Budding Writer, 1979: I am happy

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The sun breaks through after a “wintry mix” afternoon in North Hero, Vermont, February 17, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

My journey through my journals of my first year as a freelance writer brings me to a long entry that includes a great deal of soul-searching and three little words that stand out:

Well, well, well! Quite a day, indeed!

I began (after breakfast) with prayer and Bible study of Luke; the Word is coming alive and becoming familiar in ways it never has before, and this meditation and study is bringing out a wonderful strength in my mind and soul. I am happy.

Howard W. Fielding
Journal, Volume II
25 February 1979

At the time, I wasn’t attending church or worship regularly. I had moved far from my home church and had not found another (and wouldn’t, until after we were married in 1982). I don’t recall these Sunday morning devotions, but apparently they had meaning in my life that I’ve rarely seen since.

(On the other hand, the happiness may have come from my reading Doonesbury’s Greatest Hits, which was also on the list that morning. I was trying to avoid working on Sundays, and that kind of break seems to have been part of the successful equation.)

Interestingly, almost a half-century later, I would come upon those three words again in Gregory Berns’ The Self Delusion. Berns illustrates the way we tell our own narratives by asking the reader to participate in a thought experiment. You can try it, too.

First, say to yourself “I feel happy.” Is it convincing? Does it feel temporary?

Now, try “I am happy.” Can you feel the difference? The latter is more persuasive and a step toward changing our own life stories. Unconsciously, I was doing exactly that after all the angst of my earlier journal entries.

But I also had a phone call from my mother with some happy news: My younger cousin, Tom, had landed a public relations job in the Midwest and announced his engagement to his high school sweetheart, Ginny. They set a date of June 24 in their hometown in New Jersey.

I jotted some notes for a manuscript volume I’d like to give them as a wedding present (in addition to something traditional). I would include the advice Tom gave me on graduation from high school — some beautiful but extemporaneous words he has probably forgotten — and a story he has inspired called “City Mouse, Country Mouse.” Now I’ll have a reason to finish it. Of course, it’s vain to consider this kind of gift. But then, it is something unique, appropos, and from the heart. And should I ever make it as a writer, it could become valuable.


Editor alert! The correct spelling is apropos.

The manuscript never did get beyond a first draft. I still have it in a blank book with a white cover that I intended to give them as a wedding present. I started “City Mouse, Country Mouse” but never finished it. Another story, “The Wedding Presence,” was part of that book or another blank book of fraternity stories. I did finish that story but none others in that collection. It will never see the light of day because it was a little too close to real life.

Tom and Ginny have been far more successful than my aborted manuscript was. They’re still together and living in the same town with most of their children and grandchildren.

They, too, are happy.