Is happiness an island or a continent? Somewhere there must be sunlight that opens up the horizon and lays bare its expanse. But there must also be night, too, to give a crown and a throne to all the smiles and toasts you never want to let go of.
In the past there is something akin to happiness. It must have existed. In the fields of Tuscany before they were laid bare. Up in the Andes before the gods of steel arrived on their steeds. In the desert where the hermits sought refuge from the malady of corruption. But the past is the suicide of the future. Not to be toyed with. Close off the tomb.
Upon the haunted castle in the Moors, where Heathcliff and Catherine still live out their lifeless dreams of childhood, there must be a happiness tinged in the thrill of tragedy. A fundamental truth, Shakespearean and innate, that happiness is light and dark, the shadow of the sun, the peak of the drowning iceberg. But ghosts are ghosts, what part of the secret could they be keeping from the living? Bah, humbug!
The world exposed, a magic carpet roving around its naked borders, happiness is fragmented, discarded to the seven winds; in Scandinavia, New Zealand, the Americas and the Camargue: travel and collect, piece the thing together, and when you do, what do you find:
It assembles into a picture depicting everything you already had. Your own hermit’s cave, the hearth thine womb, the empty glasses on the figureless table, spirit of Christmas’ yet-to-come, noses curved like grandfather’s portrait. All of that travelling, wandering, craving; all to draw a full-circle back to what you thought you never wanted.
“When the gods seek to punish us they answer our prayers.” What did Oscar Wilde ever ask of the gods? To keep him young like Dorian Gray, or to give him the freedom to live and love Bosie? Whatever he wished for, the gods never granted, and yet they punished him still. We all remember The Importance of Being Ernest, but who can claim to recall the melancholy of the wallpaper that wouldn’t die?
Perhaps happiness is a continent, the continent conquered by Genghis Khan in the 13th century; from His Hsia in China to Samarkand in Persia. Nation by nation, tribe by tribe, all their women forced into being the progenitors of all the morrow’s humanity, evenings of wine and saddle, not the mouse-feasts of the past, and maybe there, as women screamed and men’s throat were slashed, he knew the happiness we all decry? All the horsemen that buried him died with him to keep the secret burial, just so they could protect, the bludgeoning secret of felicity.
All the rovers of history, those that travelled with Hermann Melville, Joseph Conrad, traversed the Silk Road and lived the lives of wandering hermits, keeping company with cougars and thylacines; did they leave behind them any traces of their contentment? Or had they precious little to leave behind… and if contentment could be left behind, for us who pick it up, won’t it be like poison for our unaccustomed veins?
So many names, so many stories, all to prove not a damn thing. Fleeting is our birth, fleeting our death, inescapable is our life. We sleep before the great sleep. We rot before the long rot. Inch by inch we move closer to the unfamiliar. Never sure where is backwards and forwards. Sometimes, we stop to look back. We write down, like agnostic gods, the fates of those who have already lived. History is gossip through the looking-glass. Everything is preordained when it is already written down. Those who are dead have no choice but to follow their Fate. Prophecies in reverse.
But no one, not God, not an angel, not a seer, can sell me any prophecies of a Fate yet to come. For we who are alive, we are sailing, sailing upon oceans vaster than all the universe, we could find ourselves at the other end of time and space if we wanted to, but we don’t. That’s the point. We don’t. Anything is possible yet nothing ever happens. We could be kings, we could be tigers, we could be the gods we ourselves invented: but we’re not. We’re just us. We are the history of our own making. To look at ourselves is to see the narratives we have crafted.
Don’t expect to see any fantasy, any myths, any stardust: see yourself, and you see what you are. But in crafting yourself you forgot something. You forgot to even ask, let alone answer, the question: Is happiness and island or a continent?