What makes me happy

March 26, 2015 • Posted in memoir writing, travel, Uncategorized by

Last week I asked my downtown Chicago group of memoir-writers to come up with 500-word essays titled What Makes Me Happy. “Don’t come back with lists, or with vague things like ‘family and friends’,” I said. I asked them to write about an event from the past couple weeks that left them feeling fresh, energized, rejuvenated. “What was it about that specific experience that made you so happy?” The writers did not disappoint.

Sandy wrote about the teeny-tiny narrow view she has of Lake Michigan from her 7th floor Chicago apartment. “If I stand in the right hand corner of my living room and look to my left with my forehead resting on the window, I can see my small piece of the sky, sand and water.” The sky was a rosy pink the morning she wrote her piece, and the huge blocks of ice at the edge of the lake were starting to melt. “We can see the sand again,” she wrote. “And, instead of non-moving frozen water on the lake, the small waves are showing their white caps as they roll in at the shoreline.”

Nancy shares lunch and laughter with two longtime friends every Sunday, and her essay described them playing a card game after a recent lunch. “I seem to lose more often than I win, but IF Jo and Elaine were here, they’d tell you I was exaggerating.” She said every week each of them thinks they are the loser. “By the following Sunday, nobody remembers who won the week before anyway.”

Thumbing through a photo album she started in 1960 reminded Sheila that the photography hobby she enjoys to this day started with a memorable gift. “Aunt Anona gave me my best 8th grade graduation present,” she wrote. “It was a Kodak Hawkeye camera.”

Tycelia had just returned from a trip to Mexico City where she visited the Temple of the Moon at Teotihuacan. “When my husband passed this summer, I felt that all of my happiness had died with him,” she wrote. “But I felt happy to have succeeded in my attempt to climb that magnificent temple — for the first time in months, my heart had a break from sorrow.”

Yesterday was the last meeting for this eight-week session with that group of memoir-writers, and it was energizing to end on such a happy note. The seniors in all four memoir-writing classes I lead here in Chicago are all on spring break now, and so am I.

On the left that’s Pick (a.k.a. Keith Pickerel) and on the right Hank (a.k.a. Henry Londner). We’re lucky to count them as friends.

No doubt I’ll be publishing a post soon on a happy event: Whitney, Mike and I are taking off tonight for a four-day visit in Washington, D.C. We’ll be staying with our dear friends Pick and Hank, and being with those two, enjoying Hank’s fine cooking, singing along to Pick’s sensational piano playing, sharing stories and jokes and laughs, well, that always makes us happy.

Anne Hunt On March 26, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Reading your blog made me happy! Have a great week.

bethfinke On March 27, 2015 at 1:20 pm

What a coincidence: reading your kind comment to my blog post makes *me* happy, too!


Monna Ray On March 26, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Dear Beth,

I can see what makes you happy! Today in the New York Times there’s a section on Money. There are many individuals telling their stories and it led me to think how being a child of the Great Depression shaped my idea of money. My father was a school teacher, we had a dependable income, but none the less I never have dinner at a restaurant without considering the cost of what I’m ordering–even when someone else is paying for it, nor have i ever considered not saving for for my old age or whatever unexpected things life throws at us. It might make a good memoir topic.

Today I read a small novella recommended by my sister-in-law, “The Pearl”, by John Steinbeck. Its all about wealth and where it can lead you. of course he won a Nobel so I shouldn’t be surprised at the exquisite way he writes. When you can read a good book the day is well spent. Right?

You, Whitney, and Mike have a wonderful time.


bethfinke On March 27, 2015 at 1:22 pm

I always love your reading recommendations, Monna. Keep them coming. Also appreciate your recommendation for Whitney, Mike and me to enjoy this trip. Will do!


Maureen Lugg On March 26, 2015 at 7:25 pm

Your classes always have great essays. Thanks for sharing them from time to time. Enjoy the warmth of D.C. weather & the warmth of your friends.

bethfinke On March 27, 2015 at 1:24 pm

So far the weather isn’t that warm — raining, and in the 40s — but the warmth of our friends outshines all that. Writing this during a quick stop at a coffee shop with wi-fi and enjoying the cappuccino –yum.


Diana On March 26, 2015 at 7:58 pm

I have missed your class this past quarter but will be there next one. I love the challenge of writing and hearing what others share. This post made me smile. You bring out the best in us.

Enjoy your short vacation.


Sheila A. Donovan On March 26, 2015 at 8:15 pm

Enjoy your trip! Hope I don’t have trouble getting into the next set of sessions. I’ll get there bright and early on sign-up day. Hope to see you soon!

bethfinke On March 27, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Diana and Sheila, I always love hearing from you memoir writers on my blog posts, and Sheila, thank you for giving me permission to share an excerpt from your essay here. Diana, registration for the next “Me, Myself and I” class starts on April 9 at 9 a.m., and the first class of that eight-week session starts Wednesday, April 15. Hope you can make it –we miss hearing your stories.


amanda On March 26, 2015 at 9:33 pm

Beth I teach in Los Angeles and am often telling my newly blind students about you and your career as an example of how their dreams do not end but just begin to be a little differently executed. However recently I have worked with several students who really want to learn to write their stories but would like an online course or group to join. Have you ever thought about doing an online class that could meet through one of the conference programs that are accessible? I know I would sign up for it and I am sure I know a few more people as well who would be interested.

bethfinke On March 28, 2015 at 11:56 am

Wow! What a flattering comment! I’ve been asked before if I’d consider doing an online course, not sure I’d like that -== I just get so, so much simply by being in the same room with the other writers. Your situation is unique, though — I’ll email you separately and see what we can come up with. Whatever happens, thanks for the high compliment –the fact you’d even *consider* an on line course with me makes me feel good.


Karen Giammarese On March 26, 2015 at 11:16 pm

Thank you for this. Have a great get-away!

bethfinke On March 28, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Oh, fun to hear you are reading, Karen. Go Sox!


Judy Spock On March 27, 2015 at 9:42 am

Finally! A new computer in our new digs at the Admiral! I’ve missed our Memoir group a lot…and hope to see everyone again soon…Judy Spock (This is my new e-address.)

bethfinke On March 28, 2015 at 12:10 pm

CONGRATULATIONS on making the big move, Judy. Not an easy decision, and I’m proud of you for persevering through it all. Thanks, too, for letting me know that this huge move comes along with a new email address as well. Now I know where to find you — I plan on visiting you & Mike soon with Whitney. Consider yourself warned.


Deborah Darsie On March 29, 2015 at 12:15 am

Wow, I nearly started crying when I tried, and failed, to come up with a recent event leaving me “feeling fresh, energized, rejuvenated”. I sat here at the keyboard with my eyes welling.

Then I heard my cat meowing. He is a rescue from a friend’s mobile home park with an unknown history. Kai (like the first syllable of Kayak) and I have been a pair since New Year’s Eve and have yet to make physical contact, but we have had some incredible steps including him coming inside an invisible barrier about 4 feet from me.

It has been so hard not to let my craving for another wonderful lap snuggle interrupt this long road, but seeing his struggle to trust me…and succeed has been special.

I am glad I sat here an extra few minutes and read the comments, so I could remember I have had reason to smile.

He just started singing the song of his people again…which also makes me smile…

bethfinke On March 29, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Leave it to a cat to remind you what makes you happy !!!


bethfinke On March 29, 2015 at 4:35 pm

PS: Your extremely thoughtful — and honest — comment confirms that I was right in encouraging the writers in my class to work hard to resist doing a 500-word essay about vague things that make them happy (animals, children, vacations, flowers, that sort of thing). Focusing on a recent event makes us think, and that encourages us to put more thought into a piece, and the result is thoughtful writing — like what you wrote here in this comment. Thanks so much, Deborah. PS: And leave it to a cat to remind you what makes you happy !!! !


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