Do you ever wonder why asking “How are you?” continues to be such a common greeting? It’s like opening a door to a shadowy room. You never know what will come out. You’ll learn about aches and pains, work stress, annoying family members, or sometimes just get slimed with general ennui.
And being the one asked is just as fraught. You want to be positive, but the urge to trot out your woes is so strong. Attentive ears can be hard to come by, and if you’re being honest….
Maybe that’s why the best we can hope for is the standard, milquetoast “fine.” Ugh. What a pansy-ass word. But wouldn’t you be startled to be hit with, “Fabulous! Couldn’t be better! In fact, I’ve never been happier!”
Admit it. Your eyes would narrow and you’d likely take a step back. Because outside of churches, dance floors, or self-help seminars, revealing joyfulness is likely to draw suspicion.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. As I wrote in a previous blog, one of my son’s friend’s mother once asked him, “How’s your mom? Is she still into, you know, all that happy stuff?” Joy junkies get labeled as Pollyannas, dreamers, or out of touch.
And if staying happy isn’t hard enough, try writing about joy. Now that’s a drag. That’s why the most enduring stories end with “they lived happily ever after.” No one wants to tackle the job of unpacking the “after” on the page.
This is the challenge I’m facing as I re-write the last two chapters of my memoir. The first two thirds of the book are dripping with heartbreak, conflict, shockers, outrage—it’s five-Kleenex stuff. But once I turn the corner into happiness, the words feel forced.
“I don’t feel your joy the same way I feel your pain,” my friend said after reading the first draft.
So I had to think about this, and decided there are two main reasons writing about joy is so hard:
1. I’m not living joyfully enough.
When my friend made that observation about my manuscript, I had to admit that I have a hard time acknowledging joy in my life. When life goes sideways, it’s natural to develop a tamped down way of being. There’s a perverse psychology at work that says if I fly under the radar, heartbreak can’t find me. There may be joy, joy, joy down in my heart, but unless I allow it to express in my life, I’ll have a hard time putting it on the page.
2. I’m trying to articulate something ephemeral.
Joy is ineffable, fleeting, gossamer, sublime, and highly personal. It’s a thing with wings that lives in the heart and when you try to hoist it up to the brain it goes limp. Joy can’t be foisted on anyone, in life or on the page. The closest I can get is to show my joy in action and let the reader feel it firsthand.
Author Alan Cohen says, “I’ve learned through sorrow. I’m ready to learn through joy.”
I’m ready to write with joy, about joy. And that sounds fine to me.
Tammy Letherer is a writing coach who wants to help you find your voice, whether in a blog or a book. She is the author of one novel, Hello Loved Ones, and an upcoming memoir, The Buddha at my Table. Contact her if you have a story that deserves to be shared. Follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.