On Joy

— Elizabeth Jenike, April 10, 2019

Something I’m trying to explore more deeply and define more clearly: joy.

‘Joy’ and ‘happiness’ are sometimes used synonymously, but to me they’re not the same. Choosing to ‘be happy’ is not something we all have the power to do.

Merriam-Webster defines joy as:

emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune. (source)

Let’s take the first item in that list: well-being. For me, the experience of joy is closely attached to how I feel both physically and mentally. It’s how I choose to look at things despite the panic attack gathering in my chest, despite the dust gathering on my novels and the dirt gathering on my floors unabated. Despite how tired I am, even though I am sleeping more than ever.

Happiness is separate from joy. Happiness, to me, is a state of being. A personality trait, even. I generally have considered myself a happy person, but now, at nearly 30 years old, as I have taken a step back and assessed myself from different angles, I’m not so sure.

Lately, instead of striving for some sort of amorphous idea of happiness, I have had the opportunity to try to discover the joy in hardship. Depression is like a monster under your bed — it’s there, you know it’s there, but sometimes asking for help dealing with it can feel like you’re asking someone to come inside your own personal brand of fantasy. Especially if you have been taught that depression can be “fixed” with more vegetables, or more sunshine, or more sleep. It’s an illusion, some voices tell you. Just be more positive.

Depression is the monster under my bed, and in the past few weeks and months the grumbling has grown louder. This is not something positive thoughts are going to whisk away — but luckily, I have a team of people ready with baseball bats and hot cups of tea and DBT-based coping strategies. Most of all, they’re ready with acceptance and love.

Finding joy is a small sword against the horde of depression orcs, more important than the larger, more unwieldy concept of ‘happiness.’ It’s Frodo’s Sting, shining, poking tiny holes in the darkness. And so I have to figure out how to uncover these pinpricks.

The little moments.

Joy is finding that minute to sit in the sun with a book. It’s writing even just 100 words of your novel. It’s cuddling a fat cat in the difficult moments, pushing your face into warm fur when you feel like nothing is going to get better. It’s the anger in your partner’s eyes when they hear about why you’re full of sorrow. It’s waking up in the morning, getting out of bed and brewing one cup of coffee in your favorite handcrafted mug.

It’s midnight Overwatch games with the best friends who have become your family.

It’s wind chimes ringing in the backyard.

It’s the blanket you and your mom crocheted together.

If you will indulge me one moment. Something that has brought me joy over the last few years — past two horrific moves, family illness, other family issues, career uncertainty — is the podcast The Adventure Zone, a real-play tabletop gaming show created by the McElroy brothers and their dad, Clint. Near the finale of the first season of the show, Clint’s character, Merle, is faced with the question (posed by a character voiced by the Dungeon Master, his son Griffin): What brings you joy?

Merle: What brings me joy is… life. I think you can find joy anywhere in life, I think it’s a conscious choice. I think you choose joy in life. And no matter how bad things are, no matter how crummy, no matter how dark… you find joy. […] I don’t always do things right, and I don’t always do things smart… but whatever I do, I find joy in it.

Because at the end of the day, that’s all you got. It’s looking back on the joy you had, and the joy you found, and the joy you gave other people.

For now, ‘happiness’ may be beyond what I can muster. But I can find excitement and delight in those little things. And so. I choose joy. Hardship will come and go, but for the sake of myself and the sake of my family, I choose joy.

Many thanks to azurite-draws for this beautiful artwork.

On Vulnerability

–ET Winn, April 3, 2019

I wasn’t taught that being vulnerable is the best way to write. But the best writing I’ve ever produced comes from writing about the things I don’t want to write about. It sounds simple. And it is, but it’s deceptively simple. To pick at the places we’d rather not visit takes a willingness to return to what we’d rather leave behind.

I should probably shudder to think how many people have read poems and pieces that are the equivalent of my diary. I’ve covered topics from my own mental illness to my experiences with addiction, all in admissions essays– an admittedly risky move that really has paid off. I’ve made myself able to be wounded, the Latin meaning of the word ‘vulnerable.’ I’ve shared things online the average person wouldn’t want their grandma to read. On Facebook. Where I’m friends with my grandma. Who definitely read them. And if she’s going to disown me, it hasn’t happened yet.

The return of grace, kindness, and openness has shifted my understanding of vulnerability from something scary to something necessary for creative growth. I may not be able to tease vulnerability out of you, or even myself all the time, but I want to give you permission to be so for yourself. To open yourself up to write the painful, the messy, the worst things that have happened to you. The embarrassing, vitriolic, sensual, shameful, and painful. To tackle your experiences of sex and death and see where you get reborn. To be willing to be wounded, to share the parts of you that don’t feel fit for public consumption, to reckon with yourself and come out holding a piece of writing that you’re proud of.

Explorer’s Notes: Tips for Roaming is our weekly blog where we share our visions as editors, as writers, and as humans. It’s our field guide to navigating the world. Join us!