Everyone needs a touchstone sometimes, and right now I need one of mine mine. It is a little book called Take Joy by Jane Yolen. Take Joy has been a part of my life since I first picked it up at WisCon in 2006. It has also been in storage, way back in Ohio, since I came to the UK later that year. I took copious notes, but at this point notes aren’t enough. The other day I bought another copy of Take Joy to have here with me. I am so glad I did.
This edition of Take Joy is subtitled “A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft”, and if anyone knows about the craft of writing, it is Jane Yolen, she who has written more books, short stories and poems than I can actually count. This is a book about writing, that is true, and so it may seem strange that I turn to it when I’m not doing much creative writing of my own. You know how they say some things are timeless, right? Well this book works just as much for any creative art as it does for the art of writing and it does it because what it’s really about is joy. Remembering to take and keep joy is crucial to my work.
Once upon a time I began a series a paintings from a very angry and ugly place. The canvases were gashed, had nails in, were splashed with red paint and who knows what else. Barbed wire. Broken glass. They were a perfect reflection of what was going on inside me and around me. It was powerful work, I’ll give it that, but about halfway through, I stepped back and said wait. I looked at my creations and suddenly realised I did not want to pull my art out through that doorway. Those canvases went into the dustbin, and I made a pact with myself that the things I make – whatever they are – will be made with love and joy or not made at all. It was hard going at first. Just because my intent changed doesn’t mean anything else about my life at that point did. I was still angry and ugly inside. Things were still going on around me that fostered those feelings. But as my intent changed, so did my art. As my art changed, slowly, slowly, so did my life. I chose joy, and ever since I’ve held to that.
When I found Take Joy lying there all innocently on a dealer’s table at WisCon, and picked it up and started flipping through its pages, I was taken back to the day I stepped away from those paintings. It was a good day. It was the day I took a step closer to the artist I am now, and when I see people online say things like “Papaveria Press books are so pretty”, I smile a secret smile because I know how close it all came to not being that way. It’s a smile that forms now as I flip through these familiar and comfortable pages. It’s so easy to forget joy in a world that doesn’t seem to approve of it. It’s also easy to forget joy when the to-do list is long and deadlines loom.
Jane says something at the end of Chapter 1 that I didn’t have recorded in my notes. She says, “Do not be afraid to grab hold of the experience with both hands and take joy.”
Thank you, Jane, for reminding me of what it’s all about.