February 12, 2024

A Desperate Little Exhortation About (Bitter)Sweetness and Light

         Hooray!  My Kickstarter campaign is fully funded, and my book Bittersweetness & Light will really be happening!  I’m so glad and grateful that this project will be shared with the world… And yet… let me share a couple of recent conversations that gave me pause…
        During a reading I was explaining that my book was meant to give hope and joy, and that my stories are always guaranteed to offer some sort of “happy ending.”  A lovely and well-meaning person responded eagerly, “Oh yes!  Sometimes you just need a fluffy beach-read!  And other times you need something with more depth to really engage in, so it’s so important to have both kinds of books.”  In another conversation a couple of days later I suggested that movies and other media that are nothing but unrelieved doom and gloom, misery and blame, don’t necessarily motivate people to work for good.  The immediate reply was a disparaging, “Right, Ignorance is bliss.”  The automatic assumption I keep facing is that anything that isn’t dark and painful must be shallow and mindless; that happiness is “fluffy;” and that only violence and misery are “real” or worthy of serious engagement.
        Well, I’m serious about joy.  I absolutely believe that joy and hope are real, important, engaging, and worthy of deep consideration.  I have no problem with “fluffy beach-reads” and the occasional escapism (and indeed, some of the stories to be included in my book are certainly “fluffier” than others!)  But it drives me crazy and breaks my heart that people can’t even imagine that a “happy ending” could have substance.  It doesn’t even cross their minds that anyone serious, intelligent, well-informed, and rational could share causes for joy or reasons to hope; if you’re not wallowing in misery, you must be burying your head in the sand.
        Let’s break down these assumptions.  For some time now the whole world (and certainly myself) have been suffering from unhealthy levels of stress, trauma, and anxiety.  Obviously this is partly because there are so many real, serious things going on that of course cause stress — but it’s also because we are so immersed in the bad news that we never get a chance to focus on the good things.  It’s because there are forces in this world that actually benefit by keeping us too depressed and cynical to stand up against injustice.  It’s because our species is actually hard-wired to be hyper alert to every possible danger and focus more on the things that might go wrong.  It’s because even when we try to fight injustice, we just end up beating ourselves up and burning ourselves out.  In the face of all these reasons, it is actually an act of fierce defiance to acknowledge joy.  To stand up and claim that Goodness does exist, that Love is powerful, that Joy is possible, and that we all need to work harder at finding that joy, and sharing it with each other.
        I keep trying to spread that message, but honestly, these conversations coming one after another gave me a bit of a crisis of confidence.  Clearly whatever I’m saying doesn’t seem to communicate the point I’m trying to make: that one can look at a world that is broken, full of suffering, and feeling ever more precarious, and yet still see that there also exists infinite beauty, capacity for love, and possibility of redemption – and more than that, we need to take a long, hard, serious look at all that beauty, love, and possibility if we’re going to have any chance of surviving these threats and making things better.  Maybe I’m not the right person to be the messenger, if apparently I don’t seem to be very effective at expressing the message.  Still, I have to keep trying – because I do still have hope - and Bittersweetness & Light is part of how I’m still trying, as one small person with just a small voice.
        So, I’m serious about joy, but that absolutely does not mean that I’m now turning “joy,” too, into something drearily dutiful.  This collection of stories, poems, and art is serious in the sense that I hope it will engage you, make you think, and reach somewhere deep in your heart – but that doesn’t mean it has to be serious in the sense of somber, dark, and depressing.  I hope this book will be make you happy and lift your spirits!  I hope it will be entertaining to read, fun to look at, and delightful to your mind, heart, and soul.
        I suggest you try a little exercise: pay attention as you go through your day and start noticing how often you encounter those assumptions that only the bad, mad, sad stuff is worthy of serious consideration – or tend to make such assumptions yourself!  Start pushing back against them, and keep reminding others (and yourself) that joy is real and that we need to share it with each other.  Let me know how it goes, because I need all the help I can get!  And if you do want to join in the Kickstarter campaign for Bittersweetness & Light, you have just one more day!  The campaign ends just before the stroke of midnight on February 13, so procrastinate no longer, but come share my joy in this!

1 comment:

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Yes - Yes - YES! Joy should so not be relegated to and obscure corner of the fluffy shelve!