Pockets of Happiness

Catalina Island 2011

Vacations are sometimes disappointing and tiring. And although things are not all we hoped they would be, there are these flashes of happiness weaving into the long minutes of what can be an otherwise dull existence. I think I travel because of those fleeting moments of sheer unexpected happiness, so incomparable with the small mundane joys of everyday. Yet those moments are all so small: a good coffee, a hug, a conversation, and the sound of the sea — pockets of happiness. And little by little, those small pockets are filled with enough moments to hopefully make enough of a dent in our lives that we can look back and say “ah, yes, I had a good life.”

A few Saturdays ago, I slept on the deck of the Lugano following a race out to Catalina Island. I had a couch with my name below deck but the skipper, who pretty much becomes my dad when we are a certain number of nautical miles out to sea, had brought me a cozy sleeping bag and a pillow. Given the choice between sleeping in a musty below-deck and the open air above deck, I chose the deck. We were anchored in Cat Harbor, and the water lapped gently against the boat. As far as could be made out, there was this inescapable darkness broken only by the dim lights from the boats around us.

It was such a serene evening, and likewise bittersweet in that every other evening cannot match it, and that slow realization is heartbreaking. For years I have carried this curse to turn beautiful moments into deep, cruel existential crises. For every beautiful evening, there is a wicked dawn leading back to an everyday with nary a ripple in its vast ocean. So on deck I eventually fell asleep, subconsciously trying to will myself to stay still or I would end up breaking that peaceful night with my unceremonious splash into the water. Sporadically, I woke up — my tired brain thinking someone was around, walking around on deck, hovering near me. Within seconds though, my head would clear enough to look around, and with an unexplainable twinge, re-live the solitude that seemed as unbreakable as the black night.

I remember a somewhat uncomfortable night, slightly cold, but worthy of a line or two in these notebooks for writing down life, much as Clara did in Isabel Allende’s La Casa de los Espiritus.

I like to document the little things of my trips: the man on the BART reading a Chinese newspaper; the two women sitting across from me holding hands; the two teenage girls sharing headphones, one ear bud each and swaying their heads to the same music; John and his dog, Thelma, zipping us around Cat Harbor in a dinghy, the cab driver who asked me to explain Social Media as I tried to paint my nails in the back. I envision photographs in small moments, like visual souvenirs. And though sometimes they escape me, I hope to carry those visual souvenirs in my subconscious.

Yes, I travel to escape, and live a different life for a while: to find pockets of happiness. I collect them in photographs, in writings and in my heart, so they might lift me up in darker moments and make me smile.

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