I have a confession to make…
For the past several weeks, I have gone back and forth with this draft — starting and stopping, writing a mass jumble of words and then promptly deleting them in bulk — struggling to figure out what to say that matched how I felt about the title.
The only thing that never changed…was the title.
When I first thought about writing this post, I was fresh off of spending a long and soul-nourishing weekend in Philadelphia with my family celebrating my cousin’s Bridal Shower, where we gathered for the first time in nearly two years to eat a lot, drink even more, and talk, cry and laugh until the wee hours of the morning while watching old classic movies. The theme came to mind for two reasons: the first being that the Bride-to-be’s mother, my rock and forever muse, famously lives by the mantra “choose joy,” and secondly, because the shower fell on the 20th anniversary of the largest terrorist attack in the history of my home city (and the country), and rather than be there and/or on social media recounting the horrors of that day…I chose to bask in the joyous promise of another day filled with love.
The next time I opened up this draft, I’d just wrapped another fun weekend, during which I officially solidified my “middle-aged cosplayer” status by (appropriately) dressing up as “Sister Night” (Regina King’s character in the HBO series “Watchmen”) and walking on the Halloween Parade route for the first time in my four-and-a-half-decade-long life. It was a much-needed moment of frivolity after a hectic season of work stress, and it was also the first time I’d put serious time and effort into the whole costume-finding and fitting process, and it was totally fucking worth it because I looked AMAZING.
And the most recent attempt to speak on choosing joy happened last week, when I was actually in the midst of a very real struggle to find it…after receiving a message and news that reopened the still-deep wounds surrounding my biological mother and her family. I was forced to acknowledge that there still lived within me the little girl waiting for an apology or admission of wrongdoing that caused decades of unspeakable trauma and shame. I realized I’d deliberately entered into digital “social contracts” with members of a family I’d held long resentments toward because I was still craving the remorse, respect, protection, redemption, understanding and nurturing that eluded me during the years my father and I campaigned for it to no avail. Even worse, anytime I considered severing the ties, a wave of guilt rushed over me, because I didn’t want the narrative that I was “the bad daughter/niece/cousin/person” being my story in their eyes without knowing my true story. The moment I realized I was once again prioritizing the needs and perceptions of others over my own peace…I hit “delete” and slept like a baby.
So what the hell inspired me to finally hunker down and dive into this post? Oddly…Adele’s new album and the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict.
Yes, that combination is weird AF to attribute to anything relating to joy: Adele — Queen of soulful, gut-wrenching ballads that inspire endless crying jags — and a teenage white terrorist who murdered two people and injured a third who were protesting the mistreatment of Black people, when his mommy drove him across state lines with an gun he was too young to possess…getting acquitted after a blatantly racist and biased judge tossed the only charge that was a lock for conviction.
Neither of those subjects immediately spark joy.
That said, in the case of Adele’s album, “30” (which honestly blows my damn mind because even though she’s technically now thirty-three, she’s still leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at that age — but then I didn’t have her pipes or the war chest of loot she’s amassed from it over the years to get quality therapy and enough real estate to ensure I’m left alone to heal properly), I went in expecting to cry (which I did) and ended up marveling at the growth and the clearly more confident and happier artist who bared every inch of her soul and released a goddamn MASTERPIECE in the process. Four listens later, and I feel like I’m celebrating a friend getting through a really tough time and ending up in a situation much better than the one she was scared to walk away from. And frankly, I can relate and still find motivation to never second-guess my gut (a habit I fall back into when fear grips me).
In the case of Rittenhouse, I simply chose not to spiral into the abyss that usually awaits me when news stories like this happen. And not because I’m numb to it. It’s the exact opposite. My first thoughts were of all the young, unarmed Black boys like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and too many others to contain in a single paragraph, who were gunned down walking home or playing with a toy gun or just existing, only to further have their characters assassinated by a biased justice system and media — resulting in their killers walking free and getting lucrative opportunities as a reward for their crimes. The writing was on the wall each passing day of that farce of a trial. The outcome was inevitable.
So after giving myself a block of time to drop a bunch of F-bombs, think about Kalief Browder — who sat in one of the most notorious jails for THREE YEARS without a trial, and suffered traumatic abuse for allegedly stealing a fucking backpack, before finally being released and committing suicide — and the Black women who were ordered to serve jail time for mistakenly attempting to vote after a felony and using a false address to get her child in a better school…I logged off and actively sought subjects that would make my heart smile. If only for a moment.
Because this world can be the thief of our joy if we let it. Because there are people who just can’t stand to see others happy and at peace if they aren’t. Because Black joy has been weaponized in the eyes of people who’ve set their sights on banning our stories and books about our lives, taking away our rights and abilities to vote for the people we want advocating for us legislatively, policing our hair and bodies, our sexuality, our expression of identity and rage, and controlling our ability to thrive and benefit professionally and financially from systems that have given them the money and influence to shift the balance of power in their favor…Every. Single. Time.
And sooo…today reminded me both how important choosing joy is to healing and living a limitless life of my own design, and why it’s especially important to choose it in times when the heaviness of it all can challenge and destroy my will to move forward.
With that, I’ll end this post that seemed overdue but was right on time…because I have a “date” with Andy Warhol at the Brooklyn Museum in a few hours, and just thinking about walking around a museum on a Saturday visually soaking up incredible works of art brings me joy.
May you choose, protect and advocate for your joy in these times…at all times. (And not just because the holidays are here and that’s the overarching theme.) We need it year-round, y’all.
Peace and Love,