Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Book of Good Things

Before she graduated from the university we were both attending in December of 1998, my friend Marylou gifted me with a personalized blank book. It stayed in its place on one of my apartment’s bookshelves for a few months before I decided on its purpose: The fabric-covered book would be my Book of Good Things. I would record in it every night those things that made me laugh, that made me feel comforted, that brought me joy, that showed me I was loved, and that renewed my faith in the world for another day. From the moment I decided to start the book, I found myself approaching my life—and the people and events in it—more optimistically: Of course today will be filled with goodness--because I have to come up with The List tonight!  Determination to look for the good made finding it much easier. 
I quickly learned that a great day was made great by “little” things, those moments that before would have been forgotten or that would have become vague memory blobs along the lines of “I enjoyed college” or “I love my family and friends.” As every student of creative writings knows, “Show, don’t tell.” So I soon saw the significance of documenting details: Funny lines from phone conversations, scenes from movies I wanted to remember, the look on someone’s face during a conversation or a moment of shared silence, the way a certain hug felt, songs and scents that would forever remind me of that day, what came in the mail, what a friend said when we ran into each other between classes. . . . Such small things, but by nightfall they became big enough to make me see that it had been a pretty good day.  On some level, I knew all these things before I started the Book of Good Things, but of course, you don’t really learn something until it’s changed you in some way. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from the wise and wonderful film critic Roger Ebert: “They used to tell us in writing class that if we wanted to know what a story was really about, we should look for what changed between the beginning and the end.” In that regard, my college-era Book of Good Things is the story of how I learned to see. Writing it helped me figure out what mattered.
And the things that make for good days haven’t really changed much for me since childhood, I know now. Give me someone to love and someone who loves me, a comfy corner to sit in, fresh air, good music and good books, pen and paper to write with, something to think about, something to laugh over, and something good to eat. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. The trick is seeing it. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Val - you have me hooked on looking for the little things in life that might make me happy!!! Where did you ever find that Laura Ingalls Wilder quote? She knew what life was all about!!!