Courage To Be Joyous

Patti Smith

I walked home from the bar last night along Steinway. Through the late night brume shown the light of clothing stores, shoe stores, furniture stores, restaurants, delis, markets, hookah bars, dance clubs – burnishing beacons of commerce to fill me with a choking sense of dread.

I walked fast past the screaming lights.

I wanted to go back to Ireland. I miss my cafes. I could sit with my coffee and my books and my pen. I had my backpack and friendly strangers and the world was mine, crystalline. I could see and feel everything.

Now I wake up in the morning a worker bee. Tunnel vision to the office where I will book appointments, make phone calls, answer endless emails, temper the inflated expectations of people who live on a plane of existence I can never dream to be a part of (nor could I ever want to). During the three block walk from Herald Square to my office I took in every sight and sound diligently, my last breath of air before the plunge.

But hey, at least it’s Friday! I’ve almost reached the end. It’s been a tiresome week – balmy for early November. This aberrant warmth began on Tuesday; I recall walking outside and the sky seemed strange to me. A white sun emitted gas-like heat that smothered the usually vital blue chill of autumn. Were I sitting in my normal setting I would have taken no notice, but I took the day off. (Such a rebel I am!)

But I digress…

I don’t think I’m romanticising the life of an artist. I know perfectly well that it’s the harder of the roads to travel. One needs to be a lot more resourceful. Fearless. You cannot be afraid of being poor (I am not). You cannot be afraid of being alone (of this I am). In fact it’s my biggest fear and it’s the reason I’ve resisted the fate for so long. I’m too scared to be a solivagant. I’m not much good at being my own company even though that often is the case.

Lord knows I’ve tried! I went to Ireland with a backpack and what I thought was an open mind. But in my weaker moments (of which I’m ashamed to say there were many), I had this nagging feeling that I was just a fuckup. So shaped by the idea that one NEEDS to have a plan I let it consume me. I felt like I was walking blindly – and not in the romantic way, arms outstretched terpsichorean into darkness – but rather stumbling, stupid and trepid.

martha graham

“No artist is pleased… There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”~ Martha Graham


I haven’t been able to shake this stumbling feeling yet, and now I’m finding that my self doubt has spawned a gravity of its own – become a dying star. This quiet implosion I once thought harmless is in fact enervating to all those around me.

Basically, I’m a buzzkill.

But I shall fight against it!

My will is strong and I’ve fought these demons before.

I just need to choose a new approach.

Having lived in a state of rawness all my life I’ve learned to immunize from the elements by coating myself in sweet, sweet numbness. But now I fear I’ve rendered myself senseless… so perhaps this is not the best solution?

I’m searching for new ones. For instance, finding authors and artists with whom I share a kindred spirit. Lately it’s been Patti Smith. Her survival has restored my faith in my own future and our commonalities are comforting to me. She’s a musician. She finds solace in books and she is an observer the world. She loves to travel and learn and she’s a lover of relics, (Charles Dickens’ pen, Virginia Woolf’s walking cane). She frequently visits the gravesites of great poets, artists, authors she admires, and feels splendor in their remnant energy – thrills from thanatopsia.

What a trip.

In addition to breaking through the numbness I am trying to slow myself down. I often get ahead of myself. Ahead of everything. I have a way of speed reading through my life. But the danger in this is that you miss all the important details! All the little intricacies that make it worth living. Rather than wait in agony for some divine peripeteia I shall have patience. I will try to let each moment fill me with its small wisdoms. Besides, I still take joy in simple pleasures.

I do, damn it!

For instance, I really want to have my friends over for dinner. What’s wrong with a meal shared with acquaintances? Music playing, a few laughs shared – a makeshift hive of convives. I’m not above such things and never hope to be.

SPEAKING IN STRINGS, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, 1999

Another artist who has been on my mind lately is Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg.

She is fierce, and funny, and horribly pained. Watch her play – she can’t keep still. It’s difficult for me to watch without crying.

She tried to kill herself. She pulled the trigger but the gun misfired. While “in recovery” (whatever that means), she asked her mother why she feels things so deeply.

How does one cope with the unhappy fate of feeling everything so deeply?

Her mother replied, “It takes courage to be happy. You need to be brave.”


This always resonated with me.

Perhaps it does take courage to be happy. To wade through the waves of fear, fight through the strangulation of boredom and reach out through the tenebrism of loneliness. To find a lesson in everything and everyone.

I learned a new word today: agelast. An archaic but useful one meaning- a person who doesn’t laugh.

Lord I hope that’s not me.

Please don’t let that be me.


“A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.


One Comment

  1. Grand story keep the parables coming I liked the paragraph to be happy to find a lesson in everything and everyone….Thank you for the new word agelast a person who doesn’t laugh….No Bryn that will never happen to you….the DNA of the Hebrew and Celt will not allow it…..

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