How to Call Up Your Happy: On Writing and Identity


What do you do when something terrible happens?  When the bottom falls out, and you just can’t imagine a worse case scenario?  How do you get through?  How do you restore yourself?  Do you have good resources available that you can count on, or do you fall prey to self-destructive habits that only make matters worse? What if there are no answers?  If it just is what it is?

I have suffered a heartbreak this summer, and along with that received some rather devastating news. Whenever things unravel in these ways for me, I think hard and fast about how I am going to hold on, how I am going to get through the necessary adjustments.  It’s never easy, but one thing that always helps me is to write.

I have been wanting to get back to journaling for forever, and when one has fallen behind, trying times are always the perfect place to start anew.  In addition, blogging helps because it requires focus and creativity, and it renders a kind of artwork that feels like an accomplishment.  It takes all sorts of courage to share a blog post.  Yet somehow all it takes is the mere completion of a post to make me feel back on track.  Like I’m going somewhere, moving forward somehow.  When I am lucky I might also get one or more kind words about something I’ve written, which is more than enough to make any writer’s day.  The exchange of writing to posting, you might say, pays dividends.  Something about the simple delight of sharing electronically–so fast and so certain.  While one creates, one provides.  That is the sort of zen of all artistry.

In providing for others, we can heal ourselves.  As I enjoy journaling–which is for me alone, no one else–I also enjoy blogging.  Perhaps I just like placing words on paper, typing words on screens.  The fewer words inside, the lighter both my head and my heart feel.  I also enjoy scrapbooking.  The more design we add to images, the more they tell a story.

When we’re hurting, it is important to hold on, dig in our heels,

and try to do what we enjoy.

One of the first things I did after the horrible news came was to plant flowers.  Flowers can be therapeutic, just as mowing the yard can be.  Planting flowers always reminds me of my grandmother and other soothing memories filled with sunshine.  Planting flowers somehow feels like one of the most liberating acts we can do. Like giving life when we feel dead inside.  Cradling our creativity in an earthy collection of color.  I love yard work, so this week I mowed, picked up sticks from the storms, and planted flowers even as my throat tightened and my chest heaved heavy sighs.

Another thing I decided to do to find strength was to join an online photography group, where starting today and for the next one hundred days we share one photograph from that day that brought us joy.  The idea is that what you focus on multiplies.  So, if you’re always looking for something to delight you, you will experience more delight.

Lord knows that when a heart is broken, one needs all the balm it can find.  As today was the first day, I thought I might blog on some of my discoveries in the days ahead.  That way I will be looking for happy photos, AND blogging about them.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 to allow same sex marriage in all fifty U.S. states, my husband and I have been honoring marital privilege by trying to spend more focused quality time together each day. Because this ruling occurred before my bad news hit, some of that quality time together has been spent simply by holding each other while I cry.  My husband is a compassionate soul, but much as he tries to understand what I am feeling, it is really my burden to carry.  He aches for me, but he can’t change the circumstance any more than I can.  All he can do is be witness to my heartache and try to help distract me from it.  One of the things we started doing to help is to walk five miles per day.  That is how much I walked daily before suffering a head injury that changed everything; it has been a long anticipated goal of mine…and at this point we really need one another to stay motivated to complete the distance.

Today, we incorporated our walk with my photo sharing     group.  I started in town by taking this photo of some potted flowers by city hall.       The colorful arrangement brought instant happiness to my eyes, and I was grateful for that.  I leaned in to get a closer look.  We continued on our way in 90 degree heat, making our destination my high school alma mater, which we are near only because we moved back to town temporarily to help my aged parents.  As we approach the 40th celebration of my graduation in 1975, we were enthralled to see the construction at the local high school for installation of an underground pool.  So much so, I thought THIS might be the photo I would share with my 100 Days of Happy Photos group:

swimming pool construction

But then we came home and I checked my Fitbit dashboard.  For the eighth day in a row, we had completed a walk of three miles or greater.  My body had various aches and pains, but I had managed to lighten some of my heartache.  Reaching our step goal made me feel hopeful.  I found myself posting this rather pedestrian photo for my first day:

How can anyone not be cheered up by those lime green smiley faces with their big, happy smiles?

After I posted to the group, this meme appeared in my newsfeed:

15 Writing Ways

It reminded me that I am first and foremost a writer.

It reminded me that I am inspired.

It reminded me that I have #1 in the bag, as I have already started looking for things to smile about by participating in One Hundred Days of Happy Photographs.

It reminded me that I do, indeed, feel pain deeply–that this is what writers do.  And this slightly lifted the burden of my devastation; maybe it’s okay to feel distraught…depending on circumstances…at least for a time.  Maybe I could hold on.  And maybe this is how we write, by waiting; by knowing; by enduring.

It reminded me that I am always going below the surface of things, that I rarely live on the periphery–that my heart and my imagination drive me right smack to the middle, whether it is the desert or the garbage dump, I am all in.

Perhaps most importantly, I smiled again.  As I read #4, I had to admit that I do, indeed, study people.  It is something I always do whenever we are anywhere, particularly in restaurants.  While others are on their cell phones, I am inventing profiles, scenarios and dialogues with the people I observe either nearby or across the room.  My husband and I always laugh about it.

Sometimes I share my observations, but when I am silent and deep in thought, my husband will occasionally interrupt, saying with an emphatic smile, “Oh, you’re writing…”

“Yes, that’s what I do,” I admit proudly.

“That’s just who I am.”


When we feel gutted, when we feel lost, it is at least good to know who we are.


                                                    © Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.