The Clock is Tickin’

I’ve been playing Brandon Flowers’ CD Flamingo over and over and over, and then over again, every day for the past… however many days it’s been since it came out.

I like a lot of the songs on the album, and I go through phases with my favorite. My current one is “The Clock Was Tickin'” (it was Magdalena for two weeks before that). The beat’s not bad, but what I really dig is the lyrics.

And the weeks fly by and the years roll on
They say patience is a virtue but the doctor says she don’t have long
You stood up and tried your damndest not to listen
But that clock up on the wall was tickin’

When they told you to clear the room, that’s when it hit you
You watched as the caravan took your sweetheart away
The arguments and fights and money troubles seem so worthless
As the kids throw yellow roses on her grave

And the weeks fly by and the years roll on
The house is quiet now and everything inside it seems to know she’s gone
There’s a picture of you both sixteen years old just kissing
And that clock up on the wall was tickin’ – Brandon Flowers

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the time I have, specifically the time I have with my parents. Some time last week I had the thought that I need to record down everything about my parents, who they are, what they did, and what their dreams were before they had me. What were they like? When my parents are gone, how will I keep the link with my roots? I wonder if that’s the question children of immigrants face at some point?

Mike Hawley once commented to me, “You’re as American as apple pie.” That may be so, but a part of me is still as Vietnamese as… um… pho bo vien? Anyway, as I get older, I want to get to know my parents more, not as the archetype of father and mother, but for who they are.

I’ve also had a lot of thoughts about the pace of my life and the time that I spend with my parents. I would say that I’m a recovering type A, but I haven’t recovered enough. I don’t know if I would call myself “overworked”, per se. I love what I do, and I’ve got an obsessive personality type to throw myself at things, sometimes to my own demise, like staying up too late, waking up too early, and overcommitting. I want to do it all.

I read somewhere about “the rocker test”, where, when making a decision, think about when you’re 80 and sitting on your rocker on your porch, what will you regret the most? I liked the rocker test concept when I read about it, but I admit, I liked it as a mere intellectual concept to entertain.

I suspect if I were to put it to the test, I would have to give up a couple (a lot) of things I’ve already built up the habit for, and maybe I just don’t have the guts to admit it to myself yet, because I would have to come clean with myself. Being honest with oneself is the hardest.

Anyway, I’ve gotten off track. The point is, today, I spent a good chunk of it with my parents, and I’m grateful that they’re still healthy and able to enjoy a gorgeous Autumn day with me.

My parents and me, October 2010.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Throughout this past week and a couple before that, I have been randomly running into the concept of “happiness” everywhere I looked. My guess is, because it’s the end of the year and also the end of what TIME Magazine called The Decade from Hell (geez, sensational much?), a whole lot of us are reflecting more than usual, and movies like Up in the Air have got us asking, “What am I doing with my life?”, and “What is it all for?”

On Friday, I read the article This is the Greatest Good by Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, who suggests:

“So it is time to reassert the noble philosophy of the Enlightenment. In this view, every human being wants to be happy, and everybody counts equally. It follows that progress is measured by the overall scale of human happiness and misery. And the right action is the one that produces the greatest happiness in the world and (especially) the least misery. I can think of no nobler ideal.”

Now, I won’t go into what exactly constitute happiness, because that in itself is a giant black hole, and it’s the crux of the argument that what Richard Layard proposes is not practical, nor desired, as this dude said in the counter-essay: The pursuit of happiness is a fool’s errand.

“For one thing, pain too will be part of any rich human life as, say, when people fall in love. For another, pleasure comes in all sorts of different guises that can no more be compared than can the joy of reading a book with the buzz of dancing until dawn.

Today’s utilitarians believe they have overcome this difficulty, since we can now observe people in scanners: pleasure centres light up in the brain, producing an apparently objective measure.

Only it isn’t. The problem is that there is no way to read a brain directly: no grey fold or ganglion is pre-labelled ‘happiness'”. – Mark Vernon

I very much see where these two guys are coming from. Today my friend Andy briefly talked about why we haven’t been out and about partying as much like we used to, and I mentioned what my senior yoga teacher Judith Lasater said in an interview:

“There’s a difference between fun and enjoyment. Fun is something I might want to do to get away from my life and enjoyment is something I can bring into my life. With fun, I’m thinking of trying to escape for the moment. Enjoyment is something that brings me into my life. It is the attitude I have within my life.”

It’s not a stretch to say that we are all pursuing something called happiness. We all want to have fun, to enjoy life, to be happy. Why then, does happiness seem so elusive? I have a couple theories, but I want to hear from you. What do you think? What’s your definition of happiness? And according to that, are you happy?

You don't want to see my unhappy face, trust me.

You don’t want to see my unhappy face, trust me.