Monthly Archives: March 2010

Are You Happy?

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks writes the following and says it is true. 

“Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.”

Of course, this is an insane statement, when presented as it is as a rule. Mr. Brooks tries to back it up with silly data that proves nothing. When you talk about “personal well-being,” you are talking about lots of different “persons.” For some persons, career success is everything. They are happy with career success even if they like spinach more than their spouses. It is true. For some others, it is not true. Some people don’t care how they do at work; they just like to get paid. And some of these people, I’d venture to say, don’t put all their happiness eggs into the matrimonial basket. I bet there are persons, too, who fall into Brooks’ description, high-achieving workerpersons who are miserable because they don’t eat dinner with their mates.

Then, of course, there are people who don’t have “unsuccessful” marriages. They don’t have any marriages, like me and nine trillion other people. Is this better or worse? Will we be more or less “significantly unfulfilled?” Where do we fall out on the scale? What if we had an unsuccessful marriage and now don’t have an unsuccessful marriage? Were we incapable of deriving happiness from our careers then? Can we be blissful with work now that we have successful no-marriages? Is there a statute of limitations on the unsuccessfulness? 

Mr. Brooks has a funny smile. He doesn’t look very happy, though his bio says he is happily married and he has a career history that appears successful. Could it be that he doesn’t know how to smile? Or can’t curve up his lips on the end? What is making him not look happy? A poorly crafted op-ed piece, maybe? No, work can’t make you unhappy, if it can’t make you happy.

I don’t like people telling me what will make me happy or not happy. Next, they will tell me what bothers me. Silly op-ed pieces bother me.


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Man of the House

Please read my lastest essay, published today in The New York Times’ Motherlode blog. Click here

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Wait Just a Minute

The kitchen clock stopped working. This is not astounding, I realize, but there is meaning in its demise, a message. No, not about time hanging mid-tick, or passing, underutilized, nothing prosaic like that, let alone guilt-provoking. Nothing about my buying it twenty-three years ago for my first Manhattan apartment, so modern, slick, or toting it to five different cities and ten different kitchens, without kids and with, with mates and without. None of that. Today, the clock, though stuck, still serves.

Before I knew this, though, I took it down from the wall, feeling the way you do when something gives out. I attempted to resuscitate it, trying assorted batteries, tapping its sides, flipping it like a dime, sun from the window catching its silver face. But the hands remained still. That is it, I thought. I put my clock on the counter. Done. We did not need a functional object not to function, not to tell my daughters and me what the time is, really, the time that other people know and rely upon, then, that minute. We would replace it with something new and effective.

But then, I looked at the wall, yellow, naked, except for the nail. It would have been easy to wiggle it out, just a firm grip at its base. I grabbed it with my thumb and forefinger, then let go, sitting down at the table underneath. I cook every night, a complete meal from scratch, no matter how busy, how much homework, how late practice runs. And we sit at the table and have dinner, give the report, tell the joke, relay the story. Was there an allele question on the test? Mommy, any news about the book? You wouldn’t believe what Mr. Matthews did today.

It is hard not to check the hour, with so much left to finish before the day ends. I wish the time at the table could be longer. It is an important time. It struck me, at the table in front of the wall, that we could put the ticking on hold, laugh at it, dare it not to press on. I picked up my twenty-three year old clock, bold and shiny, and threaded the nail right back into its hook. Eight-seventeen, the hands read, at two p.m. Audacious, it was. Wild.

With fresh purpose, and a certain spunk, it now protests the minutes that are too quick, the seconds that are too full, stealing for us a wonderful and reliable pause.


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