The top highlights of my winter vacation stemmed from opportunities to witness changes that are bringing joy to the lives of people I love. A new romance, a new apartment, a new school, a new baby…
Their lives are also complicated. They too have been deeply affected by the dumpster fire year of 2017. They too were breathing in and breathing out and figuring out how to keep fighting for our lives in 2018. They too were dealing with loss and grief and stress and fear and rage.
And they have joy. They have access to that spark. And I got to see it, which made me genuinely happy.
At dinner with family friends one night over the break, I was talking about my research on sexual violence prevention and my involvement in community organizing against white supremacist fascism in Charlottesville.
“What you do to put your mind on something that’s not so heavy?” … asked a 30-something physician who had just been describing the bicycle-built-for-two that she and her fiancé ride around their California home.
My dad laughed sarcastically. “Aha,” he exclaimed. “That is the question.”
My mom visited me in June, just a few weeks after the May 13 Nazi flash-mob torch-rally downtown. “But what do you do for pleasure?” she kept asking. Apparently I never provided a satisfactory response.
Pleasure. Fun. Joy.
It wasn’t until tea with an activist co-conspirator on one of my last days in Boston that I was truly convinced of it all. First, as another dear co-conspirator pointed out to me, it’s just different to hear it from folks who are also structuring their lives around activism. The rhetoric of self-care can be so easily coopted to justify complacency. And I do not intend complacency.
More so, I just didn’t know how my brain would hold up upon return to Charlottesville. As a psychology researcher, I know that emotions are real things that are really happening in the brain and body. And not only do I need to give my brain a break, but I also need to give my body ways to build positive associations with this place that has been so structured by racist terrorism. Offering myself some positive associations will not and should not undo the grief, the rage, the reality. It will however help me live my life, and it will also make me more grounded as a community activist.
So, what brings me joy? The ocean, my friends, and dancing.
We are relatively landlocked here in Central Virginia, and when I connect with friends I want to have space to hold the heaviness of what we are all living through together. So I’m going to find a dance class. Starting with once a week, more often if I need to. I want a class that happens regularly that I can put into my schedule and plan around. Something for fun – I don’t want to be practicing towards a performance or anything with pressure. I just want to move and experiment and not take myself so seriously (for an hour).
For my body, for my brain, for myself, for my work. With hope.
What do you do for fun? What will bring you pleasure this year, how will you find joy?