Finding joy

I can’t remember the first time I felt the total rightness of writing a scene, but I remember the first time I realized what I felt. I was nineteen, working on Child of Brii, and I cackled to myself when finishing out a paragraph. In that moment, the elation I felt was one of the strongest positive emotions I had ever had. The act of creating something purely for the pleasure of it generated a kind of euphoria.

We talk a lot about happiness in America, and when we talk about happiness we often mean euphoria. We mean that illusive high, that ecstatic knowing that we are on the right track, that we’ve done something that we’ll remember, that this, right here, is a work of art. Chasing that euphoria destroys people. Tying something like happiness to fleeting moments of joy, conflating those two things, is a problem. But, with all that said, that joy, that euphoria, still has value. And it’s easy, when you’re caught in a grind, to forget that.

The past year has taught me a lot about setting down the burden of trying, and settling into the doing of something. If I have any big lesson from the strangeness of 2020, it’s that — not everything has to be an achievement, not everything has to be forced. Sometimes you can just chase what moves you. I did this in January, when I ran off to the jungle to fly in the air, and I did this again in August when I decided to write a totally unplanned book purely for the fun of it. To feel that same freedom of creation, to turn off the front brain and let the subconscious take the driver’s seat, this time in my writing work. And that flow, that sense of relaxing into an effort, that is joy. That is what makes me want to write.

This is not to say that you don’t have to turn on the critical brain sometimes. Editing is a good example (though increasingly I find developmental edits to be more and more of an intuitive feeling than a thinking activity). And inevitably writers have deadlines and it’s a good idea to meet those if you can. But when you can find a method of getting out of your own way, that’s when things start to move almost without you trying. Seeing meaningful outcomes from your efforts is a big part of what makes our little monkey brains tick. It makes the words come when they felt like they were stuck in your throat.

I hope that I remember how to find joy in this new year of 2021. I hope I can carry this lesson with me of sinking into a work instead of trying to push it out of me. No doubt I will forget how to do this at least a few times going forward, but, as my meditation app reminded me just a few weeks ago, you can always start over. In any moment, at any point, you can just reset those intentions. There’s a knack to it, sure, but it is possible.

And learning that lesson is something I will always be grateful for.

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