by Kirby Congdon…….
As a new book on him has it, St. Augustine bounced around intellectually in his search for stability and establishing that word “happiness.” An interviewer of my own life referred in passing to the need for young writers to write poems that meet a “professional” standard. I took that as a kind reference to me but I rudely blurted out, “Forget about trying to be professional. Write for its own sake” — not for the sake of other people’s categorization of you. Achievements, recognition, approval through a title, are supposed to be connected with the status of happiness and our constitutional right to pursuing it. But this writer believes this happiness thing is a byproduct of activity. When it becomes a goal, the meaning evaporates because we have substituted our talents, our gifts, our immersion in being alive for the impersonality of other people’s opinions.
It is difficult enough trying to find out who you are without making a list, as we are encouraged to do, of what will make us happy. And it is not back in there behind the works of the Automatic Teller Machine. It is the process of finding out what our own identity is through engagement and how the meaning of that search may flourish on its own and enhance life itself or maybe even define it. I think of Whitman, Dickinson or Hart Crane as well as that guy in Bahama Village here in Key West whom I tried to work with. But he refused to alter anything for print whatsoever, like spelling, punctuation, grammar. While we think he was making a mistake, we understood his reservations against anyone ever editing one letter in his collection of work. Such conviction is not rare but I felt I was put in my place and that I had better stay there!
Advice is not necessarily infallible. Giving it or getting it often backfires. If this writer is interfering with your stance in regard to either advice or the idea of happiness, take care! A little goes a long way. Like flavoring in cooking your own tastes don’t always follow the recipe in satisfying you.