Every kid I’ve ever babysat draws pictures and, regardless of scene, puts a perfectly round sun with wavy rays in the corner. Ask him why, and he’ll tell you it’s there. Remind him he can’t really see it, doesn’t really notice it when he’s looking at houses or cars or people lined up with crayon grins and he’ll be puzzled. He draws it because it is there and to hide it is to miss something important.
If you smile, people like you more. It’s proven. It’s true, but sometimes when I’m smiling, I kind of hate myself for it. I’ve come to create for myself a great distinction between “cheerfulness” and “joyfulness.” I used to get called cheerful a lot. I was trying out church, trying to make friends and blend in and find some peace for my soul, but all I managed to do was to learn to hide behind a “cheerful” disposition and a friendly smile, and, yes, that’s my fault, but churches are engineered around cheerfulness. Wow, that was one hell of a run on, but I had to get it all out fast so I could say it. I learned that the more I hid, not just sadness, but insecurity, anger, annoyance, grumpiness even actual caring love for another human being that real feeling that someone else matters to me behind a toothy grin and an awkward, plastic hug, the more deeply I felt those things.
It’s like cleaning a house. I’ve explained before how much I hate cleaning, how it leaves me feeling rattled and unproductive. I love to have a clean house, but, unfortunately or fortunately (however you look at it), I enjoy writing, reading, analyzing bad tv, and staring at a spot in the yard for hours, thinking about history and the universe and all of time colluding together in this space, dancing like dust in sunlight, to influence an idea. Cheerfulness is the exact opposite of that exquisite nothingness. Cheerfulness is scrubbing a stove until my hands are raw and the enamel is eaten away because something is irritating me, and I am unwilling to admit to myself that the thing that irritates is that cleanliness and not thoughtfulness is next to Godliness.
Joyfulness, in my definition, is the inexplicable calm that comes over me in odd moments. I’m not going to be able to explain it well here. Every bit of fiction and poem I’ve ever scribbled is an attempt to put it in words, but I’ll try here. It’s sorrow and warmth all wrapped up together in the sacrosanct lightness of knowing beyond doubt, even in just a nanosecond, that thousands of years of love, fear, and survival have created each of us to live and die on this planet, at this time, in these circumstances. It’s the oxymoron of the autonomous obligation to live a life that matters to us, each of us, alone.
I’ve not entirely thrown off the yoke of cheer. In fact, that might be impossible, but I have learned, through hardship and the realization that I am not always (or even often) an honest representation of the hurricane of human emotion raging underneath my skin, that I want to embrace honesty and openness, even when to do so is to incur criticism. I remind myself that I don’t always have to be nice at the cost of my conscience or my well-being because the life I want is not as a servant to everyone. I am allowed to let my spaces get absolutely hoarders-disgusting one day and then turn around and craft one tiny beautiful tableau the next. It is within my rights to tell people to go away, or no, or I care about you.
I want to share a recurring dream I’ve had for the past two weeks. In it, I am energy present at the birth of the sun. You are too, everyone I’ve ever met is here. Everyone is energy. There is a massive sound, but we don’t hear it. We feel it, and it rattles through us like a shiver, giving us shape and form as we rush toward the source and then, glowing so hot I can only see all the colors of the light spectrum, we become the sun. Then, moving toward Earth, we light it, warm it, and watch as life begins to sprout up and take form. And then (keep in mind, this is a dream, not accurate science) I am born to die over and over, becoming a blossom on a tree or a spore caught in the wind. Each time, each becoming feels just like becoming the sun. And in this dream, I feel wholly joyful, for I am part of the life cycle and the life cycle itself, occasionally harnessed energy, made of stardust.
I share the dream because I think that it is probably the closest I’ve come to understanding joy, other than deciding that it is the opposite of cheer. Joy kills earnestness, that sticky sweet sentimentalism that coats our greeting cards and self-help books, and makes room for honesty. What, after all, is more honest than the killing and necessary light of the sun?