Well here I am one third of the way into thirty days of joy. Joy is not an event. It’s not a thing done, an accomplishment. It’s a state of mind. I said the following words to a vendor at the farmers market today: “I’m so happy!” She remarked how nice it was to hear someone say those words. I admitted I don’t say them all that often. But, I was happy.
Granted it wasn’t unrelated to a bunch of things I feel good about: warm weather, the farmers market, it being the season of green beans and new potatoes. But I’ve been on the other hand, too, where everything is just fine and I still feel like something’s wrong.
So. Is it that I am practicing more, regularly? I know it isn’t simply a function of having to have something to write: just because there’s an assignment doesn’t mean you’ll do it well.
Mrs. Thomas was my 6th grade teacher. Sixth grade was the year right after my Dad died, which was in June of 1968. Mrs. Thomas had a card file on the corner of her desk that you could go to and get out an assignment to do if you finished your other work early. I was always finishing my work early, and one thing I’ve always had a hard time with is waiting. So I frequented Mrs. Thomas’ 3 x 5 card file. You could pick math problems, write an essay, do spelling, or look up something in social studies or science. You got graded on these extra assignments, but if you didn’t do well, it didn’t lower your regular grade. It was whipped cream on a brownie. Without the whipped cream, the brownie is still good and still a brownie.
I loved Mrs. Thomas. She wore skirts and pressed blouses and nylons and lace up shoes. Her hair had been auburn and was turning gray. She didn’t fuss over her appearance, she didn’t raise her voice, and she made the standards of conduct crystal clear. Her class was orderly. We worked quietly. I think that’s the year we made an entire miniature village out of painted cotton balls and craft sticks and the like. It’s certainly the year I wrote an essay about how dramatic my mother was, and solved pages of math problems, and produced lists of neatly spelled words.
I remember one of the boys wore white shirts to school. I thought that was cool. That same boy had lost the last two phalanges of the fourth finger of his right hand, reaching into a garbage truck. Other people had survived trauma and were now wearing white shirts and playing kickball. Life went on.
I used to suspect that Mrs. Thomas had made a special effort to have an orderly classroom just for me. That’s how wise and kind I thought she was. Now I believe that Life landed me in the perfect place and treated me with gentleness and quiet at a time when I just needed to settle and have familiar things around me, like words, paper, pencils, people.
So, this is my little 3 x 5 card file, sitting on my laptop, that I go to at the end of my day and tap-tap-tap out my little assignments, lining up word after word on “paper” until something starts to take shape. I don’t need a sanctuary these days, any more than the sanity I already have in my home life and relationships. I don’t get done early; I try to do too much and stay up late finishing a self-imposed assignment, because I’m curious, and because it seems to be the only way to get anything done. I don’t like guys in white shirts anymore, but I do still notice people’s hands and missing pieces.
There was so much more to report here, from just this last 24 hours, that I could not possibly write it all down. I did have a few moments that felt essay-worthy, perhaps for another time. One, I deliberately and consciously chose to trust a person and a situation, by which I mean I let it go when I realized I could not change it and pronounced it okay, even though I lacked conclusive proof. Two, I noticed that when your heart is bursting with love for someone who is gone forever, it feels a lot like grief but more like joy. And three, when I think about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come, in whatever areas of my life I might be focusing on, it tends to make me feel better about whatever challenges I’m facing now.
Oh, the picture! Ok, look, I promise 2 things: tomorrow I will write my entry earlier in the day, and I will double up on pix to make up for having none (again!) tonight.