Get Happy

The week has been bookended by two storm systems. Storm Ciara wailed away last weekend. Storm Dennis is huffing and puffing in a kind of toddler tantrum way as I type the Sunday weekly poem post. A little turlough was forming from the overflow of our drainage ditch yesterday. Today’s high winds seem to be evaporating some of that local flooding. By all accounts, it has been a week to stay in and write. I have three new ones in the works and some more from past weeks that could have another look to see if there is some life in them. But the one I have chosen to share is hot off the notebook this morning.

I subscribe to the marvellous Maria Popova’s Brainpickings blog, a source of great information and cogitation. The poem today was sparked by a stray line she quotes from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “insistence on the moral obligation of happiness.” For more of that bracing stuff I refer you to https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/03/05/elizabeth-barrett-browning-happiness/?mc_cid=966870fe8e&mc_eid=54fa9531a9.

The ensuing poem is a mash up with memories from a childhood nurtured on winter Saturday television, entranced by the black and white films of the 1930s and the choreography of Busby Berkeley. In 1930, in the wake of the world economic crash and before the New Deal that began to address social welfare, Fred Koehler penned the lyrics of “Get Happy”, which Harold Arlen put to a tune that any evangelical revivalist meeting would find familiar. Its emergence at that particular point of social history is pertinent. Just like Gold Diggers of 1933 could end with the show’s ultimate Forgotten Man number that has”Brother Can You Spare Me A Dime” interleaved after all the lavish choreography of “We’re in the Money,” there is a lot of popular zeitgeist packed into the cultural artefacts of any period. But so, too, is a morality transmitted in those same artefacts. Elizabeth Barratt Browning would have seen a moral imperative in Koehler’s lyrics.

Get Happy
 
Happiness vaccinates,
even in the most homeopathic
of doses.
There is quiet joy in a bunch of tulips-
pink, white, mauve and deep purple –
presented
while winter storms howl and wail.
Consider, too, the resilience of garden croci
and snowdrops,
their white blooms piercing a glum day
clouded, shadowed, grimly
darkening.
 
Be happy. Sing and dance the day away,
even if it is only worth just
the ten cents.
Keep it up. In the intervals
massage your crushed toes and drink a long
glass of water.
Keep it up. Raise your voice no matter
if you think it’s out of tune. You can speak, so
keep it up.
Rise and rise, like the sun.
You know how to make your own fun.
Get happy!
 
Copyright © 2020 Bee Smith

If you want to check out the original inspiration of the poem and listen to Arlen and Koehler’s “Get Happy”, You Tube has a great Judy Garland version from 1950. https://youtu.be/2U-rBZREQMw.

For more thoughts to provoke removing the obstacles to happiness I refer you to the original Popova article https://www.brainpickings.org/2020/02/12/anne-gilchrist-walt-whitman-happiness/?mc_cid=966870fe8e&mc_eid=54fa9531a9

The Inn of Great Happiness

What’s on my mind…as Facebook queries…is not independence. Or even Independence Day. This 4th of July what is on my mind is interdependence, loneliness and connection. Over the past few days I have been resting up, napping and sleeping long hours. Recuperating, in a way, from the marathon of workshops I have facilitated from last December. In between reading detective novels I have been listening to Brené Brown interviews on YouTube, as well as reading some of Maria Popova’s Brainpickings that have dropped into my email inbox. And in the way that things happen the themes of loneliness and belonging all coalesced. Hannah Arendt writes that loneliness is “the common ground for terror”. So, that “terror…ruins all relationships between men.” I guess she meant that to cover both genders and used it in the sense of the human race. That was how they styled the language in the 1950s and 1960s when she was writing.

Brown, in her National Cathedral sermon in January 2018, mentions that loneliness is so endemic that in the UK in 2017 it was recognised as a public health issue. Loneliness is a greater predictor of premature death than all the smoking, excessive alcohol imbibing, overeating and no exercise that are the usual warnings.

Arendt (and Popova) note that tyranical regimes and totalitarian regimes weaponise loneliness. They sow disconnection. Brown tells us how they do this – by dehumanising people, often those that we disagree with, by making them out to be somehow subhuman. That was what Hitler did. But we also do it, maybe not on the same scale, maybe in microagressions, but we still do it. And this dehumanisation of others is the the real public health and public discourse plague.

So, this 4th of July, that is what is on my mind. How lonely people can be angry people. They are certainly isolated and alienated people. It is a wonderful belief that we are all made in the image and likeness of Deity. But it is hard work to actually walk that talk, especially when the beliefs and actions of some are anathema. It can be hard work to discover where that divine spark is hiding. Yet, that is the work of being a human.

Poetry practice today is a mash up of Brown, Arendt, Popova, John O’Donohue and Rumi.

The Inn of Great Happiness

It can be awfully lonely
in your tribe
even if we all subscribe
to the same codes,
those screeds of belief. But

if we have not love
written into our tribal DNA
then it's all out of key.
Hey!

It's good to sing with strangers.
It's also a good thing
to break bread and drink wine
with strangers.
It's a good thing to get together
sometimes
even with the ones who really irritate.

Like Mom said, " Be polite."
Talk about the weather.
Ask after their health,
that of their family members.
Be Kind. Pass the cookies. Or more wine.

It takes some practice
this being human.
It's all about there always
being a room ready for
everyone passing.
Anyone passing.

So check your larder and linen closet.
Make sure some sheets are aired.
Plump up the downy pillows.
Have the instruments tuned and prepared.
(Don't disturb the cobwebs
because some spiders are guests there.)


Sing into the night
with strangers
as they become like family
if not quite like friends.
Sing into the new day's light
until they become our family,
blood of our blood, bone of our bone,
until it's not just pretend.
until we all comprehend
this being human.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.
.




Feature image Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

Sea Urchins

Gosh, you would think that with winter approaching people would be drawing in and getting less busy. November is National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who want to write a novel in thirty days. (No!) If I remember correctly there is something called Movember that involves shaving or not shaving. It also no seems that the 30 Days of Gratitude is an actual social media thing,too.  I didn’t know this until I saw a post on my niece’s Instagram account this morning. And they even have a theme for each day. Today’s theme for #30DaysGratitude is Happiness. Which is a huge theme. And while I get that with all the woe that infects the cyber shere that it is important to redress the balance, I cannot help but worry that it does not become escapism. Ignoring something does not make it not so. Don’t get too comfortable with cozy, is all I say.  And that, too, can be a point of gratitude. Be grateful for older women with long memories. We have known joy and sorrow. We have got the measure of happy.

But to think about happiness as a thematic hook…well, that was kind of easy. The beach, the sea, are always my happy places. I don’t care if it has honky tonk board walk, or crumbling piers or are picture postcards of artistic seascapes. Every manifestation of coast -sand, pebble, rock pool, dune, crumbling cliff, salt spray, ozone, screeching gull – is all kinds of happiness for me.

Today’s poetry practice celebrates beachcombing, which is a major part of seaside happiness for me. It is an octet, an unrhymed octave, which you can then also work in reverse.  Each line has one less syllable, going from one to eight. Then reverse. And it is interesting how that works.

 

Sea Urchins

 

Victorian ragamuffins

They lark on sandy strands

Left behind at spring tides

Exoskeleton

Lightest of shells

Hollowed

Spirit

 

Spirit

Hollowed

Lightest of shells

Exoskeleton

Left behind at spring tides

They lark on sandy strands

Victorian ragamuffins

 

Copyright© 2018 Bee Smith