Saturday, September 18, 2004

On Happiness

I've been thinking about happiness and art a lot lately. A few days ago, I was blogging about having written my first short story with a "happy ending." So it was interesting to read about the concept in a touching memoir about Spalding Gray in the Summer 2004 issue of Tin House.

Spalding Gray dealt with depression -- not so surprising amongst creative folks, though whether depression and other mental disorder (or substance abuse) go hand in hand in writing as some might suppose is likely another blog post for another time. The artistic temperament is a difficult one, but I don't think one has to be all effed up to be creative. Goodness knows I am less effed up now than I used to be, and get more fiction written, but then again, I'm still very much subject to my own peaks and valleys.

So anyway, "Remembering Spalding Gray," by Francine Prose, talks a little bit about Gray's struggles. The third part is called "Happiness." "The problem, he kept saying, was the difficulty of making art about happiness -- happy families are all alike -- and the essential relationship between narrative and conflict." Later: "Spalding spoke of his worries about ever writing another monologue, about whether he could continue to make art out of a life that was increasingly calm, placid -- and happy. That night, we talked as if happiness were a permanent condition, a nearly insurmountable obstacle."

Unfortunately, we all know the end of the story -- the car accident, followed by increased bouts of depression, and then his disappearance. I recommend the memoir, it was interesting.

But that one passage was particularly thought provoking. It's so true -- it's hard to build conflict in the midst of describing happiness. Milton's Paradise Regained is less interesting than Paradise Lost -- how interesting is purity, good, happiness, and contentment? There's got to be some conflict somewhere. It's the hook. But then again, how many of us are able to create these conflicts without being subject to at least the occasional funk -- if not being completely down in the dumps or orchestrating a conflict-ridden life for ourselves? A life, so full of drama, with the thought that someday it will be fodder, to write away the demons.

This is probably an age-old question of writers everywhere.

Thanks for reading,

LLB

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