Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Good Life

The ancient Greeks called it Eudaimonia -- a melodic sounding, high-brow word that loosely translates to happiness, but that refers to an ideal existence where humanity is flourishing. Thriving. Living The Good Life. No matter how fortunate we are, we will always strive for the idea of something better.

Plato was convinced The Good Life could be found in walking a virtuous path, free of desires. Buddhists seem to share that line of reasoning. Thoreau insisted it was woven into the fabric of nature. Marx thought it could be found only after the end of capitalism. Milton Friedman believed it would happen at the hands of an ever-bountiful free market. Poets, musicians and artists have looked for it in any number sunsets and moonbeams -- and a few hookah pipes, wine glasses and pill bottles. The nightly news would have us believe that our economy -- sad, listless, terminal thing -- no longer offers any hope of The Good Life, that we are headed for another great Depression. (And that thought has given everybody great depression.)

Back in the late 80s, I worked for a writer who was born in 1900. She had been a struggling mother with a sick husband during most of the years of the Depression. I asked her once what it had been like to get through it. She laughed and said something like, "Well, we didn't sit around at the dinner table and talk about The Depression. We didn't even know that word. We just had fun and did the best we could. We got by during the bad times, and waited for the good times that eventually came." She was so optimistic, despite many devastating aspects of her life: losing a child to disease, losing a brother and a son in two different wars, losing a home during a hurricane, losing the sight in both eyes, losing her husband to Lou Gehrig's disease. But when I knew her, during the last of her many years, she always said, "This is the good life." And she was right.

I'm sure the little girl in this picture will look back on this time not as the year when the stock market fell apart and the sub prime mortgage crisis instigated a terrible economic downturn. Nope. I'm pretty sure remember it the year she was a princess at her birthday party. The one where she got the biggest pinata she'd ever seen, that spilled out more candy than she could eat.

Now that's The Good Life.



But would the little girl have any concept of anything to do with the credit crunch? Aren't little girls just interested in dolls and party dresses?

Of course, this could be a particularly smart and grown up little girl.

Still, the clown is the one distractnig me. It's a sort of surreal scene!

Scarlet x

altadenahiker said...

What a smart, smart piece. And you also pegged why those media buzzwords are so dangerous. People start to believe them. It's essentially letting a bunch of marketing people define what it is we are living.

Dixie Jane said...

I had to interject a song with this title as often performed by Tony Bennett:


Oh, the good life, full of fun seems to be the ideal
Mm, the good life lets you hide all the sadness you feel
You won't really fall in love for you can't take the chance
So please be honest with yourself, don't try to fake romance

It's the good life to be free and explore the unknown
Like the heartaches when you learn you must face them alone
Please remember I still want you, and in case you wonder why
Well, just wake up, kiss the good life goodbye

Not really an addendum to your brilliant piece, Laurie. Just some lyricist's idea. Everyone has his own version. And it changes with the times.

Mister Earl said...

Great piece, Laurie. Great comment Karin. Great song Dixie Jane.

Last night I lived a little good life myself. Went to see Lawrence Juber and Steve Collins and the 7th band at the Mint. Top session musicians playing fantastic oldies rock. Then I made it back to Pasadena for the last couple dances at PBDA, and while dancing, I thought, "Dixie Jane would love this!" Really.

Mister Earl said...

Just to add to your thoughts, Laurie. Years ago, I realized that happiness has little to do with external events or surroundings. Happiness is an internal state of mind that has nothing to do with what you have, but more to do with how you feel and what you do in relation to others and the world. It's a cliche, but I wonder how many people really understand it.

Eki Akhwan said...

What a tour of phylosophical ideas about the good life you take us to today, Laurie. I learned a lot from it ... and begin to reflect on my own state of affairs. ;)

It's been a while since I visited your blog. Missed quite a few goodies, but made it up today.

Judy Williams said...

After reading your text, I had the same thought as Mom, with the words to The Good Life.

I was struck by the oddity of that clown in the stripes and red hat though. Funny how my take on it was totally different than yours originally. It had a surreal quality but I like your happy simple words so much more than my funky interpretation.

Yakpate said...

At the risk of overusing a word... what an amazingly EVOCATIVE post. It makes me feel happy and sad at the same time.

Happiness is my daily coffee-stop t your blog.

dbdubya said...

Beautiful thoughts for these difficult times. And a beautiful photo of a beautiful princess. A lot of beauty in this post on this beautiful day.

Four beautifuls in one post. Must mean something.

Dixie Jane said...

Mister Earl,

Not to say that I exactly understand it, but I have been known to be ecstatically happy standing in the rain with no umbrella. I love the smell of it. Or as a child building a house from a large box, or climbing a tree. Or finding something to laugh about in a situation like my stalled car on the side of the road on my way to a Writing Conference in Houston. I opened the hood to unfreeze the AC and the hood got stuck in the "Up" position. The things people said and did as they stopped to offer help were hilarious. One guy jumped on the hood and bent it. One lady offered me her sewing kit. She asked, "What kind of conference? Horse or type? (Writing). I just sat there out in the country watching the butterflies. To me, finding joy wherever you can is the key to a happy life. And more often than not, it doesn't cost a dime and has to do with your ability to make "silk purses from sows' ears." Incidentally, referring to my car, a fireman from a little town came along with a can of WD40 and I was on my way, bent hood and all.

Petrea said...

Very well said, my friend. You have explained, whether you meant to or not, why I don't watch the TV news. I don't want reporters repeating to me what someone else told them, giving me buzzwords for the life I'm living. I'd rather just live it and define it my way. It doesn't mean I can't educate myself on current events, but certain media thrive on negative slants. Give me the facts and I'll take it from there.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

We are all fortunate that you worked for the lady writer at the end of her days, for you passed her story to us in a most memorable way.
It's soothing.

Only, the clown worries me just a teench.

dbdubya said...

Well said, Petrea. The media doesn't want to report good news. They hardly report the news. Octomom is more important than the economy. On 60 Minutes tonight Andy Rooney did a piece on heroes. He said other than Chesley Sullenburger, the US Air pilot who landed in the Hudson, there are no heroes today. He went on to talk about his experience as a WWII correspondent when he wrote about the heroes serving in the military. He sadly reported that war is the time when most heroes surface. The irony of it all is that we are currently involved in conflict in two countries and heroes abound in our military. But, since the media has chosen to focus more on negative stories, the good humanitarian acts taking place every day and acts of heroism are overlooked. I was surprised and saddened by Rooney's comments.

Whatever one's position is on our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's unfortunate that a journalist with the experience of Andy Rooney could not even acknowlede that heroes exist in today's military.

I'll bet this little girl has her own heroes. Perhaps the clown with the Dr. Seus hat. Friday was Read Across America Day in honor of Dr. Seus' birthday. Many people read his works to school children. This looks like it was taken at Orange Grove playground. Just wondering, Laurie - was it at one of the schools or the playground?

Petrea said...

I think you said it, dbdubya. I think there are plenty of heroes, but we don't hear about them on the news anymore.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

Just in case you didn't know it yet, Andy Rooney is daft.I would not use him as a bellwether of anything except perhaps for the proper use of grammar. He shouldn't have named someone a hero and then said an 'only' hero. That is just insulting. And, there is a difference between being heroic and just having the immense courage to do a dangerous job you are paid, trained, and expected to do everyday. Whenever there's a disaster, as it is, there is hero worship of FD and PD, on and on. It's all part of the lunacy and the cycle of indoctrination.

Broadcast TV news is nothing but a crappy dimwitted entertainment box. It's the Jerry Springer School of Journalism. It's so shocking now to watch an old news broadcast from the sixties or seventies. Even David Frost, who was considered a fluffy talk show host had substance when he interviewed Nixon.

Lunkheads the lot!

I'm gonna go sing myself to sleep.

Laurie said...

Thank you so much, everyone, for the beautiful and thought-provoking comments today. I want to respond to each of you, but Daylight Savings has gotten the best of me tonight. I'll catch up with all of you when I'm well rested! Until tomorrow!

Petrea said...

Havisham, you're a hero.

Laurie said...

Hi again,

I wanted to come back and properly respond to all of your lovely comments.

Scarlet, I agree that the clown is surreal! When I first saw this scene, I thought of Fellini. Which made me think, la Dolce Vita, which brought me to the idea of this post...

Altadenahiker, as someone who has written a lot of advertising/marketing/branding junk, er, stuff, I have thought a lot during this economic mess that what we need is a good agency to rebrand it as opportunity and sell the whole idea of rebuilding America. I am not sure if there isn't a bit of cart before the horse stuff with consumer lack of confidence and investor fears. With enough pundits screaming that the sky is falling, some people are going to go inside even if they haven't personally felt something land on their heads.

Judy and Dixie (Mom!)-- you always think of the same song I think of. Must be in the genes.

Yak, as usual we share a brain. I was happy/sad looking at that darling princess birthday girl whack at her pinata. Sometimes it's the simplest things that are the most poignant.

Dbdubya... four beautifuls is good! Like Yak has been known to say, too much of a good thing is WONDERFUL!

Mom, I had forgotten that story about the writer's conference and the car breaking down. The sewing kit is hilarious!

Petrea, I stopped watching TV news during the election. I can't handle that much bombast and spin without feeling the need to paint a sign and start picketing. I find that I am out of touch with the zeitgeist on many things that are in the "news" -- but I think I actually get more real news by reading wire stories and checking out Bill Moyers. Miss Havisham is absolutely right about current news -- particularly cable -- being Jerry Springerized to the point of absurdity. I'm old enough to remember Eric Severeid and Walter Cronkite.

Dbdubya, I wish we heard more about everyday heroes. There are millions of them -- and a lot of them teach in public schools.

Oh, and dbdubya this shot was taken at Orange Grove Park. I wish I'd known about Read Across America day. I mentioned in a previous post about Donor's Choose, a great charity that lets you pick projects to fund in schools across the US. Today I received a packet of handwritten thank you notes from the students who received the history books I helped purchase. What a great feeling to read those sweet words and think that I had an actual hand in bringing a book to them that had once meant so much to me! We can all strive to live the heroic archetype in our own lives, right?

I appreciate you all, and thank you for such thought-provoking conversation. Until tomorrow.

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