Happiness Is Something We Can Touch

And pleasure is something we can set down

Photo: Jennifer Cody / Source: Native in Nashville

My partner and I went to Nashville last weekend.

“Why” is best summarized in a couple of quick bullets:

  • He’s always down for something new
  • I’m always down for a road trip
  • Neither of us had ever been, and it was just a few hours away

So, propelled mostly by that logic and that logic alone, off to Nashville we went, driving six hours each way for the weekend.

When you’re in Nashville, you do what all Nashville tourists do, which is the Honky Tonks along Broadway. I “asked” him to do this in a way that was more “yes please we are!”, giving him the brief and barely needed justification offered above: “we have to!”

And, just to add two more quick bullets:

  • He hates country music
  • I love it

But he likes me quite a bit and he’s a good sport (see first bullet), so shortly after rolling into town and grabbing dinner, we made our way down to Broadway for overpriced bottles of cheap beer and a scene best described as “loosely ‘country-themed’ college party.”

We went up to one of the many rooftop patios and then people-watched with our elbows on the railing. I held it together and kept my white-girl dancing to a very bare minimum because he was already enduring enough just by being there, my inner groove begging to be let out! and reduced to the classic seduction move formally known as “the mostly-on-beat shoulder wiggle;” my mumble-singing just loud enough to hear myself croon off-key.

And then he asked, in the same way he asks everything (straightforwardly, with neither emotion nor accusation):

“Why do you like country music?”

It’s a fair question. You either love it or hate it, and I understand that people in the latter group just can’t understand it. But as someone who loves it, I guess I feel bad for them— because it means they’re missing out on everything it is for me…

“It’s just… all kinds of happiness,” I said. “It’s all of the best sensory shit bundled into a sound.”

Like:

It’s denim. It’s the good, thick denim they don’t make anymore. It’s your favorite pair of jeans; it’s cut-off shorts and stiff jean jackets and it’s the way a broad slab of denim man-thigh feels under the flats of your fingers or palm.

It’s warmth. It’s outside. It’s the first (and maybe second) sip of cold, cheap beer. It’s a weathered teak patio, sun-bathed under your feet. It’s barefoot in good grass. It’s afternoon. It’s twilight. It’s early evening, outside, when the air is still heavy and sweet with reluctant summer air and where the feeling of adolescence lingers on forever and ever.

“It’s like an old shoebox where all of these things live, and every single time I open it, even in the dead of winter or at the office, they come rushing out. Every time.”

“And,” I added, looking over, “you have all of these things too. They just live somewhere else for you.”

Like, for one thing: I know he has road trips.


Part of the reason we drove six hours each way to Nashville was because we both just love the joy of the road trip. I said, before, that it was me, and I say this to him too (he plays along), but we both know he likes them just as much.

Road trips are the stuff of happiness too, right up there with how country feels.

It’s driving with the windows down and the radio up during the summer. It’s a good stretch of back road. It’s open highway, when you’re in a good, sweet, little darling of a car that sort of fades into the background, and it’s even when the radio goes in and out, the AC is shot for sure, and the sun’s beaming so bright overhead that you hand-crank the windows down to get big, hot air billowing through the car, and then the highway engulfs you so completely that it wouldn’t have mattered much if you’d had the radio anyway.

It’s resting your toes up on the window frame like a hick, and it’s the condensation from a plastic bottle running down the inside of your wrist as you take a sip of water. It’s diving your eyes into the dark green shade beneath trees and then bouncing them quick to a pastel-candy map spread out on a dash (not ours — the neighboring car’s — but it’s all the same.) It’s when the air and the moment and frankly freaking everything is so perfect perfect perfect.

It’s easy to sink into places like this.

It’s tempting to think you can go on living here forever. Or that you’d even want to.

Nashville is the sort of place that can feel like this

The kind of high you chase that you don’t wanna come back from.

That’s not to say I came away feeling that, necessarily — it might be years or months or never before either of us go back — but I had fun, brushing up against so much happy humanity. And I could see how people might lose themselves in it, especially when so many people are there celebrating — birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, life events.

It’s a weekend — even a night — that could leave you reeling, “I just wanna come back to this place.”

And it’s a “place,” when you say that, that’s more than a literal location — it’s a pin drop on a map, sure, a zip code with a broad river cutting jagged around it, but it’s also an emotion, an experience, a feeling.

It’s a chase that breaks our heart each time we pull away.

But it’s also the sort of place falls apart if we live there full-time.

Best we can hope for, contrary to our urges, is to not chase it but to pause, to break the pursuit, to be able to approach it and then step away. The goal is to stop the car sometimes, to get out, stretch your legs, come home at the end of a long road.

The goal with simple joys is not to crowd or rush them, not to chase or exhaust ourselves or make ourselves sick in overindulgence, but to enjoy them gently — to drink them in fully, but then just as gently put them away.

The goal is not to let our “places” keep us, but to keep our “places” in a way we can find them again when we need to.

And the goal is to define our “happiness” not on the permanence of sensory pleasures, but how readily we can reach them.

Sometimes, they’re just a few good songs, summer air, and one long road trip away.


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