Friday, November 9, 2012

Intimidated by Joy

The other day I was editing my novel (don’t laugh and don’t ask to see it because at this stage it’s laughable) and I discovered that most of the scenes I’d written were downers. Even the scenes that were supposed to be happy carried this dour, cynical certainty that things were going to get worse pretty soon. And I realized:

I don’t think people will believe me when I write about happiness and joy.

So much so that nothing I write—and usually nothing I say in conversation—ever conveys the unbridled joy that I know. Always, always I try to reign it in with a more believable frown.

The implications make me gag a little. It’s as if we all believe that true joy is a delusion at worst and an illusion at best. But I also realized:

My joys are much more personal than my sorrows. The situations, the people, the thoughts that make me truly happy mean so much to me that I try to hug them tight to my chest because if someone were to see them and to disbelieve them, ignore them, or, God forbid, laugh at them, that joy might be lost forever. Besides, if joy is so personal, can I possibly write it in such a way that you don’t gag from sentimentality?

It’s a tall order. It terrifies me to try. But “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” So:

Every Wednesday I take a two-bus commute across the city to a little apartment situated on the fourth floor, above the third-floor Nore-bang.[1] When I open the door faces turn and laughter pours out into the hallway before I can slip the door closed. Shoes spill over the entryway, into the tiny, over-warm living room packed tight with twelve or so of us. I yank my shoes off quickly, tight-roping over stretched legs and sprawled conversations into my usual corner, sinking into our circle. Two hours later, the circle stretches wide as we go our separate ways—by bus, subway, scooter, and foot. We’ll meet again next week.

That’s the best I can do until I grow up a little more. The happiest moments of my life have been when I disappear into the heartbeat of a group like that. It’s been a long time since that’s happened to me on the soccer field or in an orchestra: shared passion, shared goals.[2] Here in Busan it’s difficult to disappear. As a foreign teacher I stand apart—naturally excluded from my students both by nationality and occupation. It is inevitable, understandable, an interesting part of the expat lifestyle to be apart in a culture obsessed with togetherness.

And it makes my Wednesday nights all the more joyful.
To be honest, I'm still not completely sure what we were doing in this picture since we were supposed to "make a
Downton Abbey face" and I've only watched one episode. Still, I think it gives a decent insight into the group.
Squirrels notwithstanding.

[1] Karaoke room, for you non-expat waygooks.
[2] Punny!

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Elaine. I've mentioned it a few times, and it never feels like I get the idea across as I intend.

    And I've never seen a single episode of Downton Abbey, so I was totally guessing on this one.