the good old days.”
Carol King, singing outside (link)
Got a past? Sans joy?
This happened at our weekly Toastmasters meeting, for learning public speaking.
…A lady who was not a time traveler stood on a slightly raised stage before her peers. She told us she didn’t have joy.
Call her “Shauna.” An intelligent, white collar, working wife and mother, able to smile and gesture, but lacking joy. Shauna was asked to speak impromptu, for a couple of minutes. Her lack was important to her, and so she told us, explaining she “didn’t even know what joy was.” Wishing she did, telling us so with a smiling humor, without self-pity, with a dash of despair.
Shauna was not a time traveler, not if that meant visiting her past by using her memory, because her past was an emotionally cold place. Not nurturing. You may remember, from my essay Abuse Science (archived November 2017) my theory: Any human interaction, and any span of time, that is not nurturing is abusive. No middle ground. No wonder Shauna, during her cold span, never learned about joy. So how does anybody learn?
While learning at college, I remember a friend, Ann, who seemingly didn’t know what relaxing was. This was when I was taking an Introduction to Drama class where we had to really tighten each muscle group, one at a time, before we relaxed them, one at a time. “Tense-tense-tense… a-a-and relax…” said our teacher. We had to do so, she explained, instead of solely relaxing, because some people needed to feel the extreme difference in muscle feeling—to help them learn what relaxing felt like. My friend Ann was one of “some people.” (She learned)
As for muscles, sometimes there are things I can’t do consistently, like a good basketball layup, until I have learned the muscle memory. I would guess one needs to feel “joy” a number of times before one can call it up from memory, or begin to seek out joy on purpose.
Tense and relax. If relax-joy is, say, winning the lottery, then our everyday life could be the “tense.” Just by comparison. It follows, by another comparison, that if my earlier life was awful then I would be joyful a lot today. And I am. How awful was it? I don’t tell anyone. Put it this way: For several seasons I was in a self help group and a big part of the benefit for us was we could share things society would never believe—and we would believe each other.
Today one of my little joys in life is time traveling. Like in the TV series Odyssey 5 (uncut) portraying five people who, just like my self help group, are folks from different backgrounds, who would, otherwise, never normally get together. But they frequently meet in a Houston diner because they all believe one impossible thing: That the earth will be utterly destroyed in five years. They know this because, being from the future, they have time traveled into their bodies from five years earlier… No wonder the cheerful waitress who fills their coffee says, “How come you folks always clam up when I come by?”
By the way, a similar mode of travel was also used—for just one person, not a group—in the major motion picture where a housewife jumps into her teenage body: Peggy Sue Got Married. Nice movie.
In my own past the people in my reality, who were later the “committee in my head,” often made it unsafe to smile or feel joy. (Of course you don’t have to believe me) So I don’t go back; I go forward. Last year I jumped from my past into my present.
Suddenly I was in a car, driving. I looked at my hand: same scar, it’s me whose body I’m in. Looked at my sleeves: A parka, in camouflage pattern. Obviously I was still a romantic for the army life, except it was coloured like a swamp. Civilian pattern, surely; maybe I had taken up duck hunting. Naw, probably just me being romantic. Through the windscreen I saw no mountains, no hills. I was on the plains. Maybe I had stayed in Edmonton with the Canadian Airborne Regiment. And I was rich: Not just the fancy parka, but the car was obviously bought brand new. The dashboard was futuristic, far beyond what you might see in the screen of a calculator—and the speedometer! It was in the middle of the dashboard, not blocked by the stupid steering wheel at all! How long did it take society to make such a daring yet super-sensible change? Or did I have a special car? …
… Of course I did. In our present day, if you check Consumer Report magazine, for their yearly vehicle issue, my car is one of the few to get a “check mark” meaning excellent in every category. A Toyota Prius. “Saving the planet” because it’s so awfully good on gas.
My present is good. I remember, years ago, sitting in a bar with a blond once who abruptly said, “I feel like making a list of my accomplishments.” So we both did. That was a joyful night. Similarly, a “gratitude list” can be a thing of joy. Building the joy muscle. Not just for listing material things like parkas, but for emotional things like self confidence, and “hands on” things like skills. Such as: “Hey, I can drive a standard transmission, on the superhighway, while barely white knuckling at all!”
You see, one day my mechanic’s daughter was trying to sell her sports car cheap, with no luck, so I grabbed it. I knew for sure it was very well maintained! And no, I didn’t buy it out of any silly midlife crises. I just needed a new car, that’s all. It wasn’t something I had ever dreamed of buying. Is that a joyful thought? A funny one, to be sure.
Happy travels to you.
~I once essayed On Gratitude Lists, archived July 2010
~As an artist, I am grateful for my surroundings. The poet Rumi said:
The garden of the world has no limits…
Its presence is more beautiful than the stars
With more clarity
Than the polished mirror of your heart
~My essay Review of Odyssey 5 is archived February 2016.
The phrase “Odyssey 5 uncut” was always spoken on the TV commercials because it was an experimental show: Portraying an old fighter pilot with authentic-to-him swear words, not cut out. This was not to be gratuitous, but to be true to his character, impatient and decisive: For him, even if it was “certain” that the Earth would be destroyed, he would keep struggling, making reflex-quick “pilot decisions” in a tight spot. He led the four younger survivors, who were not-so-quick, to keep trying too.