How do you write happy?

Tourists look up!

How Do You Write Happy?

Lately I’ve been acknowledging how good my life is. Maybe some of you out there do this all the time, count your blessings, write down all the positives about your life: I love my children, I’m grateful for my house, I adore my car, I am blessed. That sort of thing. I wouldn’t know since I don’t hang out with folks like you. Happy people tend to scare the crap out of me. Acknowledging happiness is like jumping out of a plane and believing the parachute will open. People like me don’t count on parachutes. We count on hitting the ground, hard. But, you know, honestly, right now, in this nanosecond, things are good and I feel happy.

I present to you the cliché litany of things to be grateful for: I’m healthy, I’m in a good place professionally, I have wonderful friends, I’m pursuing my passions, I’m pursuing my women (well, maybe that one is less typical) and I’m continuing to overcome my lifelong issues with panic disorder and agoraphobia. As my forties move out of focus and I peer down the periscope of fifty, I wonder: Is it possible that the best is yet to come? (Writers, please stop counting the cliché’s in this piece. Writing “happy” is hard.)

One reason I’m happy is because I spent a wonderful weekend with a beautiful woman. Her name is Laura Ross, and I met her briefly at a writing conference a few years back. We’ve kept in touch via email. She lives in New York, somewhere in Manhattan. Don’t ask me where in Manhattan because I’d never been to New York, and I wouldn’t know midtown from downtown from uptown from across town. She kept me so busy seeing parts of the city and helping me to see new ways of viewing myself that I found no time to visit some of my other NY acquaintances. So, Michelle Hampton, Natasia Langfelder, Rik Fairlie, and others, you will be on the list for visits to come, I promise.

Laura is a dream I dreamed in my younger days. Laura lives and breathes in New York City, but my dream of passion had died long ago. Or so I thought. Ironically (because life is full of irony and writers love irony) the dream could only be fulfilled at this middle stage in my life – after I’d gotten older and learned to control my anxieties and phobias. But also after my body and soul had forgotten the feeling of passion and sex, after I’d said a hundred times to friends and to my therapists (yes, plural): I’m not interested passion anymore; I’ve experienced all I can experience; and it’s gone, like my sex drive and my youth and my menstrual cycle.

Man, is this Central Park?

But the dream came to life once again with Laura: We stood on a subway platform and held hands, stared into one another’s eyes. Her eyes are deep and addictive. I breathed deep. I said to myself: What’s this feeling, Cindy? What does this remind you of? XXXXX, perhaps? No, this is better and why? Because Laura is kinder (i.e., not psycho like that chick I was so in love with in the 90s) and because I am healthy now, no more emotional baggage that I carry around like a stack of business cards: Cindy Zelman, first class neurotic specializing in panic disorder and agoraphobia, office hours only. My business now is living. I’m almost fifty and my soul moved on a subway platform in Manhattan, standing there with Laura. If I could freeze time, I would freeze that moment. Okay, a few others, but I won’t write about them here on this so far PG-rated blog. Read my memoir for the sex.

Throughout the train ride home from New York to Boston, I continued to reacquaint myself with this feeling of passion. I must have smiled to myself like an idiot. No wonder no one sat next to me.

Cindy Zelman is happy. Write down the date and time and where the axis of the earth is in relation to the sun or the moon or Jupiter, or whatever. And look up to the sky to see if there’s a full moon to explain this fucked up state of mind in a woman for whom humor is a substitute for happiness, usually.

Reviving passion was not my only accomplishment this year; my accomplishments 2011 have been more than I expected, and these, too, contribute to my nauseating state of happiness, in case anyone is still reading.

In June, I traveled to Seattle where my good friend and fellow writer, Erika Sanders, picked me up and whisked me off to Whidbey Island. Surrounded by Puget Sound, all the way across the country, stood this girl (me) who at one time in her life could not walk out the front door. See October 2011 blog entry, “David, pray.” Also see, July 2011 entry, “Luggage and Baggage.” Yet there I was on the Pacific coastline, as if this was no big deal at all. It’s not that I didn’t feel moments of anxiety on the trip, but they revolved around the logistics of airports, which I hate, and the idea that “home,” really was not someplace I could return to very easily. Agoraphobics think about such things, even those who are well under control like me.

Perhaps the most challenging trip for me was the one I took in August to Westcliffe, Colorado to participate in the Wet Mountain Writers’ Workshop, organized by Bar Scott and Brent Bruser and featuring the amazing Abigail Thomas and inimitable Dorothy Allison. There were no beautiful women waiting for me there. Well, actually, as it turns out there were quite a few! But I didn’t know this as I boarded my plane. For months, I’d let the idea of high elevation and elevation sickness mess with my psyche and worm its way into my brain until I was convinced that once I walked into the Colorado air, I would lie down and die. This is what neurotics do, even those of us who have it well under control. So, this was not an easy trip. If you read my entry “Once An Agoraphobic” (Aug. 2011), you may relive with me the panic attack in the ladies room at the Colorado Springs Airport after one whiff of air that wafted in between the small jet plane and the tunnel leading to the gate. But I did take the trip, I’m still alive, and thank you to my friends, old and new, who were so supportive of me.

And still there is more to come. In March 2012, I travel to Chicago to the AWP conference and read (at an off venue event) with the fabulous Meg Tuite, Anna March, and Robert Vaughn, and others I’ve yet to meet in person. Holy shit, how did I get so lucky to be able to read with such accomplished writers? Chicago will be yet another new city for me to see, yet another reason to feel travel anxiety – and yet, the girl who spent much of her 17th year watching Laverne and Shirley reruns imprisoned in an apartment by her panic and phobias – will go to Chicago AND READ. This sad young girl, who is now a happy grown woman, will not only get to read with these gods and goddesses of the written word, but she will see many writing friends and colleagues, including Meg Kearney, Tanya Whiton, Faye Rapoport Despres, and Faye Snider. These are friends from The Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College. I will also see my new friend, Dr. Amy Wright, whom I met at the Wet Mountain Valley Writers’ Conference in Colorado. I’m so excited that she and I can meet up at such an event. And perhaps others from that conference will be in Chicago.

I could not have traveled to any of these places twenty years ago. I could not have met any of these people ten years ago. Today I can panic in a Ladies’ Room in Colorado and get over it. Today, I can travel cross country to Whidbey Island and love it. Today I can stand in a subway platform in NYC holding the hand of a beautiful woman and remember that my dreams do, indeed, live on.

Suddenly, the prospect of turning fifty in April feels like a beginning and not an ending.

Thank you all. XOXOXO


  1. I’m happy to read about your happiness my friend. Just be certain those of us who haven’t stumbled on bliss just yet can still call you and be cynical and ranting 🙂 In all seriousness, I have been asked the question “Are you happy?” often lately…and over the course of my short life…and I always stumble for an answer…feeling like happiness is a state of being that is not only difficult to define, but difficult to sustain once obtained. Fleeting. And so therefore,I hope you hold onto it as long as possible…if not forever. You certainly deserve it.


    • Hi Erika,

      Feeling “happy,” whatever that means, is a bit foreign to me also. I don’t know what words to use to articulate it. I just know it when it’s there and sure know it when it’s not. I find as I get older that I find happiness more often. I wonder if that’s because I’ve worked on my big issues and I’ve come to accept things more for how they are than for how I might like them to be. I know that my increased experience with happiness has to do with growing older somehow. So, maybe this older thing isn’t so bad after all.

      But leave no mistake:you must be your same cynical, ranting, lovely, endearing self. I promise to be the same. This is one of our connections. Just one of them.



  2. Well, my friend, happy is as happy does and happy is doing you and your writing a world of good. On a personal level, it hugs my heart to hear that someone special is waking up your sleepy passion. Fifty may be half a century, but it is the gateway to a full midlife. As you peer up through that periscope, you’ll see more beginnings and happy happenings. You managed to write about happiness in fresh way, through the lens of a healing agoraphobic. So many accomplishments for you to be proud of this year, and more to come next year! I loved this blog post.


    • Hi Elissa,

      Thank you for your sweet and kind comment. You know that “happy” isn’t my first instinct and happiness is something that comes and goes in all of our lives. Yes, someone woke up my passion last weekend, much more than I had expected, and for that, I will always be grateful to her. Fifty is a difficult year to consider because you realize that anything like youthfulness or even “young” middle age is gone. It is, as you say, the gateway to full mid-life. When I look back on the year (and the years) I realize how much better I am now than I ever was. I guess that’s a compensation for getting older and why happiness seems more available. “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Remember that?

      I really want to have coffee. I’ll email you.


    • Hey Nicole,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. YOU just made me smile. I hope you’re doing well. I look forward to seeing you on December 26th. It’s been too long.

      love, Cindy


  3. Somehow I missed this post! Love it! So glad you are happy!! You deserve to be happy! Things really have changed. I get it now. It makes me feel exceedingly happy to know that you are happy though! Can’t wait to hear about more happy Cindy.


    • Hi sweet Geenie. That weekend in NY did make me very happy. It’s hard to sustain that level of happiness for too long, so although I’m not unhappy, I’m not longer that high. Still, it’s good to know that I can get that high. I didn’t know I could until that weekend in NY. It’s so sweet that you feel so much happiness because I’m happy. I miss you. love, Cindy


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