Oh Joy, how I have searched for you on long dreary winter days. Sometimes thinking I have caught a glimpse of spring out of the corner of my eye only to have it vanish when I turn my head. On occasion, it has taken longer than I thought I could bear for you to arrive, but you always do find your way to me eventually. Perhaps that is a better way of looking at it? That joy finds me rather than the other way around. That is how Rumi puts it in his beautiful poem The Guest House that I think of so very often, and sometimes I even feel wise enough to try out his advice.
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” –Rumi
What a guest joy is in our lives! The one out of the many that we wait hopefully for, greet at the door with perhaps the most ease. How I do love the momentous trumpet-filled visits that joy sometimes makes: promotions, graduations, and acceptance letters. The early evening bombastic laughter of a group that loves each other and knows this is good. The right-now-is-great feeling that lingers. I carry these moments and they carry me. An invisible locket dangling from my neck with that joy inside it. Reminding me where my heart is, beating: big and strong and red in my chest. But even that is not my favourite way joy finds me.
My favourite way for joy to walk in is on soft slipper-footed noticings. Opening the door only as much as it needs to slip past and quietly fill every deep corner and empty surface of the space. The joy that I can trust and keep all to myself is found in moments of beauty and peace that wash over me in the quietest of waves. Perhaps it is selfish for this to be my favourite kind of joy, but joy can be selfish. The first poem I ever wrote was about this kind of joy. Sitting at the foot of my bed in a pool of sunlight with my dog Toby sleeping soundly beside me in the yellow warmth of the sun. I was about eight, excited to be going somewhere but not quite having to leave either. That is where the poetry started.
So often this joy also finds me in nature. A solo paddle across the lake to wander through the woods on the other side. Find a bright green marsh with a stream. Take my boots and socks off to dip my toes in the crisp, fast water. Teenage angst nowhere to be found, just wide open skies and calling spring birds. Gently wrapped joy, revealing itself through simple pleasures, delicate, and everywhere much like the air.
Then there is a selfless joy. This joy that is not my own but finds me anyway. I am new to her frequency but wow has she changed my egocentric habits with her visits! Of course I am bigger than myself, those I love are such a part of me, and those I don’t know at all, too. Strangers often push and pull my weather with their own storms. Sometimes yes, lending me their sun when I let her shine in. Can be as easy as a high five for having finally finished that five-month project, sometimes as easy as watching my crush find new sparks in an old romance, but always with ease. That door is no longer heavy for me, no longer locked, swings open freely. Five years ago, I would have simply not known of the possibility of sharing another’s joy that had nothing to do with me; but I have gone to enough sober date anniversaries and eaten cake in the company of someone else’s victory. I know what it tastes like: so, so sweet. I am baffled by how there can be so much sweetness in this world I thought I knew the taste of so well. That sweetness so freely lent to me lightens my words and softens my tone finds a way to lift every single verse ever so slightly higher than it used to be. It changes my pitch so that I am slanted much more gently, now other people’s love and hope doesn’t slide off so easily. I hope I always find a way to let other’s joy in, and that I never forget to practise so I can keep knowing how easy it is.
The last kind of joy that comes to my door usually comes in the middle of the night and doesn’t call first. This is the joy that comes to me most often and it comes to me from between the cracks. This is the joy in daydreaming through a lecture, this is the joy in dancing at the protest, our bodies the most powerful chant. This is the joy in holding her hand even if someone here feels uncomfortable with me holding it so gently. This is the joy in cursing. Before you go asking if this is an entirely ok and on the up and up kind of joy I want to be clear that it is not but I am sure it has saved my life more than once. Growing up queer in a small town with an eccentric dysfunctional family, this: rebellious, sneaky, rude form of joy often saved me from the deep waters of sorrow and isolation. I stole things, I lied, I challenged authority figures constantly, I skipped class and got high and I enjoyed it. I think it kept me sane and whole while going through some tremendous growing pains.
This is the joy you feel when you are getting away with something. This is a joy we all know better than we might care to admit. This is the joy that riles against stoicism. The joy that gives me my dark sense of humour. Which I will forever be grateful for because regardless of the incomprehensible amount of joy that we collectively hold, there is just as much darkness and I insist on laughing in its face. My friends refer to me lovingly as a “little shit” and I find great joy in it. I love how this joy informs my writing, how it can shock and please all at once, make you laugh at what you thought you never would. Make you nod, let you want, for me to get away with it.
In this oppressive, capitalist, patriarchal society that I wake up in every day, this particular joy is a weapon. It is also proof that I love myself and my community in spite of the crushing weight of systemic injustice and hate. Joy will find me even in this, will throw rocks at my window in the form of memes that make fun of the many absurdities of our world that I navigate every day, gendered washrooms for instance. I will hear this joy’s laugh track in the pauses between the macro and micro aggressions I navigate on my construction site day job. Louder even then the hammer drills and nail guns, blankets just as thick as the dust. This important old joy of mine can keep me safe when not much else can. Though if she comes around too often it can be cause for alarm. All joy in moderation, spare us the blank stare of toxic positivity but don’t forget to poke fun at it first.
So all I need to do to find joy is remember not to look too hard. Joy is there, will come to my door someday soon, in one form or another. All that is required of me is to be ready to open up and let joy in when they knock. “Meet them at the door laughing” how beautiful that when we meet joy they are laughing too. As though we share an inside joke that has yet to be told but is truly and completely hilarious to us.
Release Relief like ecstasy Not the drug But the feeling So kind of like the drug All the moments that I just couldn’t And then did Gives me a warm place to rest while I collect my thoughts Warm like a plant getting enough sunStrong When I leave Shocked I could do such a thing Sit down Listen and intentionally change my life Three months Is a lot of time A lot to walk away from quietly skipping inside
Ash Winters is a Gender queer, sober, Toronto-based poet. They graduated with their BA in English from Lakehead University in 2010. Their poetry and prose have appeared in; Existere, Open Minds Quarterly, The White Wall Review, Free Fall Magazine, and Into the Void. Their first collection of poetry, Run Riot: Ninety Poems in Ninety Days came out with Caitlin Press in January 2021.