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joy manifesto

May 8, 2012

The words that might commonly be used to describe what I’ve been doing (my ‘life’s work’), have meanings that are completely different than what I actually want to say, because they derive from practices that are antithetical to what I’ve been doing.

  • Do I use the commonly-accepted words anyway, but with lots of caveats?
  • Do I coin my own words, which then everyone has to try to remember as they read?
  • Do I delay writing about this topic, while I look for the writings of others that may be similar, then use their terminology? Which probably still won’t be familiar to most people. (Also, I haven’t been able to find anything like that.)
  • Do I create my own ‘field’ of ‘study’ (both of those terms are also problematic) so that I can define everything as I wish?
  • If I’m not a leader and I don’t have followers, will my preferences (should I develop any) for what I want to call things matter to readers?

The first problematic word is ‘discipline’. If I were to use it, my dictionary doesn’t list any meanings that are quite what I need, but the closest would be (my dictionary’s) 6th meaning: ‘a branch of instruction or learning’. Probably most people, though, would assume I meant something closer to (my dictionary’s) 1st meaning: ‘training to act in accordance with rules’; or its 2nd meaning: ‘activity, exercise, or regimen that develops or improves a skill’.

It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to use either the first or second meanings because of their direct emphasis on rules, and their indirect/implied emphasis on certainty and predictability.

My problematic words belong to a paradigm that prioritizes order in the sense of orderliness, as well as other senses such as rank, and command; and rules; and people working on difficult (possibly unpleasant) tasks because achievement will allow them to dominate other people; and wanting to control what other people do; and expecting one’s life to be consumed with duty and obligation, which is somehow satisfying and worthwhile; and valuing the mind and abstract thought while devaluing the body and emotions and anything that can’t be described as ‘rational’.

I could go on, but I’m depressing myself.

What I want to say is something like: I’ve been discovering and co-creating my ‘discipline’ of joy, delight, exuberance, pleasure, whimsy, capering, wonder, curiosity, etc., etc.  It’s a ‘discipline’ because I’m committed to it, and I practice it, and I want to gain ‘mastery’ of it. But everyone has to find their own way to it, and how to do it. There are no rules, and cannot be rules. There are no texts. There are no paths.

Unlike many other disciplines, this one offers no glamour, no prestige, no honor and glory. In my experience of it, no one takes me, as a practitioner of it, seriously. Joy and delight and all the rest are assumed to be frivolous and childlike and easy to achieve, therefore, not valued. Social approval can happen, but only with very unusual individuals (kindred spirits). More commonly, people call me flaky and weird, sometimes crazy. They spit out ‘free spirit’ like it’s a bad thing. I’ve been exhorted to ‘grow up’, to ‘face facts’, or, my favorite, ‘stop living in a fantasy world’.

If I had created a ‘fantasy world’ to live in, I would have lived a very different life. A happier one, to begin with.

More to the point, when I’ve taken their advice, against my own better judgment, and done the things they assured me were ‘sure things’ for a good life, those things did not provide me with anything I wanted. Instead, I did poorly at tasks I did not enjoy, while never getting to do what I’m good at. My self-confidence plummeted. I got depressed, then suicidal. I wondered if my whole life had been a failure.

Presumably their advice works for people like them, which I am not. Their advice is toxic for me. And often being around them is also toxic for my well-being. If someone can’t celebrate life with me, then I at least need them to accept that my way of doing things is valid for me: I believe it’s a necessary ‘discipline’ in the world that’s in short supply, so it’s worth dedicating my life to ‘providing’. Grudging tolerance and/or ‘encouraging’ me to become a completely different sort of person, someone more like all the people who dislike me, are not acceptable.


I was fundamentally uncomfortable living in Indiana for so many years, and longed to move somewhere that I wouldn’t have to conceal or minimize large swaths of my identity. Living in Maryland, I feel safe enough that my identity is becoming much more fluid. I’m beginning to understand things about myself that would have been impossible even to contextualize in Indiana. And yet… There were configurations of places and people there that brought great joy and delight and creativity to my life. Not only have I not been able to find replacements for individual elements, but their synergistic effect was even more important, so that now there’s just a gaping wound in my life, where there used to be sources of joy.

I now think/feel that my ongoing catalog of health issues and ongoing pains of various sorts stem from the deficiency of joy&such that has become, in these past 4 years, a chronic depletion of something essential.

Despite loving living in Maryland (and I do!), I’ve also gone through some of the worst depressive episodes of my life in the last 4 years. And even when I have recovered my optimism, at a deeper level I have continued to feel that some nutrient or trace mineral is somehow missing from my life, and I’m slowly suffocating or starving without it. I’ve been wracking my brain all this time trying to figure out what that element(s) might be. Unrelated to those thoughts (I supposed, anyway), I had also noticed that I have not felt joy and so-called transcendence and exuberance and all the rest nearly as often as I did while living in Indiana. Those feelings happened frequently enough in Indiana that I took them for granted as signs of how ‘self-actualized’ I was. It now appears there was a lot more going on than I realized.

Nowadays, when I think of joy, the mental image often contains fabrics. I think that’s my unconscious suggesting that making garments and other fiber arts projects will add happiness to my life, in ways I don’t quite understand quite yet.

The time is ripe for more joy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sixwing permalink
    May 8, 2012 16:56

    I do think it’s worth it to define your terms (and redefine them if/when you need.) If nothing else, I consider it disrespectful to be in someone’s blog (basically, in their space) and not to respect their preferences! So, thanks for laying it out clearly.

    What is ‘mastery’ of joy? I suspect it doesn’t mean having it down to a science, since the concept seems contradictory, but I am thinking of a concept of mastery depending on repeatability and the capacity to produce the mastered [thing] at will.

    I wish you success at finding joy, sufficient and beyond sufficient.

    • May 8, 2012 17:34

      I may have to write about ‘mastery’ in the sense that I’m using it. (I had meant to go back to it, and forgot.)

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