on making your joy non-negotiable
Hi friends. I have attempted several times over the past week to compose something even slightly comprehensible and I have fallen short every time. Or so it has seemed to me. Last week I wrote an entire newsletter and then deleted it — the third time I have done this in as many weeks — because every word I wrote felt trite and inadequate, both creatively uninspired and thematically unimportant. The truth is, my mom has cancer (again) and we found out two Mondays ago and I have felt kind of numb since receiving the news, unable to make sense of much, cycling rather rapidly between grief and rage and despair and hope on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Which I’m guessing is pretty normal in this particular set of circumstances. There aren’t a lot of specifics yet, but we do know that after fourteen cancer-free years, the breast cancer is back and has this time metastasized to her liver. And we do know it fucking sucks and that life is wildly cruel and unfair sometimes.
I could write about how my mom is the best person I know. I could write about how she loves fiercely and lives selflessly. I could write about her bravery and strength and resilience and unwavering sense of humor. I could write about how difficult our relationship has been for almost the entirety of my life. I could write about how after more than thirty years not knowing how to connect with one another, we’ve spent the past twelve months building the relationship I’ve always wanted us to have, the relationship I thought would be forever out of reach. I could write about how much I hate that she has to go through this. I could write about being angry and terrified. I could write about how I wish it was me instead, about how she doesn’t deserve this, about how I’ll never understand why this is happening. I could write about how she just turned 61 and is still so young and so vibrant. I could write about my efforts to surrender any claims to certainty, any illusions of control. I could write about refusing to forfeit hope, about how I thought I’d have twenty more years (at least) of having the mom I’d always hoped for, of being the daughter I always wished I could be. I could write about how — in my best, most optimistic moments — I still let myself imagine this will happen.
I could write about a lot of things, but mostly I want to share something my mom told me after her most recent birthday at the end of January. She urged me not to wait as long as she did to be happy, she begged me to start prioritizing joy now. Which is not something I’m particularly skilled at doing. Joy doesn’t always feel safe to me because what if something bad happens and I’m too busy being joyful to anticipate it? If I don’t worry and watch and prepare for the worst, will I be unprepared when it happens? Can I sacrifice joy to keep things together, to prevent them from falling apart?
Obviously, that’s not how these things work. We can’t relinquish joy in exchange for guarantees of any kind. And bad things don’t happen because we weren’t paying attention and missed the signs those bad things were coming. I mean, maybe sometimes they do. But more often than not, bad shit shows up because that’s what it does. Indiscriminately. Regardless of how prepared or unprepared we might have been for it to arrive. Independent of our joy. So we might as well make joy a priority, you know?
(My mom is wise, I would recommend we all heed her advice.)
Lastly, I said this on instagram a few days ago, but I want to reiterate it here:
If you’re reading this, go tell your loved ones you love them. And then tell them again. Annoy them with your love. I dare you.
P.s. I haven’t spellchecked or proofread this. I have done minimal editing. I apologize for any typos or other errors.
P.p.s. I have closed comments on this post. I don’t have the bandwidth to engage today.
P.p.p.s. Thanks for being here.