Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Joy Thief

Finding joy at the MFA: a glass of prosecco and some journaling

A few years ago, Marie Kondo's television show and books were all the rage. Folks fell under her spell as she instructed the world to declutter, simplify, and embrace a more minimalist lifestyle. I, too, watched her show and read her books. However, the only thing I learned was how to fold my sweaters to fit into my drawers, which in turn, allowed me to buy more sweaters. I also learned about joy, more precisely, the act of continuously asking if something sparks it. 

I applied this concept of "sparking joy" to everything -- objects, actions, and people. Quite honestly, it has worked well for me. My house is filled with objects that make me happy ... granted, it's way more than what Kondo envisioned in her lessons. I ask myself constantly if something I'm doing is "sparking joy," or more precisely, bringing my life into balance and making me content. For example, teaching "sparks joy." Art definitely "sparks joy." As for people, I find applying Kondo's lesson much more difficult. I have to remind myself that work colleagues need not "spark joy," while those with whom I choose to surround myself in my personal life most definitely should. 

Research, reading, and writing bring me joy.

I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately and how Americans approach it. We actively seek happiness with every fiber of our being and don't understand that it's a fleeting emotion like anger or sadness. For the most part, Americans see happiness as a commodity. We can attain it through our savings, careers, families, vacations, etc. Like commodities, happiness depletes, so we constantly strive to replace what is lost. I struggle with this every day because I know that happiness is not a sustainable state of being. Being content, being at ease, finding joy in our life -- these are sustainable. Joy and contentment are wrapped up in this ideal of happiness, yet have very little to do with it.  You can't buy these. You can't even achieve them through careers or having 2.3 kids. You cultivate them like a garden, and like a garden, they take work to grow. Small everyday actions like meditation or religious practice, reading a good book, playing with your pup, making something with your hands, daydreaming, tending a garden or taking care of a houseplant, and simple rituals like tea drinking in the afternoon cultivate contentment and joy. For example, Ed and I spend our mornings on the couch or on our deck outside sipping coffee and eating breakfast. We've been doing it for years. This simple ritual brings me great joy. I can't imagine starting my day without it.

Various art objects at the MFA, American Wing 2nd Floor, Aesthetic Art

As I was wandering around the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Friday, I realized that what I was experiencing wasn't happiness. Rather, I was at peace and felt content. I didn't feel worried or anxious. I wasn't thinking about work or the various things that have been upsetting me. I was enjoying where I was and was fully in the moment. Sure, I wrote down thoughts and ideas for future projects or to show my students during this coming semester. Heck, I even took some time to flesh out an assignment that I want to give my Intro students! Everything I did or thought revolved around the place where I was, what I was seeing, and those things that bring me great joy and satisfaction -- art, research, and teaching.

It dawned on me in the that moment that I wasn't miserable, as I've been telling myself for the past few years. Instead, I was allowing others and myself rob me of joy and contentment. Standing in front of a display of Arts and Crafts art pottery, I had an "A-HA!" moment! As I commuted home to Salem, I mulled this over: what are the things, events, and people that rob me of my joy. What robs me of my peace and balance? What do I allow into my life through my own responses to things, events, and people that robs me of my contentment? The list was telling. 

I can work on changing my attitudes and reactions to certain things, but others will need to be removed from my life. Like my garden, I will need to weed out those things that are strangling me. Like my garden, I will also need to fertilize and water those things that bring me joy. I know there will be lots of changes and I will probably disappoint some people, but that is not my problem or responsibility.

What robs you of your joy? What brings you joy? What would you like to cultivate?

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

The Unfolding of June: A Birthday and the Beginning of Summer

Ed Lighting My Birthday Cake

Every year since we've been together as a couple, Ed has tried his damnedest to make my birthday special. He will plot and plan, and start asking me how I want to spend the day at the beginning of May. The week before my birthday he'll ask me what I want to do, what I want for breakfast, where I want to eat dinner. The day before and the morning of my birthday he will ask me again. As I've said before, I appreciate the gesture, but I often feel pressured to come up with something special to celebrate my birthday. Having ADHD means I have trouble deciding what to do, especially when there's so many options. This leads to frustration and anger.

As you probably have read in my previous posts, I've also been in a bit of a funk. I'm sure my Mom's 10 year death anniversary isn't helping, neither is my own realization that I'm actually "middle aged." It's weird, but here we are. 

A Delicious Cake from Coffee Time. YUM!

Ed is a mensch of the highest order! After reading my last two blog posts, he decided not to ask me what I wanted to do on my birthday. He didn't insist that it be "special," or that he wants to make me "happy." Instead, he honored my feelings and let me be. The only plan was to get a cake from Coffee Time and to spend time together. 

Fort Sewell, Marblehead. One of Our Favorite Places

This single act of holding space for me and my feelings was the best birthday gift I could ever receive! It let me process what is usually a very complicated day. It also taught me that I need space and low levels of sensory data to make smart decisions. Otherwise, I tend to get overwhelmed and frustrated, and will lash out.

How did I want to spend my 51st birthday? I wanted a delicious vegetable sub from Shubie's in Marblehead and spend the day hopping around the rocks at Fort Sewell. I wanted a pepperoni pizza for dinner and a piece of birthday cake. I wanted to cuddle on the couch with Ed, Doc, Ziggy, and Bijou while watching a movie. I just wanted a quiet day outside in nature followed by an evening with my favorite critters. And this is what I got. HOORAY! 

Cleared and Planted with Grass Seed

Ed and I took off the week after my birthday and planned a "staycation." We somewhat finished clearing the jungle that was our backyard and planted grass seed. I am happy to report that it is growing, though I think the birds got the majority of it. 

Ed, the Wondrous Mensch

We're getting a new fence, so we aren't able to build the garden beds and plant all of the trees, bushes, and flowers this summer. I have amazing plans for this space! But alas, I have to wait. Ed built two raised beds for tomatoes and zucchini, and we have potted basil and cilantro on the deck.

Tomatoes and Zucchini

Herbs and Flowers

We spent our Summer Solstice in the garden, which was a wonderful way to celebrate! In the evening we had a special "nosh" outside. The weather was wonderful, though a bit chilly. 

Our Summer Solstice "Nosh"

I am very grateful that Salem has many wonderful small businesses, including a cheese and wine shop and a specialty food shop. The Cheese Shop of Salem and Pamplemousse have been supplying our noshes with an amazing array of cheese, meats, olives, wines, and beer. The best part is that both shops are within walking distance from our house. 

Ziggy and Doc Enjoying Solstice

With all of that said, how am I doing? Well, much better now. I allowed myself room to process and talk about how I feel about my birthday. I allowed myself the space to be angry and upset and lost. I didn't put on a "happy" face for the world because I'm supposed to ... and it was wonderfully therapeutic. I've been doing an awful lot of thinking, meditating, and reflecting about my life and career, who I am, my Mom's death, and my own mortality. It's been hard, but good. 

I'm feeling more like myself at my core, but much different than a decade ago when Mom died. I'm stronger, more determined, and much more focused on what's important. Something has changed. As Mom's 10th anniversary quickly approaches, I don't feel the same overwhelming dread as I did before. It's time to remember and honor her, but it's also time to move on and remember and honor myself.