I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a better person—less whiny and self-centered, more patient and generous. Happier. I know there are people who sneer at long-term happiness, who question both its possibility and its ethicalness in a world of inevitable suffering and gross inequities.
I have never been a sneerer (a good word, despite what spell check says.) I believe in happiness. I’ve searched for it, very often in the proverbial wrong places—booze, food, sex, online shopping, reality television. I’ve come to the conclusion that surrounding myself with joyous, positive individuals is a good thing. Some of their happiness will rub off, like cat hair on a couch.
One reason I’ve been thinking about happiness is because I called my friend Jeanne Herrick several days ago to wish her a happy 67th birthday.
Jeanne loves books and Northwestern basketball (she teaches at Northwestern) and ice cream and dancing and younger men. She loves her kids and grandkids. She’s not rich, but has enough money to travel and to retire comfortably.
“At sixty-seven I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” she told me.
I met Jeanne in graduate school, a class where we studied the work of the Russian philosopher of language, Mikhail Bakhtin. According to Bakhtin, “Unitary language constitutes the theoretical expression of the historical process of linguistic unification and centralization.” Jeanne and I bonded over a discussion not about dialogism but about whether women could wear makeup and still call themselves feminists. (We came out firmly on the side of YES.) I had just gone through a divorce; I would help see Jeanne through one as well.
Years later, Jeanne was the maid of honor at my wedding to Marty. She was my Best Babe, the Babe of Honor. Ten minutes before the ceremony she locked her keys inside her car while it was still running. We had to call the fire department. There I was, fidgeting with my white satin gloves while Jeanne was flirting with the firemen. I had to laugh. And laughing helped me to relax.
All of this leads me, in a roundabout way, to Frank Lee.
I thought of Frank today because of the “Frank Lee’s birthday is today” reminder on Facebook. Send him movie tickets. Send him a Starbucks gift, FB suggested.
“Frank died five months ago, you stupid fuck,” I said to Facebook.
And then I realized I hadn’t removed Frank’s blog from my blog roll.
Maybe it’s not bad to be reminded on various social media of people who’ve died, especially when they were people who were kind and smart and funny, gracious winners and congenial losers, players who shook your hand after you’ve won or lost (or tied) and said “Thanks for the game.”
I first met Frank at a Scrabble tournament years ago. I don’t remember where or when. Maybe my first Nationals. He was wearing a Cat in the Hat kind of hat or maybe a magician kind of hat but one in bright colors. I’m not a great distinguisher of hats. He had a Santa Claus beard and a Santa Claus belly. He was laughing.
Like my friend Jeanne, Frank had many interests. He knew more about the blues than any person I know. He followed politics. And, of course, he loved Scrabble. I foolishly challenged him once when he hooked an S onto AVO. I was confusing it with AVA, he said, and made a joke about Ava Gardner.
I never ever felt stupid playing Frank.
I don’t know for sure whether Frank was a happy person. I think he was, though. Happy people make life easier for others—an argument in favor of this sometimes-maligned emotion—and Frank always had a joke or a word of reassurance. Thanks for the game.
I propose a yearly Frank Lee Scrabble tournament.
Everyone must behave well.
And wear funny hats.