Interviewer’s note: The below interview was conducted on Sunday morning, January 10, 2010.
The long-distance writer had just finished reading the many and various and often wondrous contributions to the Facebook group Ah, Look at All the Lonely People.
Q. So, let’s begin with happiness. Have you, to the best of your knowledge, ever been happy?
A. Certainly. Often, in fact. Sometimes a wild sweep of happiness comes rushing through me and I’m helpless and thrilled by its presence.
And now I’m thinking of Oklahoma, the musical I first saw in the Holland Patent High School auditorium when I was a little girl, sitting with my sisters and my mother.
Q. Please stay on task. At what times are you happiest?
A. When am I happiest?
Q. That’s the question, and I am the interviewer here, not you, so do not try to wrest control of either the questions or the order in which they are asked.
A. Would you consider yourself a tough interviewer? Someone determined to get to the heart of the matter? Not willing to let her subject avoid, deny or contradict?
Sorry. But not really. One trait of a skilled interviewer is knowing when to follow the breadcrumbs, a trait you might do well to acquire.
To answer your question: I’m happiest when I’m happiest, and that’s not predictable. At times in my life when the mythological-industrial complex would have you the happiest, I have been walled off inside my own body, my own body which is going through the motions, this face that is smiling, these eyes that are fixed on yours, this head which is tilted in a friendly manner, this voice which is conversing with you readily and amiably.
And the walled-off part of me? Observing. Unsmiling. Untalking. Lonely beyond measure.
Q. We’re talking about happiness here, not loneliness.
A. They’re the same thing, aren’t they? Turn that quarter over and the picture’s different but it’s still a quarter. My second-favorite coin, by the way, next to the dime, which doesn’t buy nearly as much and which can be used in almost no parking meter outside small town meters, but which is so lovely and shiny and heartbreakingly slender.
Q. Did you just turn a question about happiness into a brief discourse on the qualities of the dime as you see it?
A. Indeed I did. Do you have a problem with that?
Q. Give me one moment in your life when you were purely happy.
A. I’ll give you several, right off the top of my head, and then perhaps you’ll shut up and let me talk about anything I want.
1) Riding my bike down Ankens’ hill when I was nine years old, with the new speedometer attached, and I got it up to 35 mph and then lifted my hands off the handlebars.
2) That night at the Alibi when El wore her lavender shirt and the DJ played that Police song.
3) That night when I was lying in the porch swing reading the Sun and the white lights strung overhead blinked on, and a car door shut softly, and footsteps came up the steps.
Q. What would you like to talk about?
A. How things come and go. How they come and go without you – you meaning me – willing them to or wanting them to.
How in a life that by all possible standards is blessed beyond measure, filled with friends and family and work and animals and places, all of which are beautiful and beloved, there are still those moments when the black hole opens up. And everything, all of it, is in question, and nothing, none of it, is of help.
Q. Would you say that that particular kind of loneliness, if you can call it that, is specific to you?
A. No. Surely not. I would say that it belongs to all of us.
Q. What is your promise to us, then?
A. My promise to you is this: That when I am looking at you smile at me, talk with me, hold out your hand to me, and when I smile back, and talk with you, and hold your hand, squeeze it even, I know.
I know that even at this very moment, you might be hiding in there, behind the wall, black abyss behind you, barely able to function. At these times – which are all times – know that no matter what I am saying or how I am looking at you, I am sending you this message: You are not alone.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”