In the recently published The Keillor Reader, Garrison Keillor begins the book’s final essay with these insights:
Cheerfulness is a choice, like choosing what color socks to wear, the black or the red. Happiness is something that occurs, or it doesn’t, and don’t hold your breath. Joy is a theological idea, pretty rare among us mortals and what many people refer to as “joy” is what I would call “bragging.” Bliss is brief, about five seconds for the male, fifteen for the female. Contentment is something that belongs to older cultures: Americans are a hungry, restless people, ever in search of the rainbow, the true source, the big secret. Euphoria is a drug.
Keillor wrote the essay on cheerfulness after his mother died at age ninety-seven. He noted that she possessed cheerfulness, as did his father, but that it was a new topic for him. Yet as he realized in the writing, he is a cheerful man. Later in the essay he notes:
Cheerfulness is a great American virtue, found in Emerson, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, even in Mark Twain: Don’t be held hostage by the past, the bonehead mistakes, the staggering losses, the betrayals of trust. Look ahead. Improve the day. Grow flowers. Walk in the woods. Be resilient. Clear away the wreckage and make spaghetti sauce. Power and influence are shadows, illusions. As Solomon said, the race is not to the big shots nor the battle to the tall nor success to a guy with connections.
I got to thinking about this as I realized how I chose to be cheerful — and how I chose to spend my time (and yes, the two may be related) — on the Saturday of the Columbus Day weekend. This is the last three-day weekend before what appears — on my calendar — to be a grueling stretch of meetings and travel. Columbus Day is a three-day weekend without a focus, and I like that. We don’t gather around a big turkey dinner or give gifts on Columbus Day weekend. There is no Columbus Eve special liturgy at St. Albans. The closest thing I have to a commitment this weekend is that we bought tickets to drink craft beer and listen to Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen play marvelous bluegrass in Arlington on Sunday afternoon. Without realizing it, I had specifically scheduled a cheerful weekend.
When we are home, our Saturday’s always begin with a 9 a.m. run to the farmer’s market, to ensure that we arrive in time to secure our two dozen eggs from Evensong Farm. This could be seen as a chore, but Candice and I have chosen to see it as pleasurable, even on a rainy day. As we buy our four bags of the bounty of the earth, we chat with our favorite farmers, catch up with Sue on Mel’s health, sample some apples and cheese, and take a stroll through the market. That’s followed by a spur-of-the-moment decision to have a chi latte at Kefa Cafe, our favorite independent coffee shop in Silver Spring.
I had some things on my to-do list, but not too much. Idleness was really the point. Writing was on my list, but it was not related to work. I had reconnected recently with a wonderful couple – retired professors at Andover – who I met on a National Trust tour of the Black Sea about ten years ago. Ed and Ruth love baseball, and one of their sons works for the Red Sox. Ed has been reading my recent posts about the Nats season and wrote with some encouragement about the writing and — eventually — with condolences about the Nats. I confided to Ed that I had a fantasy about how this year’s World Series played out, and that email exchange became the rough draft of a Saturday afternoon blog post. I chortled (literally) as I wrote and edited my fantasy and loved spending time watching an old clip from 1985, as the hated Cardinals lost the argument with Dan Denkinger (again) and also lost the game and the Series (again).
Keillor suggests that cheerfulness is a “habit you assume in the morning and hang on to as best you can for the rest of the day.” It is, he says later in describing his mother’s cheerfulness, “that spiritual awareness that Buddhism holds up as enlightenment, in which one does not covet more than one’s small lot, one is free of animosity, and one lives in the immediate present, day by day, without dread of what might befall.” That sounds right to me.
So yesterday I finished the Keillor book (uneven but recommended); read a short book on idle pleasures (Philosophizing: Sometimes you have to talk to find out what you think); sang and played guitar for an hour or so; sat with Candice over a fall dinner and together watched the last five innings of the Orioles/Royals game; read Joe Posnanski’s wonderful blog and learned a new word: Yostify*; checked out some music of the people on the wonderful Fiddlefreak web site; and had a nice scotch on the rocks before heading to bed.
(*Yostify (yo-stah-fy), verb: give an explanation that is more irrational than the irrational decision.
[In speaking about the 7th inning of Game 4 of the NLDS] Matt Williams yostified that he didn’t use Clippard because it was the seventh inning, which is not Clippard’s inning — this is bizarre yostimony that Ned Yost [manager of the KC Royals] himself has used.
The reason he didn’t use Strasburg, it seems, had something to do with his plan to not use Strasburg except in case of an emergency [and facing elimination in the 7th inning doesn’t, I suppose, qualify as an emergency].)
Was any of it earth-shattering? No. Did it lighten my work load next week? Well, no…but that wasn’t the point. The work will be there, and I am prepared to do that work and welcome it, in its own time. I’ll get the job done and will enjoy it, in its own way. But I’ll do so with a bit more cheerfulness of heart because of farmer’s markets, mushrooms, books, baseball writers, good friends, and the most amazing version of John Hardy you’ll ever hear, played by the incomparable Bryan Sutton and Michael Daves (thanks to Fiddlefreak for the tip).
More to come…
Image: Dale Chihuly artwork from his boat house in Seattle by DJB
Sounds like a beautiful weekend, David!
And here’s another new word for you: flâner. It is French, and it means something like to pass time in the desultory, enjoyable way you have described. Not doing much, but enjoying everything to the max! It is often (and most accurately) translated as to “stroll” or “saunter,” however the concept is much broader and more rich than that. It is also often translated as to “dawdle” or “loaf,” which points to the very limited and negative way Anglo-Saxon cultures tend to view this kind of healthy, restorative activity.
“Idleness was really the point” expresses the beautiful essence of flåner, except that in France you really don’t have to justify simply enjoying life, and taking your time as you do it, by assigning it a point 🙂
P.S. I just love writers who admit to chortling (or weeping) over their own writing. I think Dickens was supposed to have done the latter. See what good company you keep!
Janet, I love this! Thanks for the new word. Stroll and saunter are wonderful words, and if they capture even a bit of what the word means, that works for me! Chortle is another of my favorite words that you don’t hear too often. It sounds like something out of the 30s. Thanks for reading and writing. DJB
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