I am chewing on a piece of ginger candy and drawing a daisy – poorly – on a square of yellow paper, giggling to myself. The enormous blow-up animal in the other room, the one with its ass cocked north, is dancing around in my head. I am happy. Not just in a general way. But in this very-present, animal-ass-in-the-air, right-now moment.
I give it an 8.
I’m on the fourth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, at The Happy Show – Artist Date 36. Two people mentioned it to me within two days of one another. I take it as a sign.
Walking in, I am asked to rate my happiness and to take a gumball from the large, plastic tube with its corresponding number. I say 7. Popular number. This is the least filled cylinder, followed by 10.
Ten. No greater happiness. Unless it goes up to 11 in a This Is Spinal Tap sort of logic. I have been at 10…in moments. And I think that’s sort of the point – recognizing pure-bliss, happy, 10 moments when they happen. And thanking your lucky stars.
Noticing the runny yellow and crisp white of a fried egg. The chills up your spine every time you ride a scooter on a beautiful, windy road. No helmet. Listening to music you love, but don’t know well enough to have stories associated with it. These are Stefan Sagmeister’s – the show’s creator – happy moments.
Mine is on my bike. A vintage, Raleigh three-speed with a basket and a bell. Except I wear a helmet. And I don’t listen to music. I sing. Usually Rosemary Clooney’s “Do You Miss New York,” or Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.”
“There’s a city in my mind, come along and take that ride and it’s all right. Baby, it’s all right.”
Sagmeister designed album covers for Talking Heads, as well as my hero, Lou Reed. I wonder if he designed Little Creatures, the album this song is from.
I am photographing every inch of the exhibit – Sagmeister’s 10-year exploration of happiness – literally. The language is so spot-on. I don’t want to forget a single word – all of it printed on yellow walls, in fonts that look like handwriting. Some words are cleverly crossed out. Perfectly imperfect.
Rules to live by, culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in print, sculpture, video, and dance.
“Uselessness is gorgeous.”
Thousands of cigarette papers are taped to the wall with fans blowing on them. I step away from them to see the words embedded in the paper. It is gorgeous. I think about my friend Pam noting that I wear a $2 shirt from the Salvation Army with $85 underwear.
Not quite –$35 is my max.
I watch a video of a group of Balinese girls performing a dance, unrolling strips of yellow fabric, displaying these words. Sagmeister recalls his mother approaching people, rather than waiting to be approached.
“I do this,” I think. Almost always.
“Over time I get used to everything and start taking it for granted.” Sagmeister writes the words with his finger – in the dirt on a car, in soapy suds on a man’s hairy chest. With playing cards and with hotdogs.
Yep. It’s true. And, Sagmeister explains, even the words “I love you,” said by the same person, become boring. I think about my ex-husband. In the year since our divorce, he has often told me that he misses our life together. And that I look really good.
I want to tell him he should have thought about that before he opted out, but I don’t. I know there are reasons our marriage stopped working. Among them, I am certain, that somewhere along the line we took one another, and our life together, for granted.
“Actually Doing the Things I Set Out to Do Increases My Overall Level of Satisfaction.” Agreed.
“Everybody Always Thinks They Are Right.” ‘Nuff said.
“Drugs Are Fun in the Beginning But Become a Drag Later On.” Ditto.
On my way out, I am asked to draw my symbol of happiness on a square of yellow paper. No smiley faces allowed. It is the second time I am asked to do this – the first time, on the way in, I draw a heart on one side, two stick figures holding hands on the other. This time I draw a daisy. I don’t know why. It just makes me smile. Like the flowers I buy for myself most every week at Trader Joes.
Hans – my favorite, morning check-out guy – once gave me sunflowers. Pulling them from my basket, he asked if the blooms were for me. When I told him that they were, he responded, “They are on me. And pick up a second bunch on the way out.” I think it made us both happy.
I walk through the exit, which has been made into art. The words, “every” precede “exit,” and “is also an entrance” follow it. As instructed, I push a button and take the card which shoots out. It reads, “Find a reflection of yourself and tell it what you really think.”
On the way out, I stop in the bathroom. I look in the mirror and whisper to myself, “You are lovely.” My lips curl into a big smile. And I am.
And you? What do you say to your own reflection?