the colour of our lives

poetry • celebration • faith • nature • humanity • imperfections • glory

too much happiness

So here’s a moment, a short rant, of self-justification; a defence of my gravity towards melancholy, by highlighting the benefits of life in lugubrious shadows.

It has been a tendency of mine to adhere to the notion that creativity springs from suffering, particularly suffering of the internal, angst-filled type which, legend would have it, stereotypically characterises the artistic temperament. Circumstantial evidence would support this claim; poetry which is joyful is often, unfortunately, sugary and dissatisfying, the stuff of greeting cards and similar inspirational art; many find darker writing truer to experience; less trite, more courageous.

The problem with happiness, I lately suspect, is that it makes us less discerning. A general feeling of joy is contagious; it stifles our inner critic, rendering us temperate, tolerant and positive. These are, unquestionably, admirable qualities but it seems they do not necessarily lead to artistic polish: the poem which is never right until it is perfectly phrased, the photograph microscopically cropped. In this context, temperance and tolerance do not care about excellence.

So, the long, dark nights have their purpose. What remains is the invisibly fine line between exploiting the depressive or angry state, and pursuing it.

P.S. I was very much hoping to use the word “lugubrious” somewhere in there, even if I have overstretched its meaning somewhat.


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14 thoughts on “too much happiness

  1. bravo. Bravo for using the too fun “lugubrious”. and you & me, we think damn alike
    You take our thoughts and…well..WELL PUT

  2. Once again, thanks for your kind comments. When I was a student, for some obscure reason, words like “lugubrious” were almost commonplace in my peer group. And we studied sciences, not arts or humanities – work that one out. My possible responses to the sentiments in this post are in the following post; I may yet find myself “…plunging, ego-first, into eternity…” :^)

  3. the problem with
    happiness, i suspect,
    is the conditioning

  4. we are conditioned to think that suffering births “real” creativity and conditioned to expect much less of happiness. it took a long bout of writer’s block before i decided to take happiness into my own hands and simply…use it (smile).

    • Thanks Yiching, well put; I like the way you explain this. Several years ago a counsellor I was seeing, who was very complimentary about my poetry, challenged me to write happy poems. I haven’t forgotten this; I hope the readers of this blog find plenty of light among the dark, and ‘real’ creativity with a positive tone. I just find lightness more of a struggle, and for some perverse reason I am attracted to the creative darkness; for instance: the photography of Dorothea Lange, the paintings of Turner, Arthur Boyd and Brett Whitely, films like ‘The Big Blue’ or Blade Runner. What I could do now is to take an inventory, assigning each piece of writing here to a happy or sad category; that could prove quite revealing!

      Paradoxically I think the fascination with darkness may reflect the hope of my faith. Moments of beauty in a dark and dangerous world; that sort of thing. That’s the edge I hope to live on.

      best to all

      • can’t say i disagree with you, for the most part. that’s why it’s called conditioning. i just thought i better turn it around and do something with happiness and not wait till the angst (smile).

      • namelessneed on said:

        “moments of beauty in a dark and dangerous world: that sort of thing. That’s the edge I hope to live on” just wonderful & “I can relate”
        The very prevelant idea that the dark, the suffering, the fear, the madness all
        stand a better chance of upending creative output, and that the art that results is more valid or honest than another sunny day, this is, and has been happening forever and a day. Poe, Kafka,Dickens, Dostoevsky, Mozart, Tennesee Williams, O’Neil,Beckett, Shakespeare.
        Some think that “sunny” is pollyanna-ish, naive, and frankly, that loving a loving god
        is lame or conformist.or something. that a smile is dishonest
        sure, the world is a shithole of misery for many, but there is capital B Beauty about.

      • …and thanks again Yiching, I’m glad that you provided some balance here. I sometimes write very much ‘in the moment’ which can get me a bit out of whack.

      • “capital B beauty” – no doubt about that. Lyrics from one of my heroes

        This bluegreen ball in black space
        Filled with beauty even now
        battered and abused and lovely

        (“Bruce Cockburn – ‘Planet of the Clowns'”: from the Cockburn project)

  5. I am glad you quoted Cockburn. He is one of my long time favorites. Here is another:

    Little round planet in a big universe
    Sometimes it looks blessed, sometimes it looks cursed;
    Depends on your viewpoint obviously
    But even more it depends on the way that you see.

    Or thereabouts. That is from memory.
    I am not sure I followed all of the comments above, not being a real poet/artsy type. There is a lot I don’t get about how I or other people work, but I have struggled with this question for a while. If beautiful art is the result of suffering of some kind then will art cease to exist in the resurrection? Surely not. It would seem to be a pretty hollow kind of heaven, but that may be my limitations coming through. It seems to me that it has to do with not knowing how to cope with contentment. Suffering produces discontentment and discontentment produces restlessness and restlessness produces a search for something other. Approximately. But contentment produces rest and peace and motionlessness. We do not know how to create unless we are driven to it, in other words.
    Or put it more philosophically: does light require dark? does good require evil? I emphatically answer no. The problem is that the answer seems to be yes from experience. Perhaps our problem is that we don’t really know what we are talking about – I mean that in the most positive and encouraging sense, of course.
    OK, I am not very good at this sort of thing, but I can seldom resist chiming in.

    • The discussion that came following this post was a surprise to me; the post itself was more of a tantrum on my part than anything, no matter how I try to dress it up as visceral creative frustration… thank goodness for the kind souls who set me right. And I agree with you about the “yes from experience” – a consequence of the human condition perhaps. In heaven (yeah, I believe in it) it just might be that we are all creative, all of the time (another Cockburn song! – Creation Dream). If there is an opposite or positive of being “driven to it”, maybe it’s enticement or inspiration…
      …anyway, thanks to you and all for putting your thoughts down here. All valuable and it’s been a privilege to read them.

  6. Yes. The positive of “being driven to it” is perhaps love. Perhaps we fail to create from positive experience because we are amateurs at love (pun sort of intended).

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