This Thing Called Joy

I told some dear friends yesterday about my inquiry into joy and one of them asked, “You want to be more joyful?”

No. That’s not it exactly.

I love it when the incorrect reflection of something I’ve said asks me to dig deeper.

I don’t want balloons and ribbons when I sit down to write. I want a deep sense of well being. I want a feeling of “there’s no place I’d rather be.” when I am writing. I want to feel safe and connected in my isolation of putting words on the page.

As a child, when I tucked myself into my closet-fort of books, I loved being in the embrace of my home, while my thoughts roamed the worlds of books and comics. The journey of growing up is quite lonely, really. Even with a house full of siblings or a classroom of friends. There is a sense, I think, in every child that they are the only one with these very feelings choking them, buoying them, mystifying them. We retreat into safe places and parse those feelings. Some of us do it through reading or writing or drawing or building stuff. It doesn’t matter how. It matters that we are trying to grow a connection to our curiosity, our genius, our hearts. Independent of others. Eventually we emerge. We keep becoming. We enter room after room and know ourselves better. Sometimes the obligations and achievements of our lives pull us far away from that little room where all is well, where well-being lives, where we can be alone and connected and brilliant and whole and safe.

I want to feel that kind of joy every day when I write.

Habits. Rituals. Traditions.

It’s hard to stay awake and present. 24/7. Impossible, probably . So we put things in place that allow us to go on autopilot. Habits. Rituals. Traditions. Sometimes, they’re good for us, e.g. working out everyday. But even those rituals get stale, and we need to change it up. (You can’t work out the same muscle groups over and over.) I suppose that’s why people implement New Year’s Resolutions. We want to change our habits. We want to feel different. We want to refresh ourselves. We want to unburden ourselves from the yoke of habits, rituals and traditions, and feel the “want” instead of the “should.”

I think these habits, rituals and traditions can get in the way of joy. Sure, if I show up everyday to write, then at least I’m there, ready, in case something great happens. Habits carry us through the bad times, the dull times, the hard spots. But at some point you have to fight your way through the fog of ritual and question, do I really love what I am doing? Do I feel alive? Excited?

Yeah, I know. Sometimes even asking that question is scary. Why upset the apple cart? Maybe it’s better to plod forward yoked to habit, hoping to feel that fabulous excitement in a life I chose thirty years ago.

I don’t know. I really don’t know.

And so

the week begins.
a scarlet sunrise under dark lavender clouds
inside, I question every word I tap out
one after another
loosens the clutch-y feeling
I think about the diabolical idiocy of being human
able to notice a gorgeous sunrise
and douse it with worry

the sky fills with bright lemon light
inside, the tiniest curve on my lips


I used to hate Sunday. It was the day before school began. It was day before the mouse trap snapped. It was the day before hum-drum routines took us down. Sundays made me feel sad and nervous.

Friday was my day. Friday was the end of classes and the adventure of the weekend beginning. Friday was driving into Boston (or hitch-hiking into Boston. Say what?) in my dad’s old blue Buick Electra 225 (aka the blue bomb) and staying at my Harvard boyfriend’s commune-like house doing very college-y things when I was in high school (say what?). Friday was going to Vermont and downhill skiing. Friday was spending the night at my best friend’s house. Friday was all anticipation and who knows what will happen. Even if nothing did happen, Friday still had the fizz of anticipation.

Now it’s different. There’s still a shift on Friday. But it’s when the unwinding of the week begins. The spaciousness of the weekend starts its exhale. By Sunday, I can feel the full belly breath of it. Even if I have commitments. Or need to catch up on stuff. Or want to sink deeper into a manuscript. I love the langour of Sundays. The longer conversations. Preparing a delicious plate of food. The lingering over coffee.



Today I am teaching a class on crafting openings that will make your readers lean in.

I have had many writing teachers. Many. Great. Good. Bad. Terrible. Fortunately the terrible ones have faded and I only remember the positive ones, the ones who cared about words and about creating stories that are the best they can be.

When I stand in front of a class, I always have one prayer. I hope I say something, just one something, today that makes their craft better. From all the great teachers, I have taken at least one bit of wisdom that has made my journey as a writer feel less perilous and less lonely because I have one more useful tool in my toolbox.

If I do that one thing for one person, I am happy.