The other evening at a dinner party, I sat next to a poetess whom I only knew slightly. Actually, I had invited her when we met at a craft fair. She seemed like an interesting person. She’d published several books of poetry of which I’d read one which I found dark and self-reflective. The book left me more perplexed rather than reflective or inspired. Perhaps unconsciously I felt that talking with her in a non-threatening setting would clarify my original impression of her work. Myself, the eternal optimist, sought to at least understand this woman, a friend of a friend, and thus find a way to make her work resonate more agreeably within my psyche.
Given the above, I was not so surprising when very early in our conversation she proclaimed that she had never been happy! That immediately prompted me to paraphrase Polit and ask, “What is happiness?” She then launched into a bit about her early married life. She married at eighteen to her high school sweetheart, had three children before thirty, went back to school at thirty-one and kept all of the balls in the air. She just went from one thing to another, never taking time, as she put it, to have fun. “What is ‘fun’?” I asked. Then I added something that teenagers and very young adult seem to think is fun – getting drunk, staying out late, sleeping around, etc. She did not contradict me, although she did not answer directly. Sadly, to me, this intelligent woman with several degrees, a published author and a teacher of creative writing, seemed to fall into the category of women in the 60’s and 70’s who married young and who bought into the worst part of the women’s lib movement – thinking that they had missed something that would make them feel better about themselves. These women blamed any authority figure – men, politics, the church, their husbands for their lack of self-esteem. Many got divorced. The lucky ones went back to school, became self-supportive and eventually remarried.
The really lucky ones realized that life is life. Times change, culture changes – for the better, or for the worse. It is up to the individual to weight and to balance. In the United States we are free to pursue our own happiness. There is no guarantee that one will ever find it.
By the end of the evening, the poetess stated that she did know moments of joy and of ecstasy, but she was not happy. She would not settle for contentment. She still interests me; we shall probably meet again.