Penny Castle is on a madcap chase in pursuit of that most elusive of conditions: happiness. The only female in a household of more or less skeptical males Penny’s journey begins when a hopeful mid-career switch crumbles into disappointment. In a funk, she turns to an inspiring happiness expert she finds on TedTalks, and decides to try the strategies he suggests. All of them. It can’t harm … or can it?
Her forays into meditating, journaling, running (no-one could accuse her of being athletic) and horse-riding, are all sabotaged by her very own internal critic, a tweezer-lipped character called Sally, who never fails to point out her shortcomings. In Sally’s jaundiced view, no ambition, however noble, doesn’t deserve a stab in the back.
Penny’s final attempt to corner her target leads her into the realms of “acts of service”. In her case, this takes the form of a morning spent picking up dog turds in a local park. No discernible happiness results.
Even her work as a “happiness coach”, while it delivers joy to her clients, doesn’t seem to do the trick for her.
Her quest seems doomed to eternal, if hilarious, failure…
But all along, Penny’s been toiling away at something never mentioned by the happiness experts. Something she began, not for happiness sake, but to do her maternal duty. It’s during the hours she spends in this pursuit that she begins to feel most at ease with herself and her world. Could it be the answer she’s been seeking? This time, it’s not Sally who steps in to explode the possibility. Drought and a Biblical flood do that job very well, thank you very much.
But that’s not the end of Penny’s story… or her quest.
Cultivating Happiness will be landing on 22 January 2019.
I am Penny Castle. I live in Johannesburg with my husband Shannon and teenage son. I started a blog in 2016 with the intention of documenting my adventures in growing veggies and how they helped me become a happier person.
On the 21 January 2017 all that was forgotten. My elder son, Joshua, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer: cholangiocarcinoma. He died in January 2018.
Chris didn’t drop like a stone. He toppled, rigidly, like a falling tree. The security camera that caught his seizure shows a millisecond of confusion before he falls, with surprising grace, over the edge of the metre-high platform and onto the concrete floor. I wince even thinking about how his hands didn’t reach out to break his fall; how his head could have – but didn’t – hit the floor first; how narrowly the sheet-steel blades of the spotlight tumbling with him missed his torso.
Five days of EEG’s, CT-Scans, MRI’s and blood-work later, he has the all clear…for now. He’ll be back in a specialised epilepsy unit in a few weeks for a filmed EEG. We are 90% sure that the seizure was caused by a combination of a new medication and a lack of sleep. Given our recent medical history though, 90% isn’t enough. We’ll head back to make that 100%. For now, he’s back at school, pleased as punch to be signed off PE until the end of the term.
I’m not doing as well. My “take-when-you-need-to” stock of Urbanol is quickly becoming depleted. My heart races and my mind loops through the 24 hours where I explained over and over to a memory-wiped Chris where he was and what had happened.
The memory of another phone call, with another boy, is always here. Always hovering in the corner of my mind.
“You can’t live life always worrying if something will happen to your kids,” the psychiatrist tells me. But of course, he’s wrong. I can. I do.
And of course, he’s also right. He calls in anxiety. He tells me it’s only to be expected. He tells me that it won’t go away but in 2 – 5 years I might feel like I can cope with it. He tells me to set the bar lower, to celebrate not needing to be in a psych ward.
I call it terror. I call it waking at 3 am to check on Chris. I call it the memory of how I told myself to stop imaging the worst only to have some new and unimaginably terrible torment manifest in my kid. I call it knowing that I couldn’t have changed the outcome but still spending every day looking for that moment where a tiny choice could have set us on a different path. A cancer-free path. A seizure-free, path. A happily-ever-after path. A path with the comfort of everyday worries.
It’s no way to live. I know that. I don’t know how to change it.