Sunday, September 06, 2009

Keep It Simple

This from National Geographic, 1936
Several years ago I began writing my first book. It was/is a study of happiness: who is, who isn't, and why and why not. I identified 10 "principles" that I believed were essential for a happy life, and I set about some serious research to prove me right. The most exciting challenge I had was transforming stuffy research into vibrantly readable & helpful information.
I put the book aside when my agent and I could not agree on how to "package" it. She wanted each chapter to be light and simple: something like "10 Easy Steps to Happiness." I didn't want it to be so light and simple. I definitely did not want a sing-song-y-how-to. I will finish this book in my own way some day, and I still believe it will be welcomed with open arms. The reason I believe this is that it seems most of us actually aren't sure if we're happy or not.
Anyway, my sister-in-law gave me a little book for my birthday, called The Architecture of Happiness, by Alain de Botton. On page 239 I found the following:
"I once spent a summer in a small hotel in the second arrondissement in Paris, a stone's throw away from the chilly seriousness of the old Bibliotheque Nationale, where I repaired every morning in a vain attempt to research a book I hoped to write (but never did). It was a lively part of town, and when I was bored with my work, which was most of the time, I would often sit in a cafe adjacent to my hotel, named, as if out of a tourist guide, Chez Antoine. Antoine was dead, but his brother-in-law, Bertrand, had taken over the cafe and ran it with unusual conviviality and charisma. Everyone, it seemed, dropped by Chez Antoine at some point in the day. Elegant women would have coffee and a cigarette at the counter in the morning. Policemen lunched there, students whiled away the afternoons on the covered terrace, and by evening there'd be a mixture of scholars, politicians, prostitutes, divorcees and tourists, flirting, arguing, having dinner, smoking and playing pinball. As a result, although I was alone in Paris, and went for days hardly speaking to anyone, I felt none of the alienation with which I was familiar in other cities--in Los Angeles, for example, where I had lived for a few weeks in a block between freeways. That summer, like many people before and since, I imagined no greater happiness than to be able to live in Paris for ever, pursuing a routine of going to the library, ambling the streets and watching the world from a corner table at Chez Antoine."
I read this and immediately thought of one of my Principles: Keep It Simple. I will travel much of the world, I expect, and my life is rich and deep with all the highs and lows of loving and laughing and succeeding and failing, but some times what I most want is a simple little place to go, to quietly belong there, to be reminded I am never alone.


  1. Maybe that is why Provincetown appeals so much to you - that sense of familiarity and belonging? I wonder if there is a similar allure to the blogworld, after you have developed a set of regulars.

    Sometimes, when I'm just hanging out with my kids at home, as I have been this weekend, I have that sense of belonging and comfort.

  2. cs, i've wondered that about the blogworld also.

    is ptown the place for me? i don't know. is my home here in western mass? i don't know that either. but like you, i know i'm home when i'm with people i love.


  3. hmmmm... i'm always a bit of a skeptic about how-to books... as you say... most people don't seem to know if they're happy or sad... maybe it's always a bit of both... there's so many degrees of each of these feelings... and who can ever know what's being felt by someone else...

  4. You are never alone kj. And you are never not thought of at least once a day.

    Remember each night to look up at the moon.

    Love Renee xoxo

  5. What an insightful post! I love the idea of being in a city and feeling close to people but I love my little town in the woods and I have wonderful neighbours all around me and it is nice but i can have my solitude to do work too.Plus all my little animal friends :) I think some days you are happy, some days in between happiness and some days sad but this I know for sure, it is the tao to try to surf the wave of in between happiness and sadness and try to live a balanced life and be good, like you :)

  6. If you can't be utterly happy in Paris hanging out in cafés, where can you be happy?

    Lovely post, gives me lots to think about!

  7. As long as I can claim contentment I can shun happiness. Contentment is only factored within and is an accumulation of the path behind.

  8. Awesome, KJ! A beautiful way to start my morning ... xo

  9. what a thoughtful post kj and your header is stunning, totally stunning. thanksx.

  10. I tend to (try to be)a woman who blooms where she's planted. I really believe that happiness comes from within but it can certainly be affected by the goings on all around us, including the setting.
    I ditto what Val says...she said it so well!
    I have to say it's taking me a while to get these new roots to grow again in my old playground. So unlike me. But perhaps that's another lesson~maybe we bloom slower when we're older.
    I intend for these roots to eventually grow deep again, and I know I have the support of good people, beautiful surroundings and the quiet life I was seeking.
    I'll make my own Paris.
    I know my old, treasured friend "Autumn" is right around the corner and I'll soon breathe in the bliss.


  11. jon, great to see your comment here. happy or not? content or not? now why would that be a complicated question? i doubt it is in less privileged countries.

    renee, you have a way of making people feel like a million dollars. thank you thank you. and you know i feel the same about you, moon sister.

    oh val, what a wise and wonderful comment. i will now remember what you said about surfing the wave. that is a great reminder of how to live. you know if i were your neighbor i would be knocking on your door a couple of times a week, with hot coffee and steaming muffins in my basket. you might say, 'not now, kj, i'm working' and i would say, 'ok, my beloved friend, later aligator' xo

    dedene, i thought of you as i wrote this post. how lucky are you, anyway?!!!

    mark, most definitions of happiness begin and end with contentment. but to view it as an 'accumulation of the path behind', that is interesting. does that mean one cannot be content from anticipating the path ahead?


    soulbrush, thank you. that header photo is from two years ago, not even one mile from my house.

    lo, yes, in my head autumn creates a sidewalk cafe in my head! i'll bet you are going to turn with the leaves, all those vibrant colors, shedding and thinning out and extending your branches however you wish! x0

  12. Very interesting kj. I agree with Lolo about blooming anywhere - out of necessity in my case due to my nomadic lifestyle! Sometimes, the grass looks greener on the other side - and I think it might be good to really belong somewhere but for the most part I've been very happy to belong temporarily with short roots in so many different places!!

  13. caroline, i am dying to know more about your wanderlust! i'm checking your archives for clues :)

    renee, HA HA HA HA

  14. I like the surfing analogy.

    I am often happy, rarely mad, occasionally sad. I do remember a dream where I was the happiest that I have ever been, knew it to be a dream, knew it to be a reality - long for that feeling again.

    I am also very happy when in a NYC greasy spoon breakfast place, especially if I can sit outside watching the world go by. Bliss.

  15. ah, mim, i just adore you.


  16. Hi KJ, just wanted to check in here and let you know I'm still alive, haven't fallen under a Parisian cafe bar stool and remained there for weeks or anything romantic like that, have just been terribly busy with vacation and then the return to work... but am going to get out of the reclusive castle soon and get back out on Blogland Lane to meet some of the neighbors who have moved in when I wasn't looking... well, give a shout if you're going to be around Paris anytime soon ...

  17. I love Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel (and the Arch of Happiness)are favorites.

    That simple little place is inside you. Be ok there and you'll be ok anywhere. and happy. ☺

  18. owen, thanks for dropping by here. when the lights turn on in the castle, i think you'll be impressed with some great neighbors!

    lori ann, i left a comment on your blog about this comment. it resonated like i'd never heard it before. mwah!

  19. got it. you make me happy too.

    you are darling and i think all those other things that you mentioned (silly,sassy,sexy), plus nice. ☺

  20. I've nominated your blog for an award, you can check for more details at my post about that

    Take care J

  21. One can try to make the future turn in the way one will have it kj, but there is in reality only the present. Future is for faith, The present is for contentment.

  22. I think he also says we cannot escape ourselves. Which to my way of thinking must mean we are never alone so Kj serve yourself up a slice of daily solitude, it will take you and self to places you want to be*!*

  23. Keeping it simple is a bit harder than some folks imagine isn't it, especially if they have been on the rat-race treadmill and are trying to get off it> Very wise words from you and I look forward to the book.
    And now, I am going to relax and have some me time with a cuppa tea. No sugar, just milk-simple.:-)

  24. lori ann: TSUP!

    mariana, i am honored. thank you.

    mark, yes: be. here. now.

    annie, good advice. i've learned to be at peace in solitude. i wasn't alone much when i was a kid. now i have to have time to myself. it's a good thing, since writing is a very solitary activity! xoxo

    sag, are you having your tea right now? enjoy. xo

  25. This was a lovely refreshing post to read after a busy, warm, spring day! Thanks for your comment on my blog. I think of you too - and thanks, I am okay - busy tho' as we ready for our trip to Japan - only 10 days to go. Counting down!

  26. Belonging.Very important.Even if it's just belonging and being faithful to yourself.
    Simple: I'm reminded of an A.A. slogan: "Keep it simple, stupid"
    Not that I'm a member, but so much of their teaching could apply to all of us.

    Sorry I've been so awol of late,but I thank you for the awards given in your previous post. I am honored!

  27. Happiness is truly a state of mind. What happiness means to some has absolutely no meaning to others. Are those happy ones less happy because others find not meaning to their happiness? I don't think so. Happiness to me is to be able to know the difference, for instance, between solitude and loneliness,bbetween places in the heart and places in the mind. Between "I think" and "I feel".

    The rest could be intellectual or emotional interpretations based on the place we are in at the time. For someone broke perhaps money means happiness, for a wealthy person some personal achievement unrelated to money may mean happiness.

    Or as I believe: "The basic thing is that everyone wants happiness, no one wants suffering. And happiness mainly comes from our own attitude, rather than from external factors. If your own mental attitude is correct, even if you remain in a hostile atmosphere, you feel happy." ~His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

  28. kay, have a great time!!!! don't forget to write a few poems while traveling... :)

    babs, yes, belonging. finding that place inside that is always home, no matter where you are.


    "to be able to know the difference, for instance, between solitude and loneliness,bbetween places in the heart and places in the mind. Between "I think" and "I feel".

    well, my dear friend, you've certainly nailed my struggle for the past year. i say it this way: one has to accept before deciding what to do, not the other way around. that place of acceptance is where contentment lives. i've been my own worse enemy, blaming myself for a loss that hurt and confounded, wishing i could have change things. finally, i am arriving back at my own self, increasingly content with all my many blessings, finally. but dear allegra, it's been a bitch. love hurts sometimes!

  29. dear kj, I too want to write a book on happiness. I'd like to title it, "My Life." And if I had an agent and a prospect, I'd write about persevering through pain and depression, which has been my task over the last five years. The sun is much brighter on this side of the tunnel.

  30. Keep It Simple is my mantra.
    How I would love to be able to travel the world, but especially to find and stay for a long time in Paris. It's one reason the blog Paris Daily Photo enchants me so. I can dream. And I do!

    p.s. I also long to see Provincetown, ever since reading about the days Louise Bryant, Jack Reed, Eugene O'Neill and others formed The Provincetown Players. There's a marvelous photo of Bryant lying on the beach there in the nude in the book titled: "Friend and Lover" The Life of Louise Bryant.