August

Joy outside the door

And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips/Bidding adieu — John Keats, “Ode on Melancholy”

August. You again. I lamented your presence a few years back, and I stand by it. This year you also coincide with a hellacious US political sh*tshow featuring an overtly racist, sexist, xenophobic, hate-mongering, spray-tanned stinkbomb of a presidential candidate (not to put too fine a point on it). In short: Oh, joy.

Actually, it’s that short word snarkily employed up there — joy — that I’ve found myself ruminating on amid my late-summer anxiety and despair, and not in an eye-rolling way. Rather, I’m thinking about joy’s relationship to melancholy — thus the Keats. (To clarify, by melancholy, I’m not referring to clinical depression, only the temporary state of “having the blues” or “the blahs,” or “being out of sorts.” States of which, by the way, I currently am in. See: August. And the Cheetos candidate. Which is an insult to Cheetos.)

Anyhow, as I often do, I started with the word itself, perusing the OED in high nerd mode. Joy has a vividness, ebullience, and fleetingness that Happiness lacks. Joy is kinda like Happiness’s plucky older cousin (NOT to be confused with Glee or Bliss. Nobody wants those f*ck-ups at the reunion; they’ll only end up naked in the pool). Joy swings by the house on a lark with a fresh batch of chocolate-chips and a bottle of your favorite wine and daisies in her hair. You’ve been waiting by the window and fling open the door as she skips up to you. But, as ol’ Keats intimates, Joy’s on her way out the door as fast as she screeched into the driveway. With a wave and a blown kiss, she hops back on her moped, sunglasses flashing in the waning light of day. Watching her go, you want to hold her radiant perfection in your two hands. But then, she burns rubber, baby, and all you can do is watch the tires smoke, nibble a cookie, and hold the door frame for balance.

To seek a permanent state of joy is impossible, if not idiotic, unless you’re a Golden Retriever. The joy of joy is in its ephemeral nature (uh-doy, as my tween self would say). And there’s something, well, a bit embarrassing about an adult seeking joy, as if it is a simpleminded or insipid or sentimental pursuit. There’s nothing hip about Joy. She’s a little goofy, naive, even. Yes. She is. And maybe we need a few more conscious doses of her, especially when faced with so much rage and violence and fear in the world.

And I do mean conscious. It strikes me as I write this that some of my greatest moments of joy come when I’m writing, usually when something in a story reveals itself — the joy of clarity, of discovery. It also comes from the intensity of focus on words and sentences, trying to render them both logical and beautiful. Just writing this simple post has got my brain firing in a way it doesn’t when I’m passive, a mere recipient of my emotions. Here, I’m making conscious choices. I’m awake. I’m alive. I’ve flung open the door, and there it is: joy.

I’ve written before about humor and tragedy, an abiding interest of mine, and I guess I’m beating a similar drum. (Humor is Joy’s boisterous brother with the unlaced high tops, cracking wise over the cheese cubes). Joy likely won’t banish melancholy, and it shouldn’t (Melancholy’s tempestuous children are Art and Beauty). Anger serves an important purpose; sometimes we are right to be afraid. We have serious work to do, and joy won’t solve problems, or fight inequality, or make change. Yet joy can be part of the emotional equation, too. Like love and hope, joy can be trangressive, if we remember to look for it, if we remember to open the door.

Visible heat

The temps this week are supposed to be in the low 100s, which means I-don’t-know-what for the heat index. Yesterday, I was driving home from our weekly beating (aka grocery shopping), when I noticed what I’ve heard people talk about in the South: you can see the heat. There it was, a heavy, tin-can gray mist roiling over the trees.

You can see the heat in the desert of the West, too, but there it shimmies up from the earth, tinged with exhaust fumes, glimmering off the black pavement like a furious ghost. Here, it hangs above, threatening to smother.

I don’t have a stance on which is more miserable: hot, baking oven heat or humid cloaking heat. They each have their award-winning moments. If anything, I have a beef with August.

Seriously: what is your damage, August? As a dweller of the warmer U.S. climes, I encounter your bullying every year. I’m skipping right along in summer mode, admiring the lightning bugs and tree frogs, and here you come with your sucker punch in the kidney. You take the outdoors hostage, trapping us inside with our skin-cracking A/C and weird smells of feet and burned popcorn and garlic; we drag ourselves through work and errands, where listless strangers clutch their elbows and moan about you, how you stick around like an uninvited party guest who’ll end up sleeping in the bathtub, bits of vomit on your chin and collar. I don’t know how to fight you, so I just let you pummel me into sulkiness, crouched in discontent. I move in black and white.

I know how this goes: I’ll summon the energy to punch and kick you back a little, to get back to my feet (I like to think I know jujitsu). You’ll relent for a day or two, and I’ll see September in the distance, zipping by on a festive bicycle, the wind in its hair. Finally you’ll get bored and leave. I know you’ll be back, but I’ll forget about you. Until the next time you lurk around the corner with fists clenched.