Friday, May 19, 2017


Sophie in her favorite position
showing off her new haircut
A friend of mine belongs to a writers’ group that took on the subject of happiness. She posted one response on her blog, where I read it. I was immediately intimidated. The writer found happiness in places that made sense to me—nature and serving causes other than oneself are two I identified with.

But he also listed music, big ideas, and books. The music is classical, the big ideas come from books on science, philosophy, spirituality, psychology, etc. I enjoy classical music, especially the romanticists, but my real joy is in the folk music of the’60s and ‘70s. Books? I am never happier than when I am caught up in a good mystery. Reading Jung was painful in college—I’d never do it today. In short, I felt like a shallow person who never stretches her mind. My college professor to this day describes me as a “closet intellectual.”

But then I had an epiphany: I was doing what I do too frequently—comparing myself to others and coming up short. I need to recognize that we are all different, not better or worse, but just different. And I, by gosh, need to stand up and be proud of who I am.

No, I don’t find joy in classical music except occasionally being swept away by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, or Rachmaninoff. I don’t go to concerts—neither my ear nor my musical education have taught me enough to appreciate the music fully, and I get fidgety. I find joy in Joan Baez, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Diamond, Joan Collins. I don’t read nonfiction except when something catches my eye—a memoir, an exploration of faith, etc. I’m pretty much a folk music and mystery gal.

One thing he didn’t mention was food. I find great joy in food—cooking it and eating it. I had a food day yesterday: my love of kosher food came out when I had herring with sour cream for lunch, a rare treat I haven’t enjoyed in a long time. For dinner I had a buttered, boiled potato, sautéed zucchini, and a lamb chop with a sauce of olive oil, scallions, minced garlic, a good squeeze of anchovy paste, and a bit of white wine. So good I had to defrost a couple of baguette slices to sop up the rest of the juice. Yes, I had a recipe, but also yes, I fiddled with it and simplified it, leaving out chicken broth and a couple of other things. The recipe served four, and I was doing one lonely but succulent loin lamb chop. Living alone and often eating alone in the evening, I think it’s important not to grab a bowl of cereal but to have a full, balanced, enjoyable meal.

One thing he mentioned that is beyond my reach—his joy in his partner, his wife one presumes from the context. I have built a happy, fulfilling, wonderful life, but a small corner of me regrets that I am sailing into old age without an emotional and physical partner. My four children and I are close and loving, but they are each married and their first loyalty is to their spouses. I reflect on Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra”: “Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be/The last of life for which the first was made.” That’s the vision I had as a young, starry-eyed girl. Life taught me otherwise. I do not regret any decision in my life, but that lingering regret remains. If I ever write a memoir, I’ll have to come to grips with it. (I might defend my lack of intellectuality by pointing out that quoting Browning suggests my English Ph.D. was not totally wasted.)

The important thing is that I do find joy and happiness in life almost all the time, and I’m grateful for that. And I think in some small way I make the world a better place—through my children, if not my writing.


Linda A. Marshall said...

Wow, Judy,
I love your piece on happiness. I feel as though I know you better and am so happy that your are standing up and being proud of who you are in all your uniqueness. I'll forward your post to Gary. He'll be please that he has inspired you.

Judy Alter said...

Thanks, Linda. Don't you love the way friendships grow and deepen within our little circle? When I first joined the group, I felt very much the outsider, but now I feel like I have many friends. Trouble is, I still have trouble keeping track of who is writing what. But I know you, your daughter, and what you're writing...and I so admire the way you can dig deep.