel. I really don’t want to spend six or more years on it (as I did with Cherry Bomb, when you count time off for my car wreck, and months spent querying agents and publishers, and revising with several different editors) and I hope that I’ve learned some things that will move the project along better this time. We’ll see….
In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.
At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:
Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….
So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:
The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.
Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!
Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management. So how do I move forward?
Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.
I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!
Last week I received a copy of the 2017 Spring/Summer catalog from Mercer University Press. Although I had already seen a PDF of the page with my anthology on it, it was so exciting to see it in this prestigious collection—on the third page!
The catalog leads with Steve Oney’s A Man’s World: Portraits—A Gallery of Fighters, Creators, Actors, and Desperadoes. Sounds like a great book:
A Man’s World is a collection of 20 profiles of fascinating men by author and magazine writer Steve Oney, written over a 40-year period for various publications. As the catalog page says of Oney’s book:
… he realized early that he was interested in how men face challenges and cope with success—and failure…. His agent, an ardent feminist, urged him to collect the best of his article in a book. “A Man’s World” is the result.
Turn the page and you’ll see a collection of essays by Stephen Cory, editor of The Georgia Review—Startled at the Big Sound: Essays Personal, Literary, and Cultural.
And then your eyes will land on page 3: A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be:
“A Second Blooming” is a collection of essays by twenty-one authors who are emerging from the chrysalis they built for their younger selves and transforming into the women they are meant to be. They are not all elders, but all have embraced the second half of their lives with a generative spirit.
The catalog continues with more wonderful books from Mercer University Press coming out this spring and summer. Click here to see the catalog… I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll want to buy!
A couple of months ago I announced that I am editing another anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). With a foreword by Alan Lightman and essays by 25 Southern writers, this collection is going to rock. I’m like a kid in a candy store, thrilled as the treats (essays) arrive in my email box. And what a joy to edit these pieces by such accomplished authors. (Not much editing needed!)
The essays aren’t due to me until February 1, but I’ve already received and edited eight of them, and written “one-liners” to save for the introduction. So today I’m sharing those one-liners (sometimes two lines) as a teaser for the collection. If any of them interest you, Google the author and buy one of their books!
Clyde Edgerton brings his teaching skills to bear in his didactic essay, “Three ‘One Things’,” encouraging writers to use craft to make their fiction work.
The prolific mystery short story author John Floyd writes about the South he loves as a place of contrasts, with a rich oral history that offers much fodder for writers in “In the Land of Cotton.”
Harrison Scott Key invites the reader to “sit in the cockpit of my soul and soar through the atmosphere of me” as he discovers the need for humility and transparency in “The Meek Shall Inherit the Memoir: Then and Now.”
Corey Mesler writes about how agoraphobia informs his work ethic—spurred to creativity even as he is chained to his desk and a solitary lifestyle.
In “A Life in Books” Lee Smith reveals what she calls “the mysterious alchemy of fiction,” declaring that writing fiction—living in someone else’s story—healed her grief after the death of her son.
Mississippi author Michael Farris Smith attributes his initial inspiration to Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, and later William Gay, Richard Yates, and Harry Crews. But he shares that it was ultimately perseverance and hard work that got him published in “Keep Truckin’.”
Sally Palmer Thomason counts Maya Angelou and Willie Morris among the gifted Southern authors who helped her gain a greater appreciation for her chosen homeland after leaving California for Memphis, Tennessee in “How I Became a Southerner.”
In “On the Baton Rouge Floods of 2016 and My Nostalgia For the Half-Gone,” M.O. Walsh muses on whether Southern writers have a stronger bond with place and a greater sense of loss.
Can’t wait to read the rest of these essays, and to put them together into a collection.
In the wake of the news of The Booksellers at Laurelwood’s closing in Memphis, I’ve been sad and somewhat in shock, along with many Memphians who care about books. My friends Corey and Cheryl Mesler, owners of Memphis’ oldest independent bookstore, Burke’s, are supporting the efforts to help save the largest indie shop in town. If that surprises you, you don’t understand the very special world of booksellers. They aren’t competitors; they are companions-in-arms in the war for the physical book. They are a special breed of people who understand the importance of the place these shops provide in our lives. (Here’s a fun Reader’s Digest piece with art and anecdotes about bookstores, including Burke’s. Scroll down to the fourth story.)
This morning I was reading an article in Vanity Fair about Heywood Hill, an 80-year-old bookstore in London. “Little Shop of Hoarders” is a fascinating look into a business that has survived eight decades and most recently the digital invasion. The owners’ creative approach to book selling includes creating private libraries for patrons, and “A Year in Books”—Heywood Hill’s program where subscribers receive a surprise package every month. The booksellers personally choose these titles for more than 700 customers, based on surveys asking for favorite books and authors and genres they don’t like (to avoid those).
Early in the VF article, a title was mentioned that fascinated me: Time Was Soft There is a memoir by Jeremy Mercer, who worked and lived at the “Beatnik” bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris in the 1990s. It’s now on my 2017 “to read” list. I love the title, which calls up images of slowing down and browsing a cozy bookstore, surrounded by decades of stories and—at the good shops—knowledgeable booksellers ready to guide your journey. I hope that the good people who work at The Booksellers at Laurelwood will find a new home for their talents in the near future, as we all hold our breath, waiting for a hero to step up and start a new shop.
Yesterday I finished reading my first book of 2017—Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel The Opposite of Everyone (Harper Collins, 2016). What a great way to start off the new (literary) year!
I’m so in awe of Joshilyn’s writing that I’m too intimidated to write a review, afraid that the literary blog gods might be watching for my less-than-amazing prose. I first met Joshilyn in August of 2006, at the first ever Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. She inspired me. And here I am over a decade later FINALLY getting my novel birthed (Cherry Bomb, coming in October) and also two other books to be published this year, one nonfiction and an anthology I edited. But it’s the novel that was inspired in many ways by Joshilyn’s special talent.
Through all of her books, she weaves the mystical with the colloquial, as I hope I have done with Cherry Bomb. Her tough-as-nails abandoned kid, Paula, grows up in the system, escaping different but similar trauma as Cherry Bomb’s orphaned protagonist, Mare, who tells her story through graffiti. I wish they could meet! Interesting that they both end up in Atlanta, although Mare’s journey began in rural Georgia. And their lives were both shot through with mystery—Paula’s from ancient Indian lore, and Mare’s from Eastern Orthodox icons.
I love what Sara Gruen, New york Times bestselling author of At the Water’s Edge and Water for Elephants, says about The Opposite of Everyone:
Jackson draws from both rural Alabama folklore and the god stories of ancient India, weaving these narratives flawlessly toward a crescendo that is straight out of an O’Connor tale—inevitable, surprising, and beautifully true in every sense of the word.
And these words from the New York Times Book Review also ring true:
The unconventional characters in Jackson’s books often provide thought-provoking studies of love and loyalty; this must-read also contemplates the transformative power of storytelling.
I have read five of Jackson’s seven novels, and this is by far my favorite. Kudos, Joshilyn! I can’t recommend this more highly!
I am so excited to share the cover for my second book to be published in 2017—A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017). This is an anthology I edited, with essays by twenty wonderful authors and a foreword from Anne Lamott. Can’t wait to see it!
Isn’t it beautiful?
If it feels like I’m bombing you with book news, just wait until 2017! I can’t help myself… JOY JOY JOY!
And here’s the entry for the Mercer University Press spring/summer catalog. Watch for a listing of events where I’ll be reading/signing next spring. If you can’t make it to an event, please ask your local indie booksellers to order the book for you! (Of course you can get it online if you must.)