It happens sometimes, quick as a wink and just in the nick of time—the mega-attack of pure joy. I never know when it’s coming, but when it does, as it did last night, I’m seized by joy, end up singing and dancing around the house just like a child, just like a very happy child, which I never was.
Battered into being by my parents, I’m often crushed by joy’s antithesis, the cold cauls of depression. My mood shifts are incredibly fast, often leave me breathless, but the fact that I can rise into, thrive my way into joy is an unexpected, much beloved gift, almost a crowning and one I hope to give in return.
My greatest source of joy is my miracle son, Dylan, now seventeen—a true mega-boy.
He is by nature playful, delightful and that very lightness of being is something we have always shared. As a toddler we would take bubble baths together, run naked out into the yard and perform nudy-tudy dances among the fireflies. As a young man he never fails to make me laugh. Not long ago we had a whipped cream fight in the car—Dylan even blasted some of it up my nose. When he plays Ultimate Frisbee, which he is passionate about, he is joy embodied, in flight.
I have learned much from my son, but one thing persists and that is just how intense joy can be. We’ve all felt the intensities of grief, but joy distilled is equally potent. It is, at its height, a power surge. It isn’t just contagious, it is powerful and empowering.
That lesson is evident in the dance world and because I study ballet, I know how physical joy can be. It is also strenuous—soaring into the leap, nailing multiple pirouettes—anyone who has observed dance is made captive by joy.
Why then is it so rare in the writing life? Is joy too fleeting, too effusive, elusive to capture? There are poems and stories that make us laugh, but I can ensure you, mine never do. I take my work very seriously, perhaps too seriously. Nonetheless, the practice, the daily practice of writing, does bring me much joy. After thirty-five years, I’m still eager to get down to work each morning and am unhinged on those rare days when I can’t practice my art.
Sheer joy, penultimate joy, heavenly joy. It’s a mega-attack on our highest side. Its complex is complex and sometimes its manifestations can be overwhelming. How so? I return to my son. When he was born I was enraptured. I remember looking at Dylan when he was just ten days old with a passionate happiness, knowing I would never gaze at a newborn of my own again. I was highly conscious, terrifically grateful that I had another passion—my writing. Without it to ground me, I would have, if it’s possible, loved my child too much. I would have gone off the deep end and those few degrees of separation have been essential to his well-being.
Every day I sit down ready to make a mega-attack on the poem and most days, it attacks back. What can I say about the writing life, why I persist, most writers persist, against all odds? We create the work, put it out there and are greeted by silence and rejection, rejection and silence. One artist once said she felt her music went into a big, black hole. I know that big black hole thoroughly, but the work never fails to bring me joy—it is ever enlivening, ever enlightening.
Dylan infected me with joy from day one. Writing did, too, even blood and guts poetry, naked poetry. My often melancholy muse can be celebratory: every poem is a wedding, even if it is a Baudelarian bouquet of the flowers from hell.
Let’s leave it like this: art is the highest form of play. I don’t know who said it, but it holds true for me. My only wish is that you, too, catch the fever of joy just like spring fever. It’s February outside and there’s a big winter storm happening, but I feel like May on the inside, an aging May perhaps, but oh how I long to play all day long, every day, come what may.