Nepal 44: Looking Down

nepal buildings

It was early morning in Pokhara, Nepal. I was standing atop the roof of the Hotel Snow Leopard, breathing deep, taking in the view, and trying to come to terms with my life. A life which had brought me on a whirlwind tour of seven Asian countries, torn up my relationship of two and a half years, and spit me out here: 23 years old, alone, standing on a rooftop in Nepal. Gazing towards the Annapurna Range, hidden behind a thick layer of haze. Looking for something which didn’t seem to want to reveal itself to me.

I walked to the edge of the roof. Put my toes over the edge. Looked down.

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100 Happy Days

I finished the #100HappyDays challenge last Wednesday.

Tyrolean Traverse Boulder Creek

Day 1

I have to be honest: it took me more than 100 days to complete the challenge (Reflections from Day 50 on August 31). I started the 100 Happy Days challenge on July 7, 2014, with a picture of myself using a tyrolean traverse to cross Boulder Creek. I finished with a picture taken on opening day at Beaver Creek Resort, just five minutes up the road from my home here in Vail, CO.

Anyways. I started on July 7, and I finished on November 26. There are 142 days between those dates. The goal of the 100 Happy Days challenge is to find something to be happy about for 100 consecutive days. Now, by that parameter, I failed the challenge. But I don’t feel like I did.

Sure, there were a few bad days in those three months, and more than a few boring ones. That’s fine. To be expected, really. The thing that surprised me was, even on those days when I maintained radio silence, I could often find things that made me happy.

I didn’t post them because I didn’t think people would want to see them.

This tendency, to me, tells a very interesting story about the way we mediate our own happiness through the perceptions of others.

I should have realized that audience would play a role in #100HappyDays due to the fact that the challenge took place on social media. However, I started the 100 Happy Days challenge with myself at the front of my thinking. As the challenge progressed, my thoughts evolved from “what makes me happy?” to “what should I show other people?” I began curating an image without even trying.

Image curation is one of the most annoying aspects of social media. Everyone decries Facebook as a false front; everyone continues to participate in a charade they all decry. “He’s not really happy in that picture! I know that because I posted 12 smiling selfies in the last week but I’m miserable.”

Happiness seems like the ultimate goal of all the young people I know. Not money, not love, not a career: more than anything, I hear “I just want to be happy.”

Wolcott, CO

The Pursuit of Happiness— Day 58.

Some observations about my 100 Happy Days:

  • 3 pictures depict billiards or pool tables
  • 4 happy days relate to alcohol
  • 7 percent of pictures relate to skiing
  • 9 percent of pictures relate to rock climbing or bouldering
  • 9 percent of pictures feature my family or depict family events
  • 14 percent of the 100 happy days pictures feature my girlfriend
  • 18 percent of the pictures show me (not always smiling either!)
  • 20 percent of the photos involve travel
  • 66 percent of happy days pictures were taken outside
  • Money is mentioned only once

This list is makes too much sense. It’s actually a little disappointing to me that this breakdown reveals exactly what I like. A person who knows me fairly well could ID me just from that breakdown.

It’s nice to appreciate the simple things in life, but we all appreciate our hobbies anyways. I had hoped that the #100HappyDays challenge might reveal something about me, about my everyday, that I had never realized before. This hope, really, was at the heart of my participation, I think. After all, one photo a day isn’t a big commitment to put against potential insight. But I can’t say with a straight face that I got nothing out of it.

Refocusing your attention and perspective on positivity is an exercise that will never hurt you.

It is a “lifehack” which is absolutely foolproof. It is worth being here. It is worth being ALIVE. And being reminded of that cannot be considered a bad thing.

There’s a reason this cataloging of good or happy things over a period of time is a common activity given to depression patients as part of their therapy. However, the psychiatrist asks her patient to write in a journal, a secret place– a safe place– free of judgment. Beating depression or “seizing the day” or whatever platitude you are pursing is always presented as an achievable goal because it is entirely within yourself.

When you put your inner happinesses and successes out into the court of public opinion, things are suddenly very different.

This is where the 100 Happy Days challenge becomes a much tougher subject to get a handle on. Who is the 100 Happy Days Challenge for? If it is for us, the participants, it would be more effective if performed online. And it can’t really be for the audience, can it? Not when everyone is all-too-aware that those people who appear insufferably happy on social media only incite spite.

The people who heavily use social media are not usually the people who are genuinely sympathetically enthused that things are going so well for you. The existence of #100HappyDays actually makes every day sadder for these people, in some tiny way.

I had a number of friends mention the challenge to me in person. Usually the reference was in passing, or in a slightly joking tone. None of these people engaged with my pictures often on social media, but they were all aware of them. Which brings up another contradictory facet of the challenge: not receiving likes or comments on a happy experience can actually cause the user to question or revise their own perception of the moment. Which adds complication to the experience.

100 Happy Days– a challenge advocating slowing down and enjoying the simple things in life– is actually adding several additional layers of complexity and unnecessary validation to our every day lives.

Actually, that’s not unique to #100HappyDays. That contradiction defines social media as a whole.

I’m thinking of getting off it entirely.

Book Review: “California” by Jennifer Denrow (poetry)

Jennifer Denrow Poetry

My girlfriend has never been to California.

We lie awake at night, snow falling softly outside the window of our ski-town cabin. Cozy under the blankets, we stare at the flakes obscuring the bright mountain stars, and wonder about someplace else.

“California is the sort of place where it seems like anything can happen,” I tell her. “We’ll go there, someday.”

This is the sort of exchange which underlies Jennifer Denrow’s audacious book of poetry, “California.” Denrow is a young American poet from my home state of Colorado. As with all modern poetry, her work is obscure except in certain circles. I’m doing my little bit to change that.

The title poem, “California” is my favorite piece of poetry.

“California” is broken up into three sections. The first is a long poem titled “California.” This is the gem of the book. The second section consists of more traditional, shorter verses. This section, like many poetry collections, is rather hit-or-miss. The third section consists of a back-and-forth dialogue between ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie. This section struck me as too avant-garde. Perhaps I lacked the proper context to understand the subtext of this section, but it never clicked for me. It doesn’t matter though.

Section 1, the “California” poem, is worth the price of admission alone.

“California” is a poem about escapism and the lingering dissatisfaction of modern life. The opening lines of the poem state this mission well enough:

“Forget Your life
Okay, I have
Lay down something that is unlike it
Sold boat, Italian song”

The poem goes on for 19 pages, and it continues to expand beautifully and elliptically on the abstract idea of California as a stand-in for satisfaction, exotica, and adventure in our everyday lives, which find themselves dulling more and more as computer slowly remove the very essence of living from many situations.

I won’t transcribe the whole thing here, because Denrow is a young poet who very much deserves your money. I encountered this book during an advanced undergraduate course I took, “E 479: Modern American Poetry.” The class was taught by Dan Beachy-Quick, himself a successful modern American poet. Beachy-Quick is the closest thing you’ll encounter to a genius at a state university, and I’ll always hold a respect for the man. His rambling nature of speaking made going to class every day absolutely worth it, just to hear the strange tangents he could touch on and still leave you with something of value.  He told us to go buy a random book of modern poetry off of Amazon, because the library wouldn’t have anything and the authors appreciated every purchase they could get.

Live Your Passion: Dan Beachy-Quick from Colorado State University on Vimeo.

So I’ll repeat this man’s great message: buy Denrow’s book. Both of you and she will appreciate it.

The book is melancholy, looking inward and outward simultaneously as it explores the concept of leaving. “California” tiptoes past suicide, depression, and the spectre of a rapidly receding youth with gorgeous, deadly quiet lines.

I’ve written academic criticism on the poem, but that defeats the point, really. Read it yourself, and then think on it for a few days. Think about California.

California Jennifer Denrow Poetry

Then go.

(If you’d like to purchase the book, you can throw TWO poor writers a bone by buying it through my Amazon affiliate link)