The idea wasn’t that lame, as far icebreakers go anyway. There were maybe ten of us, and we each had a paper square with an animal on it; I was zebra. Somewhere in the room was another square with that same animal on it. We were to find our match and partner up. I found my Zebra, a dower man named Patrick. Projected onto the screen at the front of the room were four questions, we were supposed to ask each those questions, and then read one of the answers to the room as an introduction. Patrick and I spent the first minute in silence before getting started.
My mind has most of the the questions, but the second one was typical: Name three qualities that you would use to describe yourself. I told Patrick that I was resilient (an answer that is perhaps more hopeful that true), resourceful, and thick headed. My last answer was the truest one. Patrick didn’t miss a beat when I asked his three descriptors: “I’m intelligent, handsome, and broke.” I respected his vulnerability on the third answer. I am too, but I try not to use it to define who I am. I can’t vouch for his intelligence, but I can say that I have seen men who are better looking, but in the end I suppose it’s all in how you carry it. I should also say that I respected his hubris.
There was a question about time travel, but Patrick and I silently decided to skip over that one. The next one was about our goals. I said mine was to be published in the New Yorker. Patrick said his was to wealthy. Now, this is terrible of me, but I’m willing to admit and own it. I felt sad for him. I assume—unless he’s had some hard living—that his years out number mine by a fair number, couple that with the fact we were both attending a thing for those who are recently out of work I can only guess that Patrick’s goal will never come true. Though writing this now I have to say that my chances of being published in the New Yorker are about as slim as Patrick becoming fantastically rich.
When it came time to introduce Patrick I spared him the embarrassment of reading any of his answers having to do with money. I have spent so much time talking about other people’s money in the last three years that I just have no interest in such a gouache subject. Patrick did not do me a similar courtesy and told the room that I self-identified as having a thick head. Still, he gave me something to ponder for the rest of the day.
Recently, I was talking to someone who I have known for most of my time in Seattle who said “For the whole time we’ve known each other you’ve been unhappy with your work situation… I want to know you’re going to be happy if you switch jobs”. I admitted to owning a strong streak of pessimism (maybe I should have listed that as one of my three qualities.), but that I did believe that I would, or could be happy if I was working someplace that wasn’t so emotionally exhausting. A bump in pay would have been nice as well, and it would be absurd to think that more money wouldn’t help the potential of me being happy.
I told my friend, that yes, I could be happy. I knew it was a half-truth, or, again, one of those things I say with the hope that it will\could be true, just like when I told Patrick I was resourceful and resilient.
It took two days, and the start of this piece for me to find some compassion for Patrick. I had to search for the commonality. What I hope to get out of going back to school is the skills to earn a job that pays better than what I could make covering my hands in the dirt off other people’s bikes. Patrick wants to find the thing that—in whatever time he has left—will make him wealthy. Maybe because he thinks being wealthy will make people understand how intelligent and handsome he is. Becoming wealthy would make Patrick happy. It occurred to me that our goals were—in the end—the same, happiness and a little more spending scratch.
Perhaps I am projecting too much. Perhaps Patrick doesn’t want to be fucking happy. Maybe happiness is a silly thing to want. He could, for all I know, want to be healthy and bitter, which would probably make him happy.
Sometime ago I sat with another friend, who knows me better than I probably know myself, being that he has training in those ways of knowing people by what they say and how they say it—how they act in the world vs. how they claim to see and act in the world. He also asked me if I was happy, but before I could respond he said “Well, you’re never going to be happy, you aren’t the type.”
“Yeah, I’m as happy as I can be I guess.” I replied.
Most people—everyone perhaps—would cry “What a dick thing to say!”, and maybe it was, but it was also true. There are moments of happiness. I smile plenty, much more now that I’m surround by two of the most smiling people I know, my wife and my daughter. But happiness, the state of it, is always a flash in the pan. A sate that always fades. I can only hope to find contentment, which seems like a much more attainable goal.