Camus said that ‘one must imagine Sisyphus happy.’
Okay, wait. Before I continue here I have to tell you that when I mentioned to my friend that I was thinking of making my first post here about Camus and happiness her response was: “well, that will set the tone of the thing.” I’m inclined to agree with her statement, which is why I’m going to go ahead and do it. So now you know this is the blog of a person who has lots of feelings about French speaking (Camus himself was French Algerian) philosophers and who lacks the common sense to avoid sounding pretentious by not talking about them. Please feel free to back away slowly with your hands up if you’re compelled to. I won’t mind. I’ve actually become curiously used to that reaction to my general state of being. Anyway.
Bernard Picart’s depiction of Sisyphus 1731
Camus said that ‘one must imagine Sisyphus happy.’ It’s a phrase I utter to myself when life gets particularly tedious or absurd. If there are files on my desk at work that have been there for upwards of two years, then one must imagine Sisyphus happy. If I spin out my car on a highway exit and damage two tires, one must imagine Sisyphus happy. If I can’t quite get the glitter out of the living room carpet when I try for the hundredth time, then one must imagine Sisyphus happy and also fabulously prepared for a night on the town. (Sparkle, baby.)
Last week The Boyfriend and I were discussing my old job and how I just couldn’t manage to get away from it, since I’ve been answering emails related to it for a month now. I was frustrated and entirely ignoring the fact that I have a shiny new job that doesn’t make me want to pull all of my hair out and he said to me, “I thought we had to imagine Sisyphus happy.”
“Yes,” I replied, casting myself as Mary Wickes in White Christmas. “We must imagine Sisyphus happy, but I’m free to imagine myself as miserable as I like.” Sometimes I miss the point.
Happiness is a funny thing. It’s hard to recognize sometimes and even harder to quantify. Happiness doesn’t always smile or laugh. It might feel differently to me than it does to you. Maybe your happiness smells of oranges. Maybe my happiness burns and cracks like dry kindling. Sometimes it’s merely satisfied with simply being.
If there’s one thing that tethers all of those separate and unequal results together, it’s that they are all born of the same sense of rising above. You are not your boulder. You are your boulder’s driving passion. You put your cheek to the stone again and again because you know that, even as it rolls back down to the bottom, you were responsible for its momentum.
Which brings me to writing. Writing is also tedious and ridiculous in turns. Most of the time I don’t even know why I do it, I just do. I shout into the void because I know, I just know, that one day the void is going to shout back. It’s the anticipation of that moment that’s going to make me happy.
I have a big scary year of writing lined up before me. I have made impossible goals for myself because I want this year to be the year. I want it to be the year that I’m finally published in something other than the poetry section of my high school’s newspaper. (March 2001 issue. No, you can’t see it.) It’s going to be tiring. It’s going to be trying. Sometimes I’m going to want to give up. I need you to make me a promise. You have to promise not to let me do that, okay? You have to promise that even if I don’t get published this year you’ll hold my hand for a short while and then give me a swift kick in the breeches to get me started on making next year the year.
But one year at a time. The most important promise you can make me is that, in spite of all of that, you’ll imagine me happy. I’ll try and do the same.