I have been thinking lately about planting good memories. Or rather triggers for good memories. We know how it works with bad memories–certain smells or sounds or little gestures appear and transport us to some terrible thing for a moment. And often it takes a lot of our energy to recover. But I’ve been wondering about how I might be able to use this warning system built into my mind to my advantage. How I might be able to create shorthand for “it’s going to be okay” by building positive associations in my mind. So I’ve been making playlists to remember good things. Then I make a conscious decision to recall the good thing I’m trying to build an association for every time I hear a certain song, so that hopefully, even when I don’t have the energy or the disposition to be cheered up so easily, I am able to recall it and smile. Happiness triggers.
We took a long drive a few months ago. I was in a really shitty mood when we started. The kids came back later than agreed upon from their dad’s and we needed to leave and they were dawdling and I had missed them and felt that intense pressure to Have Fun Now that is actually not fun for anyone. I was being a total asshole and they were kind of bewildered and amused and still dawdling but trying to be understanding of my rottenness and stay out of my way. When we got into the car, I apologized, but in the “I’m sorry, I’ll apologize later, right now I’m still pissed” sort of way. Then my older son played the first song on this list. He said, “I’ve got a song for you.” And played this (listen to it if you don’t know it). And I tried to growl and said, “I don’t think that’s funny.” And he laughed and said, “Yes you do.” So I laughed too, and it was all lighter. We took turns choosing songs for the playlist after that, as we do. But that song, Surrender, reminds me of the moment I let go of grouchiness, of the way my child forgave me, and cut me some slack, and was able to hold himself and me steady through my tantrum. Of how when I released my unmet expectations I could see how wonderful things actually were.
Do My Thing-feat. Janelle Monae-Estelle
Baba O’Riley-The Who
Oh, Pretty Woman-Roy Orbison
Smells Like Teen Spirit-Nirvana
So here’s a poem. Make a playlist, or write about what happiness actually looks like in your life. Whatever you do, write.
It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
Perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.
Also, several years ago, we started doing these incredible workshops that end in a performance. We’ve got one going on this week. Below I’m with the incredible musician Christylez Bacon at Artisphere. He’ll be performing with Wytold and some of the most amazing writers/artists/musicians on Friday, March 25th at 7 pm at Lorton Workhouse Arts Center (9601 Ox Rd, Lorton). I’ll host. I’m only allowed to sing during soundcheck. There’s one about peeing I’ve been working on, so get there early.