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January TBR

Not pictured – all the audiobooks I’m listening to because of my current inability to sit still

I meant to post my TBR list on the first weekend of January, but it sort of got away from me. Beyond what we’re reading in my various book clubs, my January selections are typically a mixture of seize-the-day-and-world books accompanied by a little comfort reading, and this January is no exception. This year, of course, I have the extra category of at least one book with joy in the title (although if my growing list is any indication, it will likely be more than one a month).

Joy

This month’s selections are three books by Jennifer McCartney – The Joy of Being Online all the F*cking Time, The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place, and The Joy of Doing Just Enough. They’re quick reads – I’ve already finished the first two listed – and they’re perfect for the month when I am both excited and overwhelmed by my goals. Although they are meant to be humorous parodies of self-help books, their message provides the bit of balance I didn’t know I needed. Yes, have goals but also maybe calm down a little bit because the messy living room and the fact that I check my phone at least twice an hour? Not really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, and sometimes I need to hear that.

Book Clubs

  • How Not To Die Alone (or, as this title was deemed too harsh to do well in the UK, Something To Live For) by Richard Roper. I love this book. These are the kinds of characters I love/want to write, and the story was quirky and endearing.
  • The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi – Just started listening to this one, and I expect to love it. The description is right up my alley, and the writing thus far is gorgeous.
  • It Chooses You by Miranda July – I was gifted a copy by my friend Sarah, and I am really happy to have the hard copy of this one. The visual effect is a big part of the story.
  • The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey – I know almost nothing about this one, but Jenny Lawson picked it, so I know it’s going to be weird and wonderful.
  • Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham – the first selection in Roxane Gay’s new book club called The Audacity.

Personal Selections

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – One of my favorite New Year’s Day traditions is re-reading this little treasure. I get something different out of it every year.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez – Our Follow the Reader book club had a choose-your-own-adventure selections for December, and I was reminded that I meant to read this last year, so I’m starting it now.
  • If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet? by Cynthia Heimel – My friend Brenda has a little free library at her house, and when this showed up, she messaged me to see if I wanted her to put it aside for me after she finished reading it. Of course I did. What a great title!
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle – I’m twenty pages in, and I’m already feeling a little more feral. I like it so much!
  • Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes – This book changed a lot of things for me a couple of years ago and put a lot of things in motion that caused me to seek out communities that have played a big part in keeping me alive this year. The audiobook is fueling so much gratitude.
  • Night Cycles by Elizabeth Wilder – I’ve taken one of her poetry classes, and I love this collection. I was going to save it for Lent, but it’s pretty fitting for this political climate, too.

What are you reading these days?

Resolutions for 2021

“May your coming year be filled with magic and reams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” Neil Gaiman

Every year, I write this quote on the first notes page of my new planner. When I read through my 2020 planner, it made me cry, not only because of some of the things I missed but also because of how much of this sweet wish actually came true. It wasn’t at all in the ways I expected, but I guess that’s part of the surprise.

In Joy the Baker’s “Let It Be Sunday” post last week, she talked about goal setting as making deposits on your dreams. I love that perspective. Each year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I reflect on the last twelve months and tweak the goals that need a little nudge to get me closer to who and where I want to be. As I mentioned yesterday, I reflect and adjust throughout the year, but this is the time that I always have some days off work to really dig in.

Here are my goals for 2021:

  1. Read 120 books. Third time’s the charm? I don’t know what will happen this year, but I know that I’m more myself when I’m reading regularly. As long as the focus to do so remain constant, ten books a month is a pretty reasonable pace for me, and when I have a little extra time off, I read even more (thus the 13 I read in November and the 15 in December). The theme for this year’s reading is community. I’m in three local book clubs that meet live every month, another one that discusses primarily through a Facebook group (Fantastic Strangelings), and a new one that Roxane Gay is leading. A friend at work is also organizing some of us to participate in the Pop Sugar challenge. I love talking about books with fellow lit lovers.
  2. My current career plans are to retire from UNT when I’m eligible in nine and a half years and then embark on my second (third? fourth? Who’s keeping track, really?) career as a full-time writer. To this end, I will need to have established a strong second income already, which I have already begun working on. I wrote 250,000 words in freelance articles in 2020, and for 2021, I want to push to finish 300,000 words. This means an average of 6,000 words a week, which is a lot but also reasonably doable.
  3. One thing I have become acutely aware of this past year is how the spaces in my home are technically functional but not really inviting. I want to fix that this year, and I have weekly goals for doing so mapped out. Even if I’m the only one who enjoys them, I am reason enough to make them as cozy as possible.
  4. You know what would also be great dream to realize? Becoming a better/more confident artist. I mean, I’ll perform anyway, but I would like it to take less intense and sudden practice, particularly when I’m performing with other artists who regularly put in the time to be prepared for such things. The first ten years I played piano, my mom made me practice an hour a day to justify the lessons she was paying for. It was not always convenient or easy, but it sure was handy to be able to sub in with little to no warning when someone needed me to. At the height of the time I was performing regularly, I danced 10-15 hours a week (and my legs were phenomenal). I also was more aware of how food affected my body and paid more attention to strength so that I didn’t get injured. I have so many writing projects started, and I want people to be able to read them in their entirety at some point. So I have a lot I want to accomplish. I don’t expect myself to carve out an extra 25 hours a week right now, but I can build toward more consistency. To this end, I am putting aside an hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights as well as two hours each Saturday, to give myself time to make personal art practice a specific, regular part of my schedule. For January, I’m going to practice each of the three genres (writing, dance, piano) at least three times a week, and I’ll expand/adapt once I am consistently doing that. My hope is that by the end of the year, I’m closer to the 25-hour mark than the 5-hour one.
  5. Pursue joy. Joy is my word of the year, and as you may have been noticing in the 31 days series (which we’re just shamelessly going to continue until it’s done, ignoring the fact that the 31 original days for which it was intended have passed), I have a lot to say about it already. You can expect a few updates a month, and I’m going to be reading at least one book a month with joy in the title. The first one I started with the blog series was Surprised by Joy (which I expect to finish within the week). January has three selections by the same author – Jennifer McCartney’s The Joy of Being Online All the F*cking Time, The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place, and The Joy of Doing Just Enough. In a month where everything else is certain to be pretty intense, I expect these books will bring a little levity.

Do you make resolutions? If not, do you have goals you’re working toward? I’d love to hear about them!

Goodbye to 2020

Some of my favorite images from the year

Well, here it is. The end-of-the-year review. I feel like a lot has been said about the world in general, and I’m tired and a little sad tonight, so I’m not interested in recapping it (didn’t I do this last year, too? I remember being very melancholy last year at this time. Maybe that’s just who I am now.). So I’m going to go through the year I thought I was going to have, how it changed for me personally, and maybe some more things as I ramble on.

First, some goal-setting changes:
1. I love resolutions, but I maintain the flexibility to adapt them. I did this really well this year – mostly out of necessity but also because it just makes sense to set goals that way. To work toward what you want until you get it or don’t really want it anymore or figure out something you want more.
2. Instead of plotting all the short-term tasks needed to reach goals in a chart for each month at the beginning of the year, I plotted one month at a time and based the new standards for each month on the previous month’s actual accomplishment (it’s like I KNEW) (I did not know) (No one knew). I like this much better, and it gives me a much clearer picture of the real progress I’m making.
3. I took the month of December off from the reward system of checking things off. Mostly I did this to just take a break from it, which was needed. But also it gave me a chance to see what habits actually stuck when I removed the reward of a check mark or a crossed-off item. Very illuminating.

Official resolutions I made at the beginning of the year and how they went:
1. Read 120 books. I did not quite make it. But, considering that I went for about four months where I had the attention span of a gnat and couldn’t read for more than five minutes at a time (I read a total of six books during those four months), I think my final total of 96 is still pretty respectable.
2. Finish Fishbowl again – nope. Although I’ve made considerable progress.
3. Keep up with microfictions on Ello – yes…ish. I haven’t even checked lately to see if Ello is still a thing. But I have written a LOT of microfiction and short stories. I didn’t set a specific number to write every month, so I didn’t keep count, but that was the main creative writing I did.
4. Perform with Spiderweb – yes x2! I was in the last in-person show, collaborating with Sarah Ruth for Spiderweb Loves You on Valentines Day. And I had a spot in our online Spiderdead in November playing an original not-really-a-composition-but-more-like-a-prompt called Maybe Hope is a Terrible Idea.
5. Find a doctor – yes. Done.
6. Find a new dentist and eye doctor – not yet. Have people picked out to try, though, in the first few months of the new year.
7. Continue to build Pilates practice – yes, but not back with the in-person classes yet (although my studio has been great with upping the cleanliness standards and thinking outside the box and serving customers – really proud of the way they’ve done things). When we started working from home in March, I accepted a 30-day strength challenge with Jessica and Mary in my office, though, and I incorporated a lot of Pilates stuff in that and have expanded it and kept up with it pretty well. I may be able to test into Level 2 classes when I return.
8. Work – vague resolution about continuing to figure out what I want to do with my life that got put on the back burner when I was just happy to still have work.
9. Word of the year was “alive” and we know how I feel about that. So that’s that.

Goals I didn’t have at the beginning of the year but added and met anyway:
1. Reduce plastic use and trash production. I started putting trash day as Monday on my calendar (I needed help remembering some things – see note above re: attention span). I soon found myself finding ways to prolong it to another day to see how long I could go without filling up the trash cans. I’m up to three weeks (except in the kitchen because food-adjacent waste really shouldn’t sit in my house for three weeks but I just use smaller bags).
2. Reduce food waste – my fridge had a hard year and I think it’s on its way to dying. My freezer still works great, though, so I began freezing leftovers. I’m down to almost zero food waste, so I think that’s a habit I’ll keep even when I have a fixed/new fridge.
3. Automate shipments – toilet paper, toothpaste tabs (the Bits ones – plastic free packaging!), laundry sheets (also plastic free!), etc. I needed to take things out of my headspace this year, so I automated a lot of shipments of things I normally would just run an extra errand to get when I ran out. Now I don’t run out. Great decision – 10/10 – highly recommend.

Things I learned about myself:
1. I’m way more adaptable than I thought I was. Like…my response to chaos has mostly been to fight and thrive (relatively speaking).
2. I am very particular about who I trust. And I like that about me. I mean, I’ll extend a basic trust to most people – I don’t want into new relationships assuming they’re shady – but past that basic trust? It has to be earned.
3. I can like and get along with someone without trusting them or letting them affect me. This makes me good at standing up for other people, and I want to practice that more in the future.
4. I need to be touched. Like…regularly. I knew this already but I really really know it now.

I lost a few people I love this year (some COVID-related, some not), and that’s been hard. I also had a few heartbreaks, one in particular that was really heavy and terrible. I feel like I’m in perpetual heartbreak these days, and I don’t know how to not be. I’m really trying to seek joy in the midst of it anyway.

Finally, to end on a sort of positive note, some highlights:
1. Staying connected to Spiderweb even though it’s online and particularly to the You Are Here support group
2. Monday night text study
3. Book clubs!
4. So many artists adapting to online performance and sharing really beautiful things
5. So many local businesses adjusting to changes and finding new ways to serve customers
6. The Science of Well-Being – free course from Yale
7. Wake and Bake fundraising boxes of baked goods
8. Backyard hangouts with people who love me

Goodbye, 2020.

Day 12 – Anticipate

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

I recently wrote a blog piece for my copywriting/SEO job on finding joy, and a lot of the research I found when doing so indicates that having something to look forward to is a big part of joy. That makes sense. I’m all for being in the moment, but if you are already feeling low on joy or happiness, focusing on the here and now may not be super helpful.

I’m also re-reading Surprised by Joy (this month’s “book with ‘joy’ in the title” selection), and C.S. Lewis wrote about his experiences of joy as exhilarating, fleeting moments where he felt an intense longing for something. For example, just the idea of autumn or another favorite time of the year can spur you to hope. Even if the time is far away, the anticipation can jolt you into a temporary state of euphoria.

I don’t typically think of unfulfilled desires or unrealized experiences as things that produce pleasant feelings. Most of my loneliness, after all, stems from the absence of experiences that I really want to be a part of my everyday life. At the same time, however, with the help of whatever scraps of hope I am able to scrounge together in the moment, joy can still show up. When I think of the characteristics I particularly love in a partner – and especially when I meet someone new who embodies a lot of those characteristics – there is that jolt. The familiar memory of loving someone combined with the anticipation of the possibility of feeling that way again? That feeling is pure magic.

This is the sneaky good thing about joy that may just be my favorite part. It doesn’t just show up in the middle of a particular difficulty. It shows up, in part, specifically because of it. Joy will tailor itself to you.

I think that whenever I’m feeling particularly joyless, I’m going to focus on something I’m looking forward to or indulge my daydreams about how great it would be to have certain hopes come true. I want to learn to anticipate and thus invite joy to surprise me by sneaking up alongside the sorrows.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

Day 11 – Rest

“When we treat workaholics as heroes, we express a belief that labor rather than contemplation is the wellspring of great ideas and that the success of individuals and companies is a measure of their long hours.”
― Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

This year has been a test of what some call work-life balance. I have spent most of 2020 working from home, and I have become intimately acquainted with the home office. A room that used to be for books and writing (when I could find the desk) but mostly storage has become a workable space that I love. And it’s a good thing I do, because not only do I regularly spend my 40-hour full-time work week and my 15(ish)-hour part-time work week here, I also use the space for zoom meetings with church and friends and for binge-watching Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place.

When work and home are the same place, you have to draw clear boundaries around rest. I recently read Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book on the subject and found that the author’s findings match my experience pretty well. I can do about two or three days of doing almost nothing but then I start to get restless. During longer breaks (such as the one I’m on now), the things I find rejuvenating are more active:

  • Exercise
  • Free-form writing
  • Piano practice
  • Dance
  • Reading
  • Napping (okay, that’s not active, but it’s soooo good)
  • Deep cleaning

My days are more free-form. They start later and end later. But there is more to them than just lying around doing nothing, and that is what gives me true rest. Physical activity demands that I just do one thing at a time, and it makes me more alert. It also helps me sleep better than I do during the busy weeks when I claim to not have time to work out.

Working from home has made stronger boundaries necessary but it has also given me the luxury of less transition time between working hours and downtime, erasing the illusion that I don’t have time to do the things that I want to do. Simply not commuting hasn’t added many hours to my workday, but being at home allows me to take more frequent breaks during which I can sneak in a quick 75-second plank or a couple minutes of kickboxing throughout the day. Maintaining active rest breaks instead of just vegging out for five minutes a few times a day has made me so much more productive. I still stick to the 40 hours I’m paid to work at my full-time job, but I have cut my hours down from 20-25 a week to about 15 at my part-time job, and I wrote just as many words this year as I did last year.

Just reading that gives me a little jolt of joy.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

“The miracle is this – the more we share, the more we have.”
-Leonard Nimoy

So today was the last workday of the year for me. I have been counting down HOURLY. I have never been more excited about having a little time off. The week has been fairly busy but not too much, and that’s good because I’ve just been too excited to focus as well as I usually do/at all in any way. I spent the afternoon finalizing student withdrawals and making sure I had everything ready for when I come back on January 4. And now it’s officially done.

All this is to say that I haven’t really had the extra focus I needed to post about joy every day, so we get to prolong the magic of this series probably into the new year. I mean, I’m still hoping my elusive industrious self will resurface over the next couple of weeks (once I’m well-rested again) and thus that I can double up on some days and finish in time. But just like sending Christmas cards or some of my Advent calendar things that feel more like busy work than anything helpful this year, I’m going to actually take the advice I frequently give others and let some of the things that don’t have to happen slide. When you’re juggling 14 balls at a time, it’s ok if some of them drop (My INTJ/Enneagram 5 brain PASSIONATELY disagrees, but I plan on feeding it pasta pretty soon to appease it).

A practice that I started one year when I wanted to make sure I posted at least once a week (heh – remember those days, some of you? Good times.) was Friday Five. I would choose five things I saw on the internet that week that made me think, made me believe in humanity a little bit more, or just gave me joy, and I would share them with my readers. To my delight, what I found is that the act of sharing these things was itself a joy. In sharing them, I got to relive them, and I got to imagine the happiness they might bring to other people.

So here is today’s Friday Five – five things I saw on the internet this week/month that I hope can give you a fun start to your weekend. And yes, to share some joy.

  1. For fans of Schitt’s Creek (and if you aren’t yet, Netflix binge it and become one and you’re welcome) – a little Christmas treat.
  2. This Twitter thread – spoiler alert, a lonely little girl finds out fairies are real and gets to meet one.
  3. Just in case you’re wondering how to wrap a goat for Christmas (you could be…I don’t know your life)…in related news, I am open to accepting gift-wrapped goats for Christmas.
  4. Tabitha Brown is a treasure. When she posts her videos, I feel like she understands my sadness and wants me to know that it’s ok to feel sad but I also sort of feel like she knows how to fix it and I would trust her to do so. I want to support everything she ever does.
  5. Jen Hatmaker making risotto is the recipe-writing style to which I aspire. Best line? “Have you ever thought, ‘This has too much butter and cheese in it?’ No you haven’t. Don’t get weird.”

Enjoy these posts and your weekend!

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

Day 9 – Make Comfort Food

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf

I was resigned at the beginning of the week to scavenging the remnants of my pantry to piece together snackish meals until I can get to the store on Thursday, but then the cold snap persisted, and I really needed soup. So instead of peanut butter and pretzel crisps, I scavenged up the fixings for this chickpea concoction. Two cans of chickpeas (out of the 12 in my pantry. WHY do I have so many? I do not know. What were you planning, former self?), a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, the frozen onion/bell pepper blend I keep on hand for emergencies, cauliflower, and a healthy dash of garam masala later, and I had a warm stew that was just what I needed.

What constitutes comfort food is different for everyone. My criteria used to include gobs of cheese, but since dairy decided about 10 years ago that it wasn’t my biggest fan, I have had to adjust. I still eat cheese, and some of those recipes are still on the list, but it now also includes others, like hearty vegan stews.

I tried to list criteria by thinking about what I consider comfort food. Does it need to be warm? Savory? Sweet? Healthy? Buttery? I think I like too many things to narrow down what will be comforting at any given moment. To point, here are some of my standard comforts:

  • Popcorn
  • Soup
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches (really…any sandwich)
  • Ice cream
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Good bread and butter
  • Tator tots with an over-easy egg on top
  • Pasta with parmesan

Many people will suggest that, if you are in need of a particular boost, you make your meal an occasion. Even if it’s just you, use the good plates and napkins, sit at the table. Eat slowly, perhaps by candlelight and with good music playing. I do this occasionally, but really? This can feel like a lot of work. Which I guess is sort of the point. It is a lot of work, and you are worth the effort.

You know what else I’m worth? Not creating more, unnecessary work for myself and eating in the comfy chair covered in a warm blanket where I can have dinner with my favorite TV characters. That sounds amazing.

There is a reason that comfort and joy are often paired. Comfort gives you rest from the work you’re doing, and joy gives you the motivation to get back to it. Rest is essential. It’s important enough in and of itself, but it also ensures that you are refreshed and energized for what the next day holds. So much of the work that people do, particularly those who are laboring for change and trying to build a better world, is emotionally and mentally exhausting. Joy reminds you why you’re doing the work – to make lives better and increase joy overall.

Comfort is such a relief, particularly when days are hard, that it immediately creates joy. This is something I want to remember when I brush off my needs in order to get one more thing done. I’m missing an opportunity for joy.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

My End-of-Term Speech

Current Officemates

When I was teaching, I would often give a speech at the end of each term to recap how far the students had come that semester. This was one of my favorite days (and not just because it was the last day). When you teach public speaking, most students come into the class with a lot of fear and doubt about their ability to do well. By the end of the semester, though, many of these same students are good (and some, even excellent) speakers despite their fear, and it’s important to make note of that.

In this speech, I also told them the key things I hoped they took away from the class. If I had earned their trust enough for it to be effective to do so, I would then end with a bit of advice for their future.

I don’t have a class full of students anymore, but I do still work in semesters. And if you’re reading this, I hope you trust me at least a little bit (if not – why are you reading? Just stop. Save yourself the misery.).

So I have some advice. Not for college students, though. For their parents or for people who one day will be parents of young adults.

Let them take care of their own business.

I know it’s hard. I’m not even a parent, but when one of my friends’ kids – doesn’t matter how old the kid is or even if they’re not technically a kid anymore – talks about a difficulty they’re having, my gut reaction is “Whom do I call?! Just give me a name, and I am on it. This shall not stand!” I can appreciate that if you multiply by about a million, this is probably how the parents of these young adults are feeling when everything doesn’t go 100% their way.

Ok. That is a valid emotion. Acknowledge that feeling…and then let them take care of their own business. By the time they are adults, it’s good for them to know how to be. And unfortunately, the only way they are going to learn this lesson is with practice.

I would recommend starting when they’re in high school. This is what my mom did, and to this day I still regard it as easily one of the top five life lessons I have ever learned.

When I was competing in UIL, my high school principal made a decision about my eligibility to go on a trip that I didn’t agree with. I was devastated in the way that only a 17-year-old who is used to being every teacher’s pet and golden child can be devastated. I ranted to my mom, who was friends with him, begging her to call him and get him to change his mind. But she didn’t.

What she did instead was look into my melodramatic, tear-stained face and say, “I understand your point of view, but this is your conflict, and you need to handle it.” She then asked more questions and gave me some advice about points I should consider making.

I talked to the principal the next day on my own. I initiated the meeting and presented my case, and he listened. I realize that not everyone in that position would have paid attention to a teenager with no real power, and while I would hope it would have gone the same for another student, I can’t be certain of that. But he did listen, and I thanked him for his time and left feeling confident and proud that I had made my opinion known.

The best part? I got all the credit. The next time he saw my mom he told her, “I’m really impressed with her. She is mature beyond her years.” And Mom just said, “That’s so good to hear. Thank you for telling me,” like it was the first time she was hearing anything about it. And while I didn’t get what I wanted in that situation – I really wasn’t eligible to go on that trip; it was the right decision to make – I did get a pretty kickass reference from him later for something more important.

Please let your young or almost adults have these experiences. They’re so valuable.

Now, I know that if the principal had ignored or disrespected me, my mama bear absolutely would have called him – at home, intentionally during supper time – and he would have rued the day he made that bad choice. She is…formidable. So I’m not suggesting that you completely give up advocating for your kid. But there are also those – like the people in my office – who look for ways to say yes whenever it fair to do so and offer other support when it is not. It is our delight to help this adulting lesson go as smoothly as possible.

At some point, your habit of stepping in from the beginning or even at the first sign of disagreement needs to stop being the default reaction. If you could see the proud faces of the students who come to our office on their own or the sheer volume of excited exclamation points in replies from those who email us when they succeed in what they contacted us to accomplish, I’m confident you would want that for your kid, too.

Day 8 – Seek and Find

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners…” – Isaiah 61:1-2

“Today is the Sunday of joy.”

This is the first thing the pastor said this morning in his sermon. I usually do my daily Advent activity at night, so I had forgotten that this is the week we focus specifically on joy in the liturgy. All throughout the service on Zoom, there seemed to be an emphasis on seeking it out that carried over from the annual meeting we held the hour before. This was a hard year to recap and put a tidy bow on, but it was easy to find joy in these people with whom I worship, who avoid neither hard truths nor practical, hopeful solutions, who have patiently and faithfully made all the adjustments we’ve asked of them this year and keep showing up online and responding with grace and exuberant generosity.

I know I talk about my church and mention faith in passing, but I don’t say I’m a Christian a lot because wow, the baggage. It’s a lot to unpack. Part of that baggage is the pull of the prosperity gospel that is popular in many circles, particularly in our culture. The name-it-and-claim-it, ask-and-you-shall-receive, vending machine Jesus where you put in a prayer and walk away #blessed. The “you just need to pray harder” message. And the inevitable flip side of the coin that quips if there is a God, then why is the vending machine so broken? Why is the world the way it is and why do bad things happen to good people (or for that matter, why do good things happen to bad people)? If you’ve been hammered with these messages, it can be hard to find joy even when it’s the theme of the day.

To be fair, this sentiment doesn’t come out of nowhere. “Ask and you shall receive” wasn’t lifted off a bumper sticker; it’s straight out of the gospels. And it’s got backup:
– If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, I will answer and heal their land.
– If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you can ask what you will and it will be done.
– My God shall supply all your needs according to the riches in Christ Jesus (riches which, of course, the Bible teaches are unfathomably abundant or even limitless).

There’s a whole lot of “If A then B” going on in the scriptures.

Fortunately, this isn’t the whole story. Good news for me, because if it were, I’d be firmly in the second camp, unable to believe in a god who chooses to withhold resources and dole them out stingily based on a whim or performance or prayerful hoop-jumping. I’m interested in the scandalously extravagant God who pours out the wealth without feeling the insecure need to micromanage what we do with it (overbearing, controlling father metaphors? No, thank you.). My faith means seeing other people as the very image of God. This, too, is risky, because sometimes we people act like garbage, and that does not reflect well on any deity who would have us believe they are love.

But when I look for it, I get a glimpse of joy in actions born of that unfathomable abundance that we often try to keep locked up as only something God can access in order to avoid our own responsibilities to each other – to set captives free, to right every wrong, to feed and clothe and house and heal. It’s in every person. We don’t always see it or act accordingly and thus *gestures broadly* But I believe it’s there.

I contain unfathomable abundance. You contain unfathomable abundance.

This has been a hard weekend that followed a hard week (month…year…decade?). Seeking and finding joy has been and remains a difficult task. But yesterday, there were hours spent online with friends, sometimes talking but mostly just hanging out in the ASMR of some of us baking, some of us making art, some of us writing. And there is a church that doesn’t require me to sit quietly or to stuff everything and everyone I love into a box but instead encourages me to keep speaking up. And there are local activists, artists, and business owners who bond together to ensure mutual thriving and to bring our little corner of the world closer to what it would look like if all were true and right. And there are baked goods and rosewater that show up at my front door. And cards that come in the mail. And coffee. And candlelight.

Hello, joy. There you are.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

Day 7 – Dance

“What we want from modern dance is courage and audacity.”
“If a thing moves, it lives.”
– Twyla Tharp

I may have written this post before, and I don’t want to do a strict rehash. It’s not always easy to articulate how dance relates to joy, because…it just does? It seems too obvious, maybe? We leap for joy. Joy seems to be inherent in spirited movement.

Except when it’s not. When you have so much anguish built up that you feel trapped in your body. You have to release it or burst. So dance can be angstful (full of angst? I like angstful better) and angry and all the things we may think of as the antithesis of joy.

Dance can be many things. It can be happiness. It can be frustration. It can be catharsis. It can be release. It’s both/and. It’s holding all the realities in the same hand.

It can start with muscle memory but it doesn’t stay there. Dance is always at least partially now.

I love the way that dance immediately pulls me not only into the present but also connects me to all that has come before. Into the body I have now but also into the memory of just how much my body has done before. How much it can do. How much it still has to discover.

Dance can be possibility. Dance forms dreams and gives shape to progress.

Dance can be joy.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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