Catching fireflies

Where does sadness, the inexorable seriousness in my writing originate? My friends would tell you that I am puckish in real life—if anything, a bit too unrestrained. Why doesn’t that same sense of things stripe my writing? Why do I seem stuck hitting the same damn dour note?

It’s time to disagree with giants. Tolstoy was wrong about families. Families are not all happy the same way, or only so if one only considers the end result. Families, and individuals, are unhappy in a million different ways; happy families share the same infinite array. And how many different ways are individuals happy compared with the list of universal sadnesses?

I will take it a step further. Unhappiness, sadness, if you will, seems, if not a baseline, then a certainty. Life takes its strange course, and we know that bad things will happen. Tragedies wait between buildings like muddy tigers, who, if they do not gore us, they will leave us an awful mess. And they come with a punctuality that challenges the trains in Germany.

Happiness seems more random, more baffling, more ephemeral. Like a firefly, reach for it quickly, and the breeze your hand makes sends it out of your grasp—it takes a gentle practice to catch a firefly.

What makes me happy? That too may be the rub. Everything in small measures. A decent parking space. The blue outline of the mountains to the west. The concept of deep time. A good crossword puzzle. The ping of my phone when an email arrives. My list is so long and so specific, that it must be boring to you. “That makes you happy!” comes the general snort, “That never makes me happy.” The writer who seeks connection writes about happiness at his own risk.

Even that—the response of disdain to good news—is more general, probably more shared than, say, my appreciation for Kevin Appier’s distinctive and delightful delivery. “You’re writing about baseball? Fie!” Like I said.

So damn the torpedoes. Here comes happiness—some common, some that will be an gentle education. Catch it like the firefly.

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Brian Brennan

I am a writer and a teacher. I have lived in Philadelphia, Binghamton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Northern Virginia. I have sailed on the ocean and flown over the North Pole. I write fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

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