Recently, esteemed correspondent Jeanne Sather over at the The Assertive Cancer Patient asked her fellow cancer patients who blog about my favorite topic: health and happiness. Well, health I'm a little iffy on; I do not practice everything I know, and I sure as shootin' don't know everything. As it happens, though, I am a subject matter expert on happiness.
But I'm not sure I can tell you anything about it.
You can't really teach happiness or preach it. It's like love. In fact, it is love; I do not believe one can exist without at least the memory of the other. You can be all alone and dirt poor and still be happy and still love. I know; I have; and I've witnessed it in others.
See, happiness/love is not about a specific relationship, a specific set of conditions, a specific profession, or a specific set of possessions. It's not even about feeling safe, though that makes it all easier when you can manage it. It's a core state of being. You can be an essentially happy person even in your stages of deepest, howling grief and hollowest, breathtaking fear without falsehood or betrayal of anyone or anything, not even yourself. No, really.
I think it might be about knowing on a cellular level the value of everything. Everything.
I can't say more than that. Not generally.
I can tell you that generally a brush with death or being told the expected number of your days tends to sharpen your understanding of value.
I can tell you that I feel that happiness, or happiness/love if you'd rather think of it that way, is the point of human existence. I know it's the point of my human existence. Having it. Giving it. Growing it like a garden from within. I don't know why else I breathe. (Click to enlarge.)
I can tell you that practical, everyday happiness for me translates concretely into every minute that isn't about sickness and death, mine or anyone else's, unless we're talking about vanquishing them. I understand how happiness is a subset of all love is, that love sometimes overlaps into the darkest areas, seeming to turn its back on happiness but never forgetting it. I have gone ahead and lived through the bits about horror, sickness and death even though they have hurt me more than I ever knew I could bear, because of the love and the happiness, even knowing that things will eventually cycle back to darkness, always. Because, you see, the darkness is big, but it's not everything, and it's not the point. (Click to enlarge.)
This stuff is too delicate and too intricate to verbalize effectively.
I have a whole category of this blog entitled "Reasons to Bother." The whole category probably looks like a scrapbook of trivia. I can't argue. I can only tell you it isn't complete, and I'm never going to finish it. But you know the stuff in that category? And happiness? And love? It's all kind of a little of what I mean.
As a happy lover, I like to have lots of other lives around me, and I like to feed everyone who drops by.
It's life itself that I love, so it only stands to reason that I like to nurture living things. (Click to enlarge.)
In fact, one "reason to bother" that keeps cropping up (besides terrible puns; sorry; I love them, too) is of course gardening. Jeanne and I have similar attitudes about this, and recently I could not restrain myself from mentioning how I envied her peas. We agreed that peas and tiny tomatoes are really snacks for gardeners. Any that make it into the house are just extra.
In envying Jeanne's pea crop, I bemoaned the fact that just as my one pea vine had sprouted a single blossom, squirrel play appeared to have wrecked it. But later I went outside and saw that I was mistaken, that the plant had just bowed down a bit under weight of an actual sprouting crop and that there were actual pods forming already, not many, not a farmer's crop, but a little handful of future snacks. After propping the plant up, hoping it would wrap its tentacles around the trellis that fences off my balcony, I was so excited I took a picture just to send to Jeanne.
Then I went inside and made the most expensive batch of brownies I've ever made in my life (recipe to follow; never fear), and while eating them, giving them away, and photographing them, I sort of forgot about sending that picture to Jeanne, whom I don't even know personally, but whose own love/happiness I wanted to feed.
I'm big on feeding. I think I mentioned that.
A couple of days passed. I went to an art fair at a sculpture park and looked at other people's wonderful inventive work, including T-shirts painted by children hanging to dry like a beautiful installation among the trees and rocks and statues. (Click to enlarge.)
My boyfriend got the stomach flu (but kept eating brownies anyway), and I had to take care of him. Then I got the stomach flu, and he had to take care of me. The laundry had to be washed, and the trash had to be taken out. The TV repairwoman had to come, and the bills had to be paid. I got some more commissions. I stared some more at the supplemental state insurance forms I mean to finally complete (and blog about, of course) soon, any minute now, really, just as soon as I try to revive the sadly dessicated verbena on the front steps. I thought in the back of my mind for the last few days, even while occupied with these other things, even while desperately gripping my white plastic bucket in the middle of Tuesday night, about health and happiness and how I could write something that would fit in with Jeanne's project, but I never thought about the peas, not once, nor the picture I had meant to send her.
Today while staring at the screen I heard a funny noise and turned around to look out through the screen curtain over the doorway that leads from my studio to my balcony. (Click to enlarge.)
I saw one of my frequent guests, relaxing for a moment, with a healthy snack it both exasperated me to recognize --
-- and delighted me to the very core of my own happiness to relinquish.
What more can I say? You have seen my heart. You have seen my joy. To explain it? Impossible. Is it real? Oh, yes, and sustaining.
I'm middle-aged. I'm chubby, pale, and hardly athletic. My intellect has seen better days but can't quite remember them just now. I have almost no assets. I'm one-legged and expected to die a miserable death by systemic metastatic cancer at some point, nobody knows when though it's generally believed that I should already have done it, and while I don't have to subject myself to hideous "treatments" to stay alive, it's only because I keep having to have chunks of myself cut off, because that's the only thing anyone's come up with that could actually help me and not significantly worsen my health even as it shrinks my physical options.
I'm all that and female in America, and no one has ever heard of me.
Oh, and I'm happy.
How can that be? Why do you suppose that is?
The Most Expensive Brownies I Ever Made
(don't eat them all yourself; it wouldn't be healthy)
based on recipe no. 338, "Brownies," from 365 Great Chocolate Desserts, by Natalie Haughton (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1991)
(Of course, this is my version, so everything in it is organically grown. I don't actually have to keep saying that, do I?)
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
8 oz. butter
1¾ C evaporated cane juice
¼ C honey
1 T vanilla extract -or- the scraped-out guts of one whole vanilla bean
4 jumbo eggs
¼ t sea salt
1 C flour
about $8.00 to 9.00 worth of raw, uncrumbled pecan halves that have gone straight from the tree to a refrigerated environment and have never been shelf-stored and thus have never gone even the slightest bit rancid, probably about ½ lb.
teeny, tiny bittersweet chocolate morsels, enough to strew about liberally around the approximate area of a lasagna pan
enough light brown sugar to sprinkle very, very sparingly around the approximate area of a lasagna pan
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Either in a glass dish in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stove, combine butter and bitter chocolate and heat until thoroughly melted but not burned. On the stove, we are talking a tiny flame and lots of stirring, and turning the flame off before everything has melted, and just letting the heat of it all do its work to liquefy the last bits of solidity. In the microwave, zap it on high 1½-2½ minutes, then stir with a fork until butter and chocolate are both thoroughly fluid and thoroughly blended.
3. With a fork, beat in evaporated cane juice, honey, vanilla, and eggs until well blended.
4. Mix in flour and salt until well blended.
5. Butter thoroughly an approximately 9" or 10" x 13" glass dish (a lasagna pan, for example). Pour in the batter and spread it evenly over the bottom.
6. Sprinkle the pecan halves liberally over the batter, allowing them to sink if they want to or float if they prefer. (Most will do a little of each.) Don't cover every square micron, but don't be stingy.
7. Sprinkle the bittersweet chocolate morsels slightly more moderately, but still liberally, aiming more to fill in spaces between than cover the pecans.
8. Sprinkle brown sugar sparsely. You are aiming for some sweet, crunchy, and slightly caramelized accents on the finished product, not a coating.
9. Bake 30-35 minutes or until set. If you bake too long, the brownies will be powdery and dry, but a little longer than this is okay because it will add to the caramelization of sugar on pecan.
10. Let cool 95% before attempting to cut into bars and storing. They have to be solid enough to not crumble in your hands, but there is no denying the pleasure of a warm brownie, especially if you have, say, some vanilla ice cream around.
11. Give away as many as you can.
12. Enjoy as many as you can in the company of people you love who are also enjoying them.
13. Be happy, savor the value, and don't count the cost.