Happiness Comes From Within?

You’ve probably heard that happiness comes from within and that you shouldn’t let external factors bring you down. While that might be true from an ideal point of view, it’s easier said than done. Sometimes you need an external boost.

As I always point out, this blog looks at life from a very blunt perspective. I hold very litttle back, and that makes some people uncomfortable. It’s for them to look down on me than to consciously realize that “it could have been them.” Be forewarned, then decide if you want to continue reading. But if you’re in the state I’ve been in, you might want to read, to understand that there’s always hope.

I’ve been miserable since my last career effectively ended after 9/11, primarily because my standard of living tanked. It was nice to be able to eat.

One of the first important things in my life to go (after the career) was my car, and then my car insurance a year later. I’ve been without a car for just over five years and it hasn’t been fun, to put it mildly. I’ve lived in Toronto with and without a car, and I prefer without. You just don’t need it there, unless you work outside the city. And in the last city I lived in, I didn’t really need a car there either. I lived minutes from the bus station – even cooked there for a while, trying to get back on my feet.

But when I returned back to my de facto hometown in 2004, I knew it’d be tough without a car. I live in the south end, which has historically been poorly served by city transit. The transit commission made things worse last year by changing their schedule from a 30-minute cycle to a 40-minute one – instead of going to 20 minutes like they’d planned. The nearest grocery store is about a 25-30 minute walk there, and longer back if I’m carrying heavy bags. By bus it’s actually even longer both ways because of the way the bus routes are set.

To make things worse for me, the only commercial movie theatre closed over a year ago and moved to the north end of the city, about 7 miles away – a bus ride of at least 45 minutes, maybe more. And if I missed one coming out, a long wait in the cold or an expensive bus ride back. Watching movies was the one indulgence I kept even at my poorest, since I’ve wanted to make movies for a long time. There was no question that I had to keep seeing movies. Without a car, I’ve been out of luck here. Were I already in Toronto – where I’ve lived on and off over many years – it wouldn’t be an issue. I don’t need a car there, for the most part. But I do where I am at present.

Fortunately, I finally have a car as of last week, thanks to help from my father. I had had to give up my beloved green Subaru GT in 2002 because of my financial situation. The primary reason I fell into that situation was due to a car dealership going bankrupt and the owners intentionally screwing over four or five customers, including me. (There are other factors, but they were the catalyst.) They took my old Subaru wagon but didn’t pay off the bank lease. So the bank went after me, illegally harrassing myself and family members for four years – despite the due diligence I followed at their request. They didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

My mother’s divorce lawyer – who knew nothing about these types of matters – gleefully told me I could be sued, but I’d done my research and told her she was wrong. I was shocked at how happy she was telling me that. In response to my saying she was wrong, she kept my only copies of all the papers and receipts I’d submitted to her. It was many months before I got them back, and only because I launched a complaint to the law society. They were mostly unsympathetic but did request that she return my papers and receipts. She wouldn’t even apologize, despite being completely wrong and unprofessional to boot.

After I lost my last work contract in Dec 2001, shortly after the terrible events of 9/11, all the money I’d saved to by out my Subaru GT’s lease – not the one the bank was after, but the next one – eventually had to be used to pay bills. Unfortunately, I’d spent other hard-earned money to buy a lot of gear for a recording studio, hoping to expand into that type of work, since I’d actually wanted get out of contracting. But because of events, I ended up having to sell my musical instruments and most of recording gear at about $0.30 on the dollar. Some of the items had been mostly untouched.

After that, I borrowed money from family members, and that ran out. People treated me differently after 9/11, which made me miserable, which in turn must have made other people uncomfortable. I had a hard time getting work, even in restaurants. And when I did get it, I had to put up with young line cooks who wanted to give me a hard time. Or I had to do coat check in a nightclub. When young ladies tipped because of the crazy hair “punk Elvis” hair I had, sometimes boyfriends would get jealous and actually take the tip back.

That hurt more than anything else, emotionally and physically. My amount of tips decided whether I would eat certain meals on the weekend or not. Friday’s tips meant I could go to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday afternoon. I’d gone from once eating quite well to eating about a half meal each day, sometimes substituting a proper meal with “mr. noodles” and “mr. freeze”.

This terrible diet took its toll on me and triggered a long-term illness that I’m still struggling to cope with. (I sometimes had an option of a free meal in some restaurants I worked in, but I was often too busy or too tired to take the meal. And then I’d have to walk home because the buses stopped running – too exhausted to eat anything at home either.)

To wrap up a long story, I’ve put a lot of this behind me, except for the illness. I’ve even stopped wondering what career I would pursue, since my heart knew all along: movies. Now, only a day after getting my new car last week, my whole demeanour must have changed. I find people suddenly being friendly to me, girls smiling at me. Believe me, this is something that hasn’t happened in a very, very long time.

I mentioned this to my brother a few days ago, and his response was, “Your identity is tied up in being mobile.” Or something like that. And it’s true. Long ago, I gave myself the nickname “The Wanderer.” We grew up spending a lot of time visiting friends in both the U.S. and Canada, travelling by car. I enjoy driving, being able to go where I want when I want. Without that freedom, I feel like a caged bird. I tried for five years to be “green” and live without a car, but in some cities, it’s just impossible without feeling caged – even for someone like myself that works from home. Maybe because of that.

You’d think that I shouldn’t let external factors such as this bother me to the point of changing my life. Maybe not, but we’re human. Ideals are something to strive for, but we live through our flaws. When you consider that I’d lost so much the past seven years, you might feel differently.

For reasons I won’t get into here, I left behind many cameras and computer gear and  other irreplaceable “things” in Atlanta. I lost my career of two decades probably due to being miserable about how people treated me after 9/11. I had to give up my entire recording studio, which I’d hoped would help me into a new career doing movie and TV soundtracks. I lost my favorite car. Friends that I’d helped many times offered crocodile tears.

There’s more but it’s not something I want to get into. Suffice it to say that things are more noticeably changing for me, but it took several years. About six years, in fact.

The lesson? No matter how bad things are, even if your affirmations go wrong, if you stick it out, you can eventually turn the negative tide. You might get bruised and battered and hurt during the journey, but consider the alternatives. Don’t try to change things in huge leaps and bounds. Apply small changes.

6 smashing comments for this post.

  1. dave Said:


    inspiring story my friend!


  2. Eugene Said:

    looking forward for more information about this. thanks for sharing. Eugene

  3. Still Your Mind Now Said:

    Excellent content here and a nice writing style too – keep up the great work!

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