University of Sussex Special Collections and Mass Observation Archive Blog

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Happiness is a creative writing session….



Following an excellent blog post by Donna, I thought I’d post some extracts from our creative writing efforts.

Extract one:

I’m writing to you to record moments in your life that have made you happy. It is difficult to decide which moment to write about. What is happiness? What does it mean? What is it? The Beatles sang “Happiness is a warm gun”… What does that even mean? Which Beatle wrote that song? Possibly John. He was the weird one.

I don’t think happiness can possibly be a warm gun, it’s got to be something else. It can’t be boiled down into a simple line that starts Happiness is… It’s more complex than that. Instead, it’s a feeling that spreads across your mind, body and imprints itself on your memory, soul and history.

Extract two:

I find it difficult to decide which time to tell you about, most of them have been and gone, past things of no matter anymore, or maybe things learnt, lessons, hard lessons in resilience and holding on, holding the happiness, the germ of an idea, the where to, and how, maybe.

“Maybe baby,” you said to me, over tea (and fags), yuck. A phrase in English learnt and repeated, like ice scream, you scream, and it is a pity that I have to go and go I had to, in the end leaving you with that blank picture of us from the broken photo machine. Cold snow. Where did the love go. Another time, another maybe homecoming. Not welcome here anymore, incarceration…rain, broken sandals flapping dangerously on the escalator, which only goes up, or down. Back, looking, always looking. Jobs I have done. A CV of onwards, sideways, but not ever up. Tunes that have been played, gigs which were done.

Extract three:

If I were looking for happiness I would be warm with the sun shining and the sky blue  and the birds singing – or by the fire, warm in pyjamas and slippers while the cold wind howled outside. I would be looking to see smiles and hear gentle words spoken; people having an appreciation and respect for one another –  tolerance and kindness. I would smell fresh air or lilacs or the scent of sweet peas. I would taste buttered crumpets or toast and jam or strawberries and cream with a sprinkling of sugar. I would see beauty all around, orderliness and comfortable chairs and beds and a great waterfall. I would touch softness and smooth velvet, fur and merino wool, silk and cotton, warm flesh, smooth flesh, youthful faces; the memories I would have are of being read to cuddled up in bed with my Grandma and travelling on a bus with my Auntie on the Calder & Hebble buses. Reading in the big armchair of the world. Walking in the morning to a wood and sketching. Sitting on a wall waiting for a bus singing, ‘We are poor little lambs that have lost our way.’ Roller skating with Ginny my best friend and dreaming of being World Famous. Planning our futures to Bob Dylan’s ‘Tambourine Man’ and me sat in the tiny drawing room on Edward’s Road at Auntie’s.

Extract four:

Do you remember your seventh birthday party? Your pirate party? You must, it’s difficult to forget. You invited your whole class to a party on a pirate ship where there would be music, cake and activities related to historical events. Do you remember what you learnt, because I don’t?

About a week before the party, you were talking to your friends and the excitement was building. They said they were going to dress up as pirates, and you told them you weren’t. You were worried you would be the only one at your own party in normal clothes.

Then came the day of the big event. You turned up wearing an eye-patch and a hook on your hand. A convincing pirate. When you started greeting your guests, you began to realise that no one had dressed up.

Extract five:

I remember being in my garden in my swimming trunks, red and black striped. It was hot, and I would spray myself and my friend Edward with the hosepipe. I must have been about 4 years old and I liked wearing those trunks because they made me feel like a boy. I always wanted to be a man and wear a suit just like my Dad. I didn’t have a suit, but my pyjamas were quite a good substitute, and for hot sunny days like this one I’m remembering the trunks were perfect for making me feel good and blokey. I loved Edward, – we spent all our time together. He was slightly younger so I could bully him and boss him around. He loved it. I had a dog called Flora who we would dress up in my mother’s sunglasses and headscarves and take photos. Actually, Olivia, on second thoughts I may not send you this letter because I’m making myself sound like a cross-dressing weirdo. But still that’s what made me happy when I was 4 and, I suppose, you did ask. Edward and I would take my dog, Flora, hunting for rabbits. She was a Jack Russell. She would make the rabbit holes bigger by digging, then Rosie the dachshund would go in the hole and break the rabbit’s neck. We loved it. Edward would then skin the rabbit and my Mother made rabbit pie – a real achievement for a couple of 4-year-old hunters. The garden was large and green. There is something about vast swathes of green which lift the heart – I don’t know why but I’m sure it’s a fact. I think I’ve heard Paul McKenna mention it. One day, me and Edward were pretending to swim on the grass, me in my trunks, and I slid on my stomach over one of Flora’s carefully-placed turds – that wasn’t so good – I didn’t love that. When I think back to those times of me and Edward in the garden – I don’t see that world through my 4-year-old eyes – I see it more as if I have gone back and visited that world as me now, and I am looking objectively at those two young children playing around in the garden, in the sun. That makes me wonder if what I am saying is accurate or if I have made it all up. I know all those things happened. But did I really want to be a man? And was I really happy? I like to think so.

Extract six:

I remember…

The sand beneath my feet, the grains between my toes,

Running around, the heat on my skin and the smell of holidays.

As the waves crash in and the windbreaker is constructed,

The bat and ball come out and the castles start to appear.

The taste of mum’s packed lunch, so welcome in the sun,

The smell of dad’s pipe a constant in my life.

A backdrop of sand dunes and the pine forest beyond,

Play and laughter as memories are born,

The polystyrene surf boards and salt-water mouth.

The stripes of the windbreaker appeared again this year,

As the childhood holiday was revisited with my boy in tow.

The swimming, the games, the BBQ and the cards. Happiness

With my family, with more memories born. Watching kites

And butterflies and the boats at sea, enjoying

Those small moments – time by the sea.

The Creative Writing Workshops were organised as part of the Mass Observation Archive’s Happiness events. These events are part of, and funded by,  the ESRC’s festival of Social Science.

What makes you happy? Let us know on Twitter #HappyMOA

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