My new aesthetic struggle is to accommodate joy as a part of my literary enterprise, but I still tend to be a gloomy and serotonin challenged bitch. Mary Karr
My life does not have the shitty memoir-esque past that excludes joy, but I find myself in a similar position.
I have never been a chipper individual. When I was young my brother teased about my “look of death”: that being my dark scowl. My first email address was scowlingkiwi. Something inside has always tended towards the shadows. I’m sure the family sarcasm only cultivated my dark humor. The scowl and negativity made for an excellent mask for a sensitive child. It protected me from biting sarcasm that I took all too literally and cruel peers. The anger was often accompanied by tears, though. It took until junior high for the my own sarcasm and cynicism to harden, and for my demeanor to grumble and sigh a series of fucks: fuck you, fuck school, and mostly, the general fuck it. My face had to say what my clean mouth would not. And it said it well. A teacher once asked why I was so jaded. I wasn’t even in his class. Shut. Up.
Some things haven’t changed. In customer service, I’m pleasant enough—well, as pleasant as possible. But a sigh and eye-roll is always around the corner. I’ve gotten better at hiding said exasperation; a co-worker commented that I was a “bubbly introvert.” I think she was high.)
The depressive and hypomanic and anxiety episodes as well as pain from the past have been my writing material. It’s easy. Well. As easy as writing can be. (Which means its terribly difficult.) No one wants to go back there. It hurts to remember and it’s hard to share. In some ways, I have to re-live moment, each frame.
But it is retrievable. It isn’t locked up, not anymore. Thanks to therapy, I feel the pain of the past.
But joy? “Accommodate joy.” How does a gloomy person do that? I reach into the past, and while joy exists, it’s often foggy. I try to be present. But present-dwelling in search of joy is more difficult than searching the past for stories and sentiments relevant to someone, anyone. I see truth in “courting the darkness,” something “that makes some people see the truth in raw twisted ways, as though they were shining a black light on life to illuminate the absurdity of it all.” (Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, 4) It may be truth-telling, but it can forget joy.
Joy. Well, I’m not sure what it is. That is the first problem. Then, what I qualify as joy seems all too simplistic. I can’t write a piece on bread, cheese, and wine with friends. Maybe a paragraph. It seems to require narrative, and the conversation I remember, naturally, is that loaded with feeling, negative feeling. Any positive narrative, any feelings I can recall that are, perhaps, joyful, become nondescript in my attempts to put them to words. Hurt is what I bank in my memory. It is the bricks and mortar for my wall of protection.
“Accommodate joy.” It’s more than a challenge from Karr to herself. It needs to be challenge for all aspiring memoirists and writers who aspire to tell the truth. Pain is only half the story. Even if it feels/looks like 99.9% of life. “Life is suffering, Princess.” Is it, though? Or is it the proverbial (and cliché) mustard seed, but instead of faith, it’s of joy. The fight is to note its presence. It’s there. Somewhere.