we should plague everyone with joy, especially at the post office

We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?
Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras

If you’re trying to avoid tranquility spend some time at the post office around closing time and pray you don’t bump into me.  I found myself zipping around this burb at rush hour yesterday with a pocketful of errands to run, foremost of which was a mad dash for the post office to make the 5 pM pick up time. I glided through the service station car wash and looked down at my phone: 4:53. Could I make it? Oh, why not try? When I pulled into the parking lot and saw several others milling in and out of the open doors and a young clerk with a collection bin making his rounds of the blue mailboxes outside, I was overcome with YAY! Bon Voyage, my beautiful card for my special friends! Your ship is sailing and you’re just in time! YAYYY!

But I still needed to purchase a stamp. I had already quickly judged that young clerk and knew it would only take a smile to get him to take my letter after closing hours, so I just needed to get that stamp. A woman stood fumbling before the meter machine, and I stood back observing her transaction. A few seconds later and her postage fell into the slot below. When she began to sort out her mail and stand there at the machine addressing and posting her items, I kindly and I do mean kindly in the way I was beaming with glee to have made it there kindly and to have that young clerk to take my letter and to know my friends would get this card in time for Easter kindly. Super kindly I asked her, are you all done?


Just let me finish will you? she grumbled, as she stopped addressing her letters and returned to the computer screen to finish her transaction. Thank you, I smiled and stood back a little more. She poked around at the screen and let out another grumble. You don’t have to be so pushy, she said. And here is where I will stop and admit, I was breezing into that Post Office at closing time. I breeze into a lot of things with a joyful casualness that can be off putting. An alacrity that catches you off guard. But she humored me, and I couldn’t help smiling at her as I said, Well, you don’t have to be so grumpy!

Is it wrong to delight in humoring grumpy people? It might border on teasing, but sometimes I can’t help it. Despite what that quote above from Swami says, she was never going to smile back at me no matter what I said. But the man a counter over did, and as he and I shared a chuckle after she left, somehow the joy that passed between us mattered more.

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byron, the original SEXIEST MAN ALIVE

byronMad, bad, and dangerous to know.

That’s how Lady Caroline Lamb described George Gordon, Lord Byron — the English Romantic Poet whose dashing mop of dark hair, devilishly sensual pout and scandalous reputation secured his reign as the 18th century’s Sexiest Man Alive.  Byron was born January 22, 1788 and reached his artistic peak at a time when poets were rock stars.  He went on European tour, trailing an entourage including the young personal physician John Polidori, who was offered 500 pounds by a publisher if he’d keep a diary of his adventures.  As English majors, we watched our professors light up when the syllabus got to Byron.  In my particular seminar the professor had us rapt with attention as he described eager emulators affecting everything from his hairstyle to Byron’s limp in an attempt to be like him.  It’s hard to imagine that happening 250 years ago.  With no Instagram or Twitter?  If you’ve read his poems as I have and struggled to find in them this rakishness he’s so notorious for, here’s a little reminder.  Byron penned this swoon-worthy love letter and then slipped it into a book he had borrowed from the Italian Countess Teresa Guiccioli.  I would have loved to have been a butterfly on the wall of that garden when she discovered it . . . .

My dearest Teresa,
I have read this book in your garden, my love, you were absent, or else I could not have read it.  It is a favorite book of mine.  You will not understand these English words, and others will not understand them, which is the reason I have not scrawled them in Italian.  But you will recognize the handwriting of him who passionately loved you, and you will divine that, over a book that was yours, he could only think of love.
In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in yours – Amor mio – is comprised my existence here and thereafter.
I feel I exist here, and I feel that I shall exist hereafter, to what purpose you will decide; my destiny rests with you,
and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent, I wish you had stayed there, with all my heart,
or at least, that I had never met you in your married state.
But all this is too late.  I love you, and you love me, at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation in all events.  But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you.
Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us, but they never will, unless you wish it.



As our emails, catalogs, and store windows clutter up with love tokens for sale these next few weeks, why not put those aside and read something charming instead?


From a more serious but no less smitten Victor Hugo

My dearest,
When two souls, which have sought each other for,
however long in the throng, have finally found each other
…a union, fiery and pure as they themselves are…
begins on earth and continues forever in heaven.
This union is love, true love,…
a religion, which deifies the loved one,
whose life comes from devotion and passion,
and for which the greatest sacrifices are the sweetest delights.
This is the love which you inspire in me…
Your soul is made to love with the purity and passion of angels;
but perhaps it can only love another angel, in which case I must tremble with apprehension.

Yours forever,
Victor Hugo


And this from a boyish (and besotted) Mark Twain

Livy dear,
I have already mailed to-day`s letter, but I am so proud of my privilege of writing the dearest girl in the world whenever I please, that I must add a few lines if only to say I love you, Livy.  For I do love you, Livy…as the dew loves the flowers; as the birds love the sunshine; as the wavelets love the breeze; as mothers love their first-born; as memory loves old faces; as the yearning tides love the moon; as the angels love the pure in heart…
Take my kiss and my benediction, and try to be reconciled to the fact that I am
Yours forever,
P.S.– I have read this letter over and it is flippant and foolish and puppyish. I wish I had gone to bed when I got back, without writing. You said I must never tear up a letter after writing it to you and so I send it. Burn it, Livy, I did not think I was writing so clownishly and shabbily. I was in much too good a humor for sensible letter writing.


 There are four questions of value in life, Don Octavio.  What is sacred?  Of what is the spirit made?  What is worth living for and what is worth dying for?  The answer to each is the same. Only love.

~ Byron (1788-1824)


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letters on broadway

So much of life, probably most of it, is a solitary journey, a letter we write only to ourselves.

~ Charles Isherwood, The New York Times


Isherwood’s “The Muted Melancholy Between the Lines” is a wonderful review of the epistolary play Love Letters, which recently returned to Broadway.  As a fan of all things epistolary, I WISH I could see it when I travel to New York this week for The New Yorker Festival.  But as it stands, darn, I’ve tickets already for heaps of other things.  The revival of A. R. Gurney’s play stars Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy and will run through the fall with other appearances by Carol Burnett, Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Martin Sheen and Anjelica Huston.  It’s going to nearly kill me.  I may have to skip a bookstore or museum or maybe . . . stay another day . . . .




The New Yorker Festival runs October 10-12, and each year the magazine builds buzz for the event by keeping all featured guests — novelists, artists, musicians, playwrights, poets, social and political icons — a secret until just a month before.  What’s worse than making your travel arrangements and mortgaging your child’s college fund on accommodations while you wait in anxious panic, hoping for GOOD THINGS to appear on that schedule, is that once the events are published you only have a week to review them and make your game plan before the tickets go on sale.  Worse still — they sell out within seconds, even with three people working computers for you!  My head is still spinning and I won’t be exactly sure what all I’ve signed up for until the tickets arrive in the mail, but it is exhilarating, and with everything the festival promises to deliver each year, it makes for the best kind of getaway I could imagine — autumn in New York.  And besides.  I mean, who really cares?  I’ve got a plane ticket, a place to stay.  The rest is just magic.

Zadie Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Bill Hader, Colum McCann, Colm Toibin, Junot Diaz, Lena Dunham, Katherine Boo, Carl Hiassen, Karen Russell, Sting, David O. Russell, Denis Johnson, Edward Snowden via Satellite, Julianna Margulies, Kiefer Sutherland, Malcolm Gladwell, Barry Levinson, Larry David, Gary Steyngart, Neil Young, Poets Jorie Graham, Tracy K. Smith, Philip Levine . . . .


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