Happiness, ca. 2011*

“Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” (Ernest Hemingway)

To know that tomorrow I will write is happiness. I don’t mean that thinking, or hoping, or wishing to write tomorrow is happiness. I mean really knowing that I will write. And to know that you will write you must know both what you will write and when you will write. To vaguely intend to write something, sometime tomorrow is not to know that you will write tomorrow. Knowing means knowing when you will start writing, on which paper, in defense of which claims, and when you will stop writing.

It’s a writer’s happiness, of course. But, then again, your happiness as a writer is periodically the greatest happiness that is available to you. There are periods when your unhappiness as a writer is the foundation of your mood in all things. A writer is someone who needs to write; and a scholar is sometimes more acutely a writer, whether writing or not, than any other thing. There are also periods when your writing has little to do with your happiness, when you are happy or unhappy regardless of whether you are writing. But those periods are not what I’m talking about this morning.

I felt this writer’s happiness last night. I had not yet decided what this morning’s blog post would be about and I was acutely aware of having to make that decision. I was not happy. Being back on a schedule means that I am writing, that I’m a writer, that my happiness depends on whether or not I write. I knew when I would write, but not yet what I would write. So I was not yet happy. I got ready for bed and got under the covers with Book I, Part III, of Williams’ Paterson. It begins: “How strange you are, idiot!” And ends: “Earth, the chatterer, father of all/speech . . . . .” And it has some sharp words along the way for “the university”. A good tonic. And then I knew what I would write about.

I got up and sat at the table with my notebook, jotting down a long and clumsy version of what is now my opening sentence and a few loose thoughts. Then I went to bed and slept. From the moment I closed the notebook, to the moment I fell asleep, I was happy.

When do you feel this happiness? How often? For how long? Happiness is not writing but knowing that tomorrow you will write. You may know, while you are writing today, that you will also write tomorrow. Or you may know at the moment you stop writing that you’ll write again tomorrow. Then you will be happy for the rest of the day. You, the writer. (Like I say, there are times in your life when nothing can make you miserable if the writer in you is happy and nothing can make you happy if the writer is miserable.) Sometimes, however, you will finish your writing for the day and you will have to wait until later in the day to know that you will write again tomorrow. Or you will know that you won’t write tomorrow, because you have planned not to write tomorrow. Why did you rob yourself of this happiness?

On Friday afternoon, I should mention, “tomorrow” means Monday. Consider the implications: a little bit of planning, a little bit of determination can make you happy all day long for weeks. Every day, you make a decision about when and what you will write tomorrow. You make that decision merely by looking at your writing plan. And you always do what your plan tells you to do. Or you change the plan for tomorrow, at the latest today. That is, you know you will not change your mind tomorrow morning when you are supposed to write. The writer in you has learned to trust the rest of you. When the writing is finished for the day, the rest of you takes over, first making a promise to bring you back to the desk tomorrow.

And that, again, is happiness.


*I wrote this post back in 2011 on my old blog. This is a lightly edited repost.

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