Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Thief of Joy

Have you ever known someone who just cannot stand to see you happy, when every time things are quiet and you find that smile creeping back into your heart and mind that person starts a fight or contacts you out of the blue just to make sure to ruin that feeling of joy? Then it's time to wise up and pay attention because you're giving them leverage and way too much power in your life . . . and it is about power.

Every time you allow someone to turn your heart and your life inside out, you give them power. Is that what you really want? Wouldn't you rather feel the joy bubbling inside you or do you want to feel guilty all your life? Then wake up and smell the latte because it's not too late. Pay attention to the signs and either get wise or get out.

I have a friend whose life is a mess. Whose isn't these days? She spends her time up on the mountain one moment and down in the valley of fears and tears the next and all because of her husband, but it's also because of her; she can't see what she allows him to do. She does not realize the power she gives him every time he turns her inside out and upside down.

For instance, my friend decided to take some time for herself. She went out with friends and had a wonderful time. She also had plans to see another close friend a day or so later. She came home happy and excited, anticipating a few hours with her friend, someone she hadn't seen in months and missed terribly. Her husband doesn't like her friend so she limits her visits to keep him from blowing up. This time, to be on the safe side, my friend didn't tell her husband she was going to visit her friend, but he knew something was up because he knew the signs so well. Without realizing it, my friend would smile for no reason, a happy secret smile that told her husband everything he needed to know. My friend doesn't realize how much her attitude changes when she plans to go see her friend or how much her happiness and anticipation of a few hours of joy shows on her face and in her demeanor. All she does know is that he planned to turn her world upside down -- and he did. He decided to make plans and corralled his wife into believing the plans could not be changed and she must be there. She knew what would happen if she didn't give in -- arguments, shouting, fighting, anger, and repressed helpless rage -- so she let her friend know she wouldn't be able to show up. The friend was understanding -- she always is -- but the friend knew what my friend didn't; my friend had been set up. Now my friend's husband is making her pay for even wanting to have a small bit of joy that takes her out of his control and away from him because whenever his wife is with her friend thoughts of leaving her husband creep into her heart and she believes anything is possible -- anything, even happiness.

People like my friend's husband creep into our lives like thieves of joy. They cannot stand for anyone to be happy because thoughts of freedom steal into their imagination. They are slaves to unhappiness, slaves to the thieves of joy, who live for brief moments of freedom and then, like good slaves, go back to depression and fear and desperate unhappiness. It doesn't have to be this way. Recognize the signs in yourself and anyone who steals your joy and either shut them down or get as far away from them as you can because if you don't you will be a slave for the rest of your life. The thief of joy doesn't have to be a spouse, the thief can be a friend or acquaintance or even a neighbor, anyone who stomps on joy whenever and wherever they find it.

The thief of joy lives to make everyone around them miserable, including themselves. The thief of joy may seem happy to outsiders but there is a deep, dark well of rage and helplessness inside them that shows itself in many different ways. The thief of joy fills their emptiness by surrounding themselves with people (the thief may call them friends but the thief of joy doesn't really understand the concept of friendship), by shopping, by filling their time with activities, by obsessing about their children, by addictions, by living on a perpetually moving emotional roller coaster, by any number of activities and things that put a smile on their face for a day or a week or even a month, but eventually the darkness seeps out like a creeping fog that taints everything and everyone around them. They cannot allow themselves or anyone around them to be happy for long and true joy brings out the worst in them. The thief of joy will start an argument or create drama and the cycle begins again. The thief of joy anesthetizes their pain but the pain, because it has not been handled, always comes back and devours the sun of joy and everyone around them until only regret and anger and depression remain and the thief of joy is certain their mark will not venture too far for a while. Things settle down after the thief of joy has a belly full of your joy and, like a sated bear, goes to his cave to hibernate for a while. Beware! The thief of joy is not gone, he is merely digesting his meal. He will get hungry again and come rampaging out of the cave looking for another satisfying meal of your joy.

Will you be there or will you take your joy and force the thief to steal from someone else?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Preaching to the choir

If this doesn't bother you, nothing will.

A religious war, no matter who's starting fighting it is no good news for anyone.

Never fade away

I had a moment of panic this morning while using my laptop; one of the key caps came loose on the keyboard. Typing in the dark, as I usually do, I could not figure out how to fix it even though I pressed and jiggled and maneuver it into position over and over. I decided to finish typing and take a look later when there was more light and I wasn't so focused on everything but fixing it. After all, it was the V and I don't use it nearly as much as the other keys; it does still have its little V decal firmly in place -- unlike the other keys that are rapidly vanishing. If necessary, I could get along without it. When Nature inevitably shouted at me and got my attention I took the key with me to puzzle over while I was otherwise occupied.

I figured one thing out almost immediately; the cap had a collapsible underside. I was onto something and the tiny metal brackets on the bed of the keyboard began to make sense. (I probably would have made a good engineer -- or maybe not.) I thought I could fix it.

After washing my hands, I took the cap back to the living room and fiddled with the cap a few moments, unsure how to keep the collapsible platform open long enough to engage the tiny metal prongs. I needed more light. Back to the bathroom where I fetched my mini Maglite only to find out it was dead. I needed batteries. To the kitchen where I keep the spare batteries (I'm getting low and must put it on the grocery list), popped out the old, popped in the new, and there was light. First in my mouth and then lying on the keyboard shining in the right direction -- after removing little strands of hair and dust -- I managed to keep the collapsible platform open long enough to fix the cap onto the tiny metal prongs and voila! it worked. The keyboard was restored. Now I could type -- and, as you see, that is what I did. I no longer feel the spongy squish of the little rubber plunger that hid beneath the cap and worked the V, something I was prepared to live with if things didn't work out as I hoped.

I love fixing things: food, electronics, machines, whatever is broken. I don't even mind the occasional home repair; I even enjoy the respite from living in my head so much of the time. But I do sometimes forget that nothing lasts forever. I keep plugging away, doing spot maintenance whenever necessary, and forget that nothing is built to last -- not people and not bad luck, as evidenced by my recent string of good luck.

When I checked the mail a few days ago I had a surprise, a check for second place in Byline magazine's Personal Memoir contest for my story, A Helping Hand. The money was welcome but it was the unexpected win when I had forgotten all about entering my story months ago (along with the requisite fee) that stunned me. At first, I thought it was another contract for one of my articles, but the envelope was hand written and I always send a SASE. Maybe they lost the SASE, I reasoned, but, no, it was something entirely different -- money and congratulations for winning second place.

I shouldn't have been surprised since a couple weeks before I got a letter from Chicken Soup that they were buying one of my stories for another of their books, which was followed yesterday by news that they had bought yet one of my stories for another anthology, this one for the Divorced Soul. That brings the Chicken Soup total up a little more and I have more stories waiting to be judged and accepted. There are now nearly ten books coming out next year either with my name on the cover or included in the book. That's not a bad haul for the year and the year isn't over yet.

I know people think I'm a little crazy when they see me grinning like an idiot and shouting, "YEAH! YEAH!" every time I go to the bank to cash another check for my writing, but it never gets old for me. Every time is like the first time and I feel like climbing onto the highest roof or mountain peak and shouting my news out to the whole world -- at least as far as my voice will carry. For the rest, phone calls, blog posts, and email will have to do and then I'll rely on letters. I have lots of stationery. I never doubted that my words would be read and though some people have done their best to cast doubt on my abilities because there are not more books with my name on the cover, I am still very much a writer. I have always been a writer even when my words remained unpublished and unseen by anyone outside of my family. A writer writes and I have been writing for a very long time and that is something that will never change.

When the measure of a writer's success is counted in dollars and cents it demeans us all. I can name over a hundred writers and poets whose work wasn't published until long after their deaths that were writers despite their lack of credits in print. Think of the thousands of men and women who kept journals of their trek across the plains during the westward expansion whose work has only now come to light in our quest to understand our past or those whose work was consigned to trunks in the attic until someone in their family read what their words and decided to publish them. Where would John Kennedy Toole have been if his mother hadn't fought to see his work published? Dead in his car from carbon monoxide poisoning, another suicide statistic and nothing more. Was he a real writer? Obviously, you haven't read A Confederacy of Dunces or met Ignatius J. Riley.

My recent sales may seem like small victories for someone who has been writing as long as I have, but they're not. They are proof of what I have always known; I am a writer. As nice as the checks and print publication are, it does not change the basic fact that I was a writer long before I was published and will be a writer long after I am gone because my words, saved between the pages of file folders and journals, will never fade away. They will remain, a treasure for some family member or curious child who unearths them wherever they are stored and will be read, whether by one or one million doesn't matter; the words will be read.

That is all. Disperse.