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Surrender Joy

 “...throw roses into the abyss and say: here is my thanks to the monster who didn't succeed in swallowing me alive.” 

― Friedrich Nietzsche


It’s been over two decades since I made the decision to centre joy in all areas of my life and organising, and part of that decision was a commitment to blur the arbitrary lines between art and life (à la Situationist). Since 2007, I have actively strived for an embodied anticapitalism to animate my creative process and collaborations. And, the latter has gone pretty well despite the external and internal discourses that say otherwise. But joy is a different story.   


So here I go.


As far back as I can remember joy has been entangled with melancholy and at times depression, always slightly out of reach, often painful and very thorny. There’s a reason why roses epitomise joy for me (more about that in a different letter). To say that an embodied joy remains elusive to me isn’t an exaggeration. I feel like a fraud admitting this because I write a lot about joy, and the kind of joy that is powerful, comes from within, and not only an external emotion. 


Realizing this truth has been hard. I almost don’t fully believe it. But the more I tune into it, the more I trust it. Joy is out of reach for me most of the time, and when I do reach it, it is often behind a veil. I try to remind myself that it’s not that uncommon for folks to be oriented towards a path that is not only a challenge for them, but usually involves fierce learning, a lot of failing, and if you are lucky, heaps of healing as you walk. And for me, finding joy has been all of this and more; I have walked many edges with long and bramble-filled paths that led me towards reconnecting with joy. To put it another way: it’s been about recovering and reclaiming what was stolen from me so that I can return back to the now and embrace the excitement of being alive. 


I write this today as if I knew this, but no. This has been hard to know. It’s like being stuck in some kind of labyrinth, or in a hall of mirrors… I keep seeing glimmers of me feeling joy, hearing whispers, the scent of roses tricking me, but something always gets in the way. I can trace—too many to name—traumatic and less than ideal events and experiences from my childhood that are those somethings that get in the way. The loss of most of my birth family is part of this, too.  I have learned that transformation often begins with acknowledgment. I also think it’s moved beyond these stories for me, and it has to do with fear in the now, and realizing a lack of belonging to place. 


As I continue to try and find belonging at the edges of capitalism and colonialism, and as a settler living on the stolen lands of the xwməθkwəym (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples, I am often left feeling rootless. I am OK with this discomfort, and as long as I am living here I fully commit to find ways for mutuality to flow and to listen to and fight alongside the stewards of this land and waterways to crush colonialism. And as climate chaos sends waves of fear and grief through the ether, I feel and rejoice in the healing salves that permeate our lives due to the everyday acts of reciprocity and care that is so deeply woven into my community. Amidst all of these entangled histories and current realities, I feel tremendously lucky for the relationships that foster me to sometimes feel grounded to place and always cared for; this is where I am able to tune into a kind of disaster joy instead of fear.


Fear aside, for many of us, embracing our despair and rage opens up realms of feelings like nothing else. We see this in children. Kids mentor us daily by showing us that when we embrace the full spectrum of our feelings and emotions, flowing with them instead of trying to control them, and then radiating our feelings outwards with others, it has the power to open us up to connecting in deeper ways, supporting us to birth galaxies of joy and love.


As I tune more into joy, I also caution myself about joy being the end goal. While joy as a political action has its place, when it is positioned as the best way forward, or as a demand, it becomes a problem. Joy is what I write about and in many ways my go-to-feeling-action. So, I will continue to embrace it, while also refraining from demanding others to take on what works for me.

 

I am listening. I am learning.


Language is limited, but it is powerful. This is a reminder to myself to listen beyond the words and embrace the feelings, listen to the subtleties moving between us. Feel.


 There’s so much to feel grief and rage about, and that’s OK. Historically, some of the most impressive resistances, ruptures and creations of alternatives have sprung from rage and despair. Amidst these fires of ragegrief were often glimmers of joy shining through, inspiration flowing outwards. We know that joy animates moments of collective struggle everywhere and often. It’s a composition and we are all the composers. But feelings cannot be marshalled into moral camps of good and bad, seen as binaries. Instead, feelings are a beautiful spectrum of possibilities that enliven our spaces and our hearts.


While holding onto this idea that there are no bad feelings, each emotion is not equal in their ability to ignite us to feel more and to act, and some keep us numb and disconnected from the world. Emotions like “happy” and “sad” are sold to us daily from the dominant order with the hopes we’ll remain sedated and docile, continuing to consume products and lifeways that sow distrust in ourselves and each other. Yet, even with this unevenness orbiting our collective spaces, we need to continue to create webs of care for us all to feel more, not less, and we need to refrain from telling each other what to feel, how to feel, and when to feel. It begins with meeting ourselves at whichever place we find ourselves. By tuning into each other and listening, and not judging ourselves or others on our process to become more alive. In doing this, we have the chance to increase our capacity to support one another more — helping us to show up in deeper ways, trust ourselves and feel more connected, and then together we can walk towards and enact more justice and freedom for all.


Joy has had sharp edges for me, and it is usually entangled with other emotions and feelings, often rage and grief are right there with it, cheering each other on. But sadness really does interrupt joy from flowing. One of the external ways sadness is stoked in me, is while I am reading a political text or listening to a podcast about building power/new worlds and it’s going along beautifully, intersectionality is deep, social hierarchy and oppression are centred as core problems to our collective liberation and autonomy, but then it happens: kids and youth and their ongoing oppression are ignored, or an afterthought. Boom! joy interrupted. Sadness. Yet, if I can tune into the firerage that is also emerging, joy often arrives soon after, igniting me to act. If you are familiar with my work, you know I prefer to embrace the multiplicities and the complexities of our shared and different realities, affirming the always-already happenings in our collectives, and ensuring we aim to incite trust!


It has taken me over twenty years to finally begin to feel some real joy, and  this joy never hurts. It isn’t sharp. I trust that pairing the desire to politicise joy with a fierce resolve to blur the lines of life and art was necessary for my journey. Because when I am listening to my intuition, when I am creating art, when there are no borders between me, my creativity, and my kin, when I am connected to my purpose, I feel free. And in feeling free, I feel more alive. 


This tuning into the way joy flows best for me has been momentous for my survival, but I couldn't do this alone. Over twenty years ago, I said to my sister as we courageously and breathtakingly cut the ties from our toxic family: “Joy is stuck in my belly, like a butterfly that can’t break free from its cocoon.” I have since worked hard to help this butterfly emerge. I have more to do, I am not alone; I am rich with the love and care from my kin and friends, and, lately, I have had the self-love courage to embrace another level of trust. Over the past couple of years, I have been guided to this place of profound self-trust by receiving incredible support from a dear friend and intuitive healer —propelling me to take a leap of faith, unraveling my intuition even more. Helping me hear hard truths, like I hadn’t really experienced joy. This mosaic of care has gently brought me towards listening to and responding from what I hear rather than what I am thinking. When I root into this kind of listening, fear begins to dissolve as joy blooms in its wake, with and alongside an abundance of love.


It has only been in the past couple of weeks that I can truly say I am feeling and enjoying long periods of joy, and it’s life-changing. It has also become unbelievably clear to me that I feel joy most when I’m being present. 


In the vulnerability of the now, joy is with me. 


with love,


carla


*originally sent to my email list (joy letter) in June 2023

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