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what if we declared joy as our major?
DIY back-to-school, plus the joy of 3rd spaces, and surprise nachos
I miss back-to-school energy and so I’m trying to recreate it in my life. What am I doing? Cultivating enriching habits (more below). I’m finding an outside office in which to write, which is kind of like going to a classroom. I’m signing up for weekly French classes. I’m opening up my editorial business to more clients (email if you’re interested). I’ve bought a series of yoga classes for my physical ed., and enrolled in an Improv class as my elective 😉! Plus, I’m spending more time in third spaces—kind of like the cafeteria at school.
Third spaces refer to a location—not work or home—where conversations with weak- tie relationships are the primary activity. Think French cafés, German beer gardens, and English pubs, all of which appeal to people from many walks of life. These are places where you can have casual interactions, run into a neighbor, and feel part of the world.
Because I guess that’s it isn’t it. Going back to school makes you feel part of a learning community, full of aspirations, books to read, vocabulary to be learned, notebooks to fill, new pens and new friends. Hoping the slide into autumn and school invigorates us all.
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In my rush to cultivate enriching life habits (drink water first thing in the morning, 50 jumping jacks, make my bed, text a hello! greeting to a friend), I’ve taken to rereading Ross Gay’s BOOK OF DELIGHTS upon waking, before I peruse the news. And let me tell you, it is a delight. Each essay is brief, just 2-4 pages, and each makes me think. Some make me laugh out loud. Some make my eyes sting with recognition.
Consider this from an essay entitled, “Umbrella in the Cafe”:
Do you ever think of yourself, late to your meeting or peed you pants some or sent the private email to the group or burned the soup or ordered your cortado with your fly down or snot on your face or opened your umbrella inside the bakery, as the cutest little thing?
Geez, I didn’t used to, until I read this! Now I’m going to try to be more generous with myself when I’m a little sloppy, a little ridiculous.
And this from an essay called, “Babies. Seriously.” in which a toddler delights an entire section on an airplane:
I was so flabbergasted by the endurance of love and delight incited by this child to whom I presume none of these people was related to…that I found myself, despite the very engrossing book that I was reading about something horrible, laughing out loud and babbling with them and convinced again of something deeply good in us.
I feel so lucky because once I’ve made it through this book, he has the follow-up book, INCITING JOY, which I hope will live up to its name! Here’s the description:
In an era when divisive voices take up so much airspace, Inciting Joy offers a vital alternative: What might be possible if we turn our attention to what brings us together, to what we love? Taking a clear-eyed look at injustice, political polarization, and the destruction of the natural world, Gay shows us how we might resist, how the study of joy might lead us to a wild, unpredictable, transgressive, and unboundaried solidarity. In fact, it just might help us survive.
Yes, that’s a tall order for a book, but Gay is just the delight-able, intelligent, curious person who can pull it off. And, hello, ‘the study of joy’ might be my new major!
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I believe I mentioned I attended the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. It was terrific to immerse myself in all things writing, to make new friends, to have my work critiqued by smart and invested peers, and to learn. I love being a student! A highlight of the conference was attending the poetry craft talks. All were terrific. A particular standout was Victoria Chang’s talk on (What are the chances!) JOY! Guess what? She referenced Ross Gay.
Chang revealed the truth that joy is different from both happiness and pleasure because joy is not something you experience, it’s something you are IN. According to Chang, joy requires both collectivism and the recognition of our proximity to, well, mortality. Only standing in the truth of loss (future, past, present) can we be in joy. Finally, Chang says, joy is a cloud rather than a cup, it is beautiful and shapeless and cannot be conjured, but seizes us.
Chang shared these three poems: one, two, three and they all slayed me. The mystery of the moose, stopping the bus in the middle of the night; the strangers feasting upon figs in the middle of the city; the extreme and extravagant love from the speaker— I am infected by their intensity. Why am I telling you this? Because, as you write and put your characters in situations that are complex and filled with tension, I wonder, can you also bring in adjacent moments of joy? Moments in which your character is moved and feels part of a lager world? Why not have the climactic moment be one of wonder and connection?
If you would like to continue thinking about joy, this essay, by Zadie Smith is just the ticket.
Here’s a prompt for you, from Victoria Chang’s talk with some adjustments by me:
Think of a moment(s) when you have experienced joy- it could be around food, the natural world, community, or love
Describe the moment in vivid language
Consider please where you were at the time of joy, what difficulties did you face in your life?
Describe the troubles (personal or public) in vivid language
Now, reread what you’ve written and try to weave the two threads together
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Dinner for a night you don’t feel like cooking.
Middle Eastern Nachos
3-4 pita breads
1 T olive oil
1 T za'atar
1/2 c tomatoes diced
1/2 c cucumbers seeded and diced
1/4 c red onion diced
1/2 c chickpeas (You may use canned for ease, or if you think ahead, buy the dried tiny ones and cook the night before.)
2 T olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t black pepper
2 T tahini
1/2 c Greek yogurt
1 cucumber seeded and diced
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove minced
Salt and Pepper to tast
3/4 c crumbled feta cheese
2-3 T pine nuts or walnuts
Cilantro to garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut pita into triangles, drizzle with olive oil and za’atar and mix well.
Lay flat and NOT overlapping on sheet pan. Bake for 15 minutes until browned and crispy.
Make the Israeli salad by combining tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, chickpeas, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper.
Make the tahini tzatziki sauce by combining tahini, Greek yogurt, cucumbers, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper.
Sprinkle crisp chips w/feta- making sure to get some on each chip. Melt cheese under the broiler for a few minutes. Watch carefully, they will burn if you turn away!
Top your nachos with Israeli salad, Tahini Tzatziki, cilantro and nut of choice.
Who says this isn’t dinner? Who says it wouldn’t pair beautifully with this spritz, or this spritz, or this one.
I’m still on the road post-Napa, and boy-howdy am I missing this little cuddle bug. Stanley!
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