I’ve written before about my fascination with the strange, brilliant Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island by J. M. Barrie.*
A while back, I was reading a biograpy of writer J. M. Barrie,
J. M Barrie and the Lost Boys (Barrie is best known for writing Peter Pan). It made brief mention of a book made by J. M. Barrie using photographs of the four Llewelyn boys he adored. He took photographs of the boys during one summer, then created a story out of the pictures called The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island.*
Barrie made one copy for himself, and one copy for the Llewelyn family, but the boys’ father left their copy on the train, so only one copy of this book exists. I went to visit it at Beinecke Library, the rare books library at Yale, where I went to college and law school (keeping my happiness-project resolution to “Force myself to wander”).
I was blown away by this book. I LOVED it. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Absolutely marvelous, a whole new way of telling a story and keeping a photo album – and Barrie is an extraordinary writer. I’m continually haunted by the opening line: “We set out to be wrecked.”
Fortunately for me, I have a friend who absolutely appreciated the extraordinary genius of the book. In a flash, we decided to do our own project, using our own children, modeled on Barrie. We’ve been planning it now for months (happiness-project resolution: “Take time for projects”).
I ordered two copies of the book from Beinecke – one for me, one for my friend (happiness-project resolutions: “Indulge in a modest splurge” and “Make purchases to further my goals”). My friend and I have been scouting for locations and gathering costumes and props.
Yesterday, we took our first photograph with the four children (we’d already taken one photo, of just the Little Girl, to take advantage of the flowering trees as a background). All the other photographs will be taken outdoors, in Central Park, but we decided to include a “Portrait of the Royal Family” taken indoors. Another friend has an exceptionally ornate living room, so we trucked over to her apartment, decked our children out in faux ermines, velvets, jewels, scepters, crowns, and armor. The children were enthusiastic and cooperative. The result was SPECTACULAR.
I’d been dreading this portrait a bit. I knew it would take a lot of time and energy in the middle of the day on Sunday. Herding two nine-year-olds, a six-year-old, and a three-year-old…it wasn’t going to be easy. But it was so, so worth the effort.
Bertrand Russell observed that “The satisfaction to be derived from success in a great constructive enterprise is one of the most massive that life has to offer.” Now, I think Russell had in mind something like merging two companies, or passing a law, or founding a school. But even a small-scale success in a constructive enterprise is enormously gratifying – not just when you’ve finished, but all along the way. (The unpoetic name for this very powerful source of happiness is “pre-goal attainment positive affect”).
The First Splendid Truth holds that to be happy, we need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. The more I think about happiness, the more importance I grant to the fourth element, the atmosphere of growth. People crave a feeling of growth, of progress, of mastery, of learning. The slow progress we’re making on this large project is giving a lot of happiness.
Also, everything is more fun with friends. I couldn’t possibly undertake this project by myself. I’d be overwhelmed. Also, I don’t have a lot of the skills involved – my friend can sew and is an eBay fantatic. (You wouldn’t believe the props she has found for us there.) And it wouldn’t be as much fun for me or for my children, without the other family to do it with. Even the Big Man is getting into the spirit of it.
If it weren’t for my Happiness Project, I’m sure I would never have started this project. I wouldn’t have gone to see the book in the Beinecke Library, I wouldn’t have splurged to buy a copy, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to conceive of a big, time-sucking project. Yet again, I marvel at the fact that it really is true: when I diligently live up to my resolutions, they really do bring me happiness.
* Unfortunately, I can’t put in a live link to the library’s image site. To view The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island:
Go to the Beinecke Library site
Under “Finding Books, Images, and Manuscripts,” go to ORBIS, the online catalogue
Search by title for “boy castaways”
Hit the blue #2 entry that will come up
Hit the link to “View images from the Beinecke Library’s Digital Images Online Database.”
This is quick and easy, despite sounding complicated!
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