Hey everyone On Saturday I returned to the fringe for the first time since my unplanned visit on Monday night. Having only a limited budget I decided I could only see one show and on this occasion the show of choice was Agnes Torok’s one woman spoken word tour de force If You’re Happy And You Know It Take This Survey.
In this manic but magical hour Agnes examines the idea that happiness can be quantified or significantly measured. A gifted poet she questions what the happiness experts tell us and asks what makes them experts anyway.
As we began our journey Agnes tells us happiness is personal. She tells of Struggle Songs and why we all have them and why they make us stronger. She then shares six interesting facts about herself and unlike some people the facts she shared actually were interesting. My favourite amongst this collection of jewels was that her surname or as I prefer to call it hour family name is in fact completely made up.
You see her grandfather is originally from Hungary but he grew up Jewish at a time when being a jew in Hungary wasn’t so popular. In fact, it could lead to a place in the concentration camps. So Agnes’s granddad being a smart man changed his name to Torok which is the Hungarian word for Turk. This seemed to have the desired effect as when Russians came to his town looking for jews he said his name was Torok so they just said oh he’s Turkish let him go. Needless to say he was delighted about this and needed no second invitation headed for Sweden at the first available chance. It is thanks to that decision that he was able to live a normal life in a new if slightly cold country. It was thanks to that change of name and nation that his eldest son had a daughter who turned out to be a poet whose thoughts we were enjoying as her take on happiness unfolded.
Agnes looked at the way we as a society view happiness by doing what it said on the tin or at least in the title of her show and asking people a series of questions with regards to certain statements. As dutiful members of her audience we had to take part on a mini survey on we view our own happiness, this gave me more insight into myself and state of mind that Ms Torok will ever know and I found that certain aspects of my happiness index have room for significant improvement.
I should I think be a bit kinder to the one person whose happiness I want to improve and by that I mean me I stop judging myself on girls who have longer legs, bigger boobs, better toned thighs, hunkier guys, a better house, a better figure realise chocolate and thinner don’t necessary go together. I should just stop judging myself and like what I see in the mirror.
Anyway as Agnes said happiness is personal and on that front I think I am actually doing ok. I will say however that no-one unless your Tony Blair can be happy all the time it’s not normal and that’s why he can be happy all the time,because he is far from what is considered normal for most people in this country.
Talking of normal, most people would consider that your health is one of the most important things in regard to your quality of life and you need good health to make you happy. Agnes challenges this tradition of established thinking by introducing the idea that if happiness is social then health may not be so important to happiness as just living in the moment. In her poem The Ladies Of Ward 10, Agnes gently illustrates that it is those little things you share with others which can bring about the greatest moments of happiness.
Agnes then talks of community and that if happiness is social then we must all help our communities. This means that some countries which we in the west see as lesser countries because they have only they need and not every single commodity they have been told they need then these countries actually score higher in the happiness index than we in the
so-called civilised democracy’s do
Agnes tackles this issue by saying that these counties value communities and if we value our communities we need to tackle poverty and to that we also must tackle austerity. This gifted young poet who spoke with passion and purpose and a clarity so often missing from the cosy Westminster elites said that she posted an anti austerity poem on you tube which outlines in easy to understand language the real problems facing the developed nations at this time in our history and not surprisingly it went viral. It was also not surprising when she said there were comments, there were lots of comments. Whilst most was nice and supportive there were also nasty not so supportive comments some of which could be classed as hate mail. There were even some death threats. I have say though I really admire the fact that rather than fill her world with angst, rage, and indignation, Agnes chose to invite some close friends round to her home and read the hate mail to them in the campest, most squeaky voices imaginable. I bet they wished they hadn’t bothered sharing their toxic thoughts with her now.
So if as Agnes says communities are important to our happiness in terms of providing the social spaces we need to interact with others and we are not doing enough for those communities then happiness is not personal, or social, happiness is also political.
In her poem Great Agnes who is originally from Sweden takes a not so gentle dig at country which would call itself great and believe me when I say this was and by some distance my favourite poem of the night. In it speaking in mocking tone gives the narrator the voice of some upper class private school half-wit who is talking to or should I say lecturing someone who he sees as being from a less developed country and reminding them why Britain is great and there country is not. This is satire so sharp it bites with all the ferocity of a pack of hungry wolves. This is brilliant. A poetic gem from a true practitioner of the craft
In her next poem in a brilliant show Agnes then moved on to a time when her father was recovering from a serious accident and using some beautiful imagery she illustrates how those who are in the most difficult of circumstances are often the happiest people you’ll find anywhere. This poem moved me perhaps more than any other in the show. Well as regular readers will know this blogger was always a daddy’s girl and nothing else really needs to be said.
In her poem Worthless Agnes looked at the struggles facing students and young people in a society which all too often demonises them more than it rewards them. This hard hitting polemic style poetry works well for a woman outraged by any kind inequality as inequality has a very negative impact on those who are amongst the most disadvantaged in our society be it locally, nationally, or globally. Agnes like myself and many others of the poetic persuasion doesn’t take kindly to the idea of a few rich kids getting all the benefits whilst they label the rest of us benefit scroungers or give us other labels by which we can be judged
So having demonstrated that happiness is personal, social, and political and the fact that it is something which can’t really be measured What is Ms Torok’s solution to the happiness problem? Where does she suggest you look to find it? Well her answer is a simple do art. You see when you are doing art as Agnes suggests you should, you are so lost in what you are doing that you are actually happy to be doing it and I must admit as a fellow poetic practitioner I can’t help but agree with her findings. Maybe this is why i happy to take her survey, but i can’t help but think it was spending an hour with the poet with the made up family name that send me on a journey to happiness.
Love And Best Wishes