One of the benefits of a long road trip, other than admiring a scenic view and listening to a great podcast or playlist, is uninterrupted time with your travel partner to really dig into a discussion. On a recent drive upstate through the breathtaking Catskills, my husband C and I delved into a conversation about the difference between pleasure and joy when he asked how my writing was going.
(For those who may not know, I am working on a coming-of-age memoir that spans ten years of my traumatic experience growing up in a dysfunctional family battling unresolved issues from generational trauma. I struggled with self-worth and emotions of guilt and shame for feeling disconnected from my family and wanting to pursue a different path. In my journey to find a sense of belonging, I made unconventional choices against familial and cultural expectations for a world that wasn’t ready to receive me. After years of self-healing guided by intuition, relationships, and my love of learning, I discovered my purpose and identity.)
I was on a tight deadline and struggled to write that week. But for me, that’s often the case. In fact, I find little pleasure in the process. Eating pistachio gelato? Now, that brings me pleasure. Coming up with the right framework and words to describe something when my head buzzes with a million, often mediocre, ideas, making me freeze in self-doubt and want to give up, is not a physical feeling that brings me happiness. Writing came to me much later in life, and reading in earnest was something I found in my mid-twenties. I accept that I am learning and require an exorbitant amount of inspiration. So much so that I wonder if it’s the same for other writers. If so, why they would voluntarily do this for a living.
I am in awe of past and present writers who persevered and published their gifts to the world. I can’t be sure their process was pleasurable, but I imagine it brought them joy. It’s what I feel when I complete a scene, a chapter, or an article — joy, a state of mind that goes far beyond the momentary physical feeling of doing. I imagine I’ll feel it once the book is done, knowing that my words will be capsulated, alive for others to read long after I’m gone.
Pleasure and joy are worthwhile, and I want more of them. At least I want to recognize the difference when I’m experiencing one or the other, if for the purpose of magnifying it and stretching it, like taffy, as long as I can.
What about you? How would you define pleasure and joy? What examples come to mind?
Here are four things that brought me pleasure or joy this month. I hope they bring you feelings of happiness.
- This article from the incomparable Zadie Smith inspired this post and former discourse on the same topic. It’s well worth the read. You may never think of joy and pleasure the same.
The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little pleasure in it. And yet, if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?Zadie Smith, JOY
- In my never-ending search for inspiration, I stumbled upon Joan Didion’s Why I Write. Such a pleasure to read.
Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.*
It tells you.
You don’t tell it.
* “Note well.”
- I recently read the beautiful novel by Xiochilt Gonzales, Olga Dies Dreaming, a New York Times Bestseller and International Latino Book Award Finalist the Kirkus Review describes as a “tough-minded story of a sister and brother grappling with identity, family, and life goals in gentrifying Brooklyn.” In my quest to extend the pleasure of living in the world Xiochilt created, I searched Spotify to see if a playlist existed. It does, at least one inspired by the book, and it’s pretty good! Consider a playlist for a book you read and loved.
- La Brega is a beautifully produced and engaging podcast about the “stories of the Puerto Rican experience.” Episodes are done in both English and Spanish, which is terrific for those who want to brush up on their español. Tip: Listen at ¾ speed for your language learning pleasure! A second season was just released: The history of Puerto Rico in eight songs. The show’s producers will release a cover album of the songs this month! Connecting to and finding new ways to celebrate my culture brings me lasting joy.
“There’s no direct translation of “la brega” in English, but for Puerto Ricans, it’s a way of life. To bregar means to struggle, to hustle, to find a way to get by and get around an imbalance of power. It’s got a creative edge, a bit of swagger; as Puerto Rican scholar Arcadio Diaz has observed, it’s a word that belongs to the underdog. Hosted by New York-born Puerto Rican journalist Alana Casanova-Burgess, La Brega tells stories of an island and a people trying to cope with too many challenges, and who deserve and demand better. The series is created by a team of Puerto Rican journalists, producers, musicians, and artists from the island and diaspora; a co-production from WNYC Studios and Futuro Studios.”
Consider your next road trip a mobile garden to fertilize the marvelous world of imagination. Thank you for taking the time to connect with me here. It brings me both pleasure and joy to be in community with you.
Leave a Reply