We’re deep into the season when we are supposed to be joyful. Whether we like it or not. And coming to the end of yet another year of uncertainty, grief, collective breath-holding (broken occasionally by yelling at those who do not share our world-view). I’m currently worrying about taking my kids on a plane for the first time in two years. And my daughter’s upset tummy. And my bank balance. And, and… And it seems pretty rich that on top of all that, I’m meant to be joyful, jolly and jubilant.
But earlier today I saw a sign that brought me up short:
“Joy is Radical.”
Yes. (It was on the website of artist Taimani Emerald Reed.)
Not the manufactured joy that can be purchased with one click from Amazon. Nor the supposed to joy of rushing around, meeting all of our holiday obligations. Not the joy I’m supposed to feel. But the real, honest-to-god joy that I experience when I allow myself to SLOW DOWN and be all in with this poker game of life.
What follows is a totally random roundup of a few things that have brought me joy over the past year. Perhaps they will bring you some too—or point you in a direction to find your own...
The sun is out today. Nothing like a sun break in a gray Portland December to bring me laughter and joy (even if it’s freezing out).
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
Poet Ross Gay wrote a short “essay-ette” about something delightful in his life every day for a year. And many of them made their way into this sweet and savory book. I read it over the summer and it brought me so much delight and joy that I forced myself to slow down near the end to savor the last few essays. I think it resonated with me so much because most of his delights are the sort of small, quotidian things (like gardening, or a coffee) that we can only appreciate when we STOP. When we reclaim a moment of our time from the headlong rush toward mortality. This stopping, this pausing, this savoring is what I teach and is what I am constantly, constantly trying to learn myself.
Here’s an example: His essay “Loitering is Delightful” from the Paris Review. (content warning: explicit language)
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
This was an example of a book I read about (in the Marginalian, another source of joy), put on hold at the library and then forgot all about. Eight months (or so) later, it came in. I nearly didn’t read it. A memoir about the need to stop, to withdraw, to be quiet when we have the inevitable periods of grief, illness, breakdown? It sounded sort of depressing. I started it skeptically and was instantly sucked in to her beautiful, sad, funny, inspiring season of Wintering. And her suggestion that though we want to push through, or find ways to numb the pain, the only real salve is the rooting down and drawing in of Wintering. Another reminder (always needed) to stop, to pause, to rest. May says:
“The problem with [doing] 'everything' is that it ends up looking an awful lot like nothing: just one long haze of frantic activity with all the meaning sheared away. . . . I’m tired, inevitably. But it’s more than that. I’m hollowed out. I’m tetchy and irritable, constantly feeling like prey, believing that everything is urgent and that I can never do enough.” --Katherine May
When I returned Wintering to the library, I did it reverently, like I was passing a precious gift along to the next person on the hold list.
Yesterday, another source of joy: I listened to the episode of “Fresh Air” remembering and celebrating the late jazz composer, pianist and singer Dave Frishberg. Sent to me by one of my students. A chance for me to slow down and listen.
This season I wish you Pause. I wish you Rest. I wish you Joy. The real, radical kind.