“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is…”

“And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’

“So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’ ”

     – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., A Man Without A Country 

Maybe 12 years old when i read my first Vonnegut novel, Cat’s Cradle.  Read everything he wrote along the way after that… i thought he was “funny”, “cosmic”, and very “hip”.  It wasn’t until i was in my late 30’s and started re-reading his early works, and reading his current essays that it hit me how deeply his words resonated – articulating much of my own view of the world. 

On the surface one can see the cynicism, the darkness, the bleak portrait he paints of the human condition.  Much like me.  But it has always been his words of hope that touched me most deeply.  Such as the passage above…  Since his death in 2007, i’ve taken to saying the words out loud when something felt nice.

This weekend?  Nothing in particular going on… relieved that i’d passed that damn test on Friday.  Knowing that my children were both “in good places” in their respective situations.  Mom – doing well and  entertained in The Park – with my sister, T, in town for her high-school reunion. 

Spent Friday evening with friends at the Celtic festival, drinking, dancing, and drinking-and-dancing** to one of the best Irish jam bands, ever!  A beautiful summer Saturday afternoon – riding my bike for transport, not just recreation – to volunteer to help some well intentioned local political activists get the word out**.  Listening a favorite bit of music on the iPod from the night before… Excited about the new digs, and feeling overwhelmed at my good fortune for being in a position to make such a move…

…and i started to cry.  Not one of those sobbing, snot-running down your face things.  Just a few tears.  All was well with my insignificant corner of the world for that one moment in time.  i’m not even sure if there was anyone nearby to hear me say “if this isn’t nice, then i don’t know what is…”

This one’s for you, Uncle Alex.  And God Bless you, Mr. Vonnegut…

* Gaelic Storm.  They are fabulous…  ended up seeing them Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  They got started as the “Steerage” band in the movie Titanic.  Despite the fact that the movie blew and the boat sank, the band was delicious!

** i’ve lost my voice, ears are still ringing, and can barely walk from the dancing.  Last night, my friend and i were probably older than anyone else in the mosh pit – by 20 years.  But hey, we got invited to the “after party” because we were cool old dudes…

*** and later being completely annoyed that the task they’d asked me to help with had been postponed due to technical difficulties, and my 10 mile ride out there had been for recreation after all… no phone call to the volunteers signed up to work.  no wonder these tree-hugging boneheads can’t elect anyone…

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26 thoughts on ““If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is…”

  1. It’s funny. When I was a kid growing up, my dad listened to nearly nothing but “The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem”. I grew to loathe those records…until I left home. As time passed I came back to that music my dad loved. And more. Isn’t Celtic music great? Ever listened to “The Chieftains”? A non-descript bunch of guys, but great traditional Celtic tunes. Some sung in a Gaelic as well, a mystical language I love to hear but couldn’t possibly ever learn. That music from “Steerage” in Titanic was really good; I see why you rave about Gaelic Storm (I’ll have to look them up).

    Lately, though, the best thing about Celtic music is how, when I play it out in the back yard or the garage, it makes annoying indolent teens and young adults vanish…

    Oh, and the main message of your blog? Too right!

  2. annie – uncle alex was right. we’re really bad about it…

    rob – i’ve heard of the Chieftains – will track them down. This band is more like Flogging Molly. It’s a big ol’ throw down…

    kyknoord – yes. it was during their “Maximum Sweat” tour…

    nm – it was pretty fabulous, wasn’t it? 🙂 “better than nice” – hell yeah!

    dolce – true! they almost sort of jump out at you. perhaps even frightnen you a little bit, and then you are startled, your heart starts racing, you clutch it, fall down, there’s no one there….

  3. unbearable banishment – agreed! i’m a lucky pup… good to pay attention to all that!

    kono – thanks. me loves me some Vonnegut. he was a god. if a secular humanist can be a god…

  4. it’s finding those moments amongst the muck and mess of life. i’m very glad you could do it… especially without the use of recreational drugs or alcohol…

  5. As well as The Chieftains, I can recommend Clannad. A lot of the Putamayo Celtic records are really good, too. I can’t say it ever played at home, but it has felt like home ever since I found it. But then, I was part of the Irish Mafia, wasn’t I.

  6. hey There. I know just what you mean: Sometimes, in the middle of a back to back run of three nights out, or a hectic series of theatre-concert-restaurants, I’ll catch myself thinking “This blows,” and realise just how (a) ungrateful I am, and (b) how a few early nights and some simplicity could be a real luxury. how confused was that? What i meant was, i think we could all do with saying “If this isnt nice, I don’t know what is…” a little more often.

    off to see Kylie Minogue tonight at the same arena where we saw Duran. I will have a crazed boogie or two and think of you. Next time, we WILL go dancing. And drinking. And drinkinganddancing 8)
    Dx

  7. gnu – yeah! all by myself. this time 🙂

    KJ – Thank you! much appreciated!

    archie – that was it. snuck up on me…

    silverstar – there’s a primal joy in the music. folksy, real… and beyond danceable! i cannot stand still when it plays!

    derek – that was me on Monday morning… tired, sore, and wondering what had run over my body! still grin uncontrollably when i think about the wonderful night in London – thanks so much for letting me tag along to the birthday bash! and yes, there shall be drinking, dancing, and drinkinganddancing on my next visit!

  8. First of all, awesome band. The YouTube vid actually did them some justice.
    I can see why you were so jazzed.
    Secondly, the Vonnegut quote is simply amazing, inspiring and well written.
    You’ve reminded me why I need to read more from this incredible man.
    An absolutely wonderful post in so many ways.
    Thank you, DF
    You made my Friday night. Period.
    ~m

  9. Hey, DF, think about coming to Folklife in Seattle some time. It’s Memorial Day weekend. We can sit at the Celtic stage for three days. There’s even a beer garden right there by the stage.

  10. ~m – be well. when you see the darkness, shrug, turn and walk away. i’ve made a conscious effort to take myself away from people who are endless black holes of need – which is different from those who truly need. go read some Uncle Kurt. he can cure some of what ails you… 🙂

    silverstar – i might do that! i’ve got an assload of frequent flier miles and i am truly on my own. totally digging being single at the moment… hard to describe, but hell yeah, sister! let’s see what’s up for both of us next Memorial Day!

  11. Hi, I have not read Vonnegut in a long time. ~m sent me and that is a great reminder for all of us to walk away from people wtih that attitude. We don’t need to buy into what they are selling.- thanks

  12. I came by way of Michaelm and loved this post. I think it’s also true what Dolce says. Appreciating those times seems to multiply them – like attracts like? Whatever, it’s good thing and if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. 🙂 Stumbling this post.

  13. Hi. ~m sent me by…and I’m glad he did. Great post. I’ll try to read some Vonnegut. And I’ll try saying out loud “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” I’m lucky, that there have been many times I’ve thought something along those lines, but you’re right, we should say it! Maybe we’ll remember it.

  14. klcrab – Welcome to The Park! Highly recommend re-reading Mr. Vonnegut. Somehow it’s different as a middle-aged lady than it was when i was younger…

    teeni – Thanks for stopping by! Yes – right down to listening for crickets, once you “tune in” to the frequency, you hear so many more of them! Thanks for the stumble!

    lolly – Welcome! i think the verbal reminder just makes it easier to recall the moment later… especially when things aren’t going as well…

  15. WriterChick – Welcome to The Park! Really appreciate all of ~m’s readers stopping by… preaching the gospel according to kurt vonnegut is a hobby of mine!

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