Post 404.

I keep wanting to write about joy, to ask people what gives them joy, and to remind us that joy is needed as much as food and shelter. I imagine each of us finds kernels of joy that give our days meaning, connection and purpose, and I’ve been wondering what those are. There’s something missing in our analysis if we don’t observe and value those kernels for the way that we draw on them to endure aches, self-esteem challenges, scarcity or depression, particularly in these difficult times.

For myself, over this year, when so many have struggled with money, lockdown, injustice, and covid19’s stress on relationships or our own mental health, I’ve learned to pay more attention to my partner’s desires for joy, understand them as a priority, and more fully recognise joy as the substance of our goodwill, care and co-operation.

She’s lovely and beautiful, but I can get lost in my own world, and I’ve had to do a lot of learning about not taking joy and its necessity for granted. I’ve begun to notice those moments more, and to try to create them, observing that we can withstand so much, but not if joy is missing.

It takes mindfulness to consciously attend to what makes us or those we care for feel good. It takes effort to look at negative possibilities and to find or make small lights of joy, like a candle’s warm flicker in the dark or like the deyas we light daily to give small fire to our intentions as we navigate frustrating or unfulfilling realities. Amidst the troubles of our CO2-laden world, joy is like oxygen, like ocean breeze, like the songs of frogs on cool nights when you are sitting quietly and feel safe.

Attending to joy isn’t the same as being solution-focused because we are nowhere near achieving the solutions we need in the world nor even within our imperfect selves. It is more about what enables us to find life worthwhile along the way there. It’s not about escapism or simply being positive either. Rather it’s about how we negotiate sadness and happiness, and what we balance on the scales each day.

In one of many conversations over the last months, my long-time comrade and fellow columnist Colin Robinson mentioned wanting to choose to spend his remaining time in ways that brought him joy, laughter and togetherness. I listened carefully. Indeed, the work of trying to create a better world is meaningful, even if overwhelming, but joy is a different kind of momentous triviality; hardly an achievement and, yet, incomparably rewarding.

I find joy that enables me to feel my heart beating in the smallest of experiences, such as putting Zi to bed at night or having opportunities to tell her I am proud of her, now that we are home together all day.

In the midst of humdrum shopping, we would often catch her or her friends dancing (without consciously realising) to the music playing in stores. One explained that it’s because dancing (apparently wherever there is music) brings children joy. More power to them, just watching filled my heart.

I’m yearning to have different conversations than I usually do, to ask migrant women what are the joys we can amplify, to ask women who became unemployed over covid19 and who I know are struggling what are the joys that we can help ensure, to ask all those with difficult stories what are the joys that we can instead emphasise.

I’m trying to move from problems and their analysis, and from what needs to be transformed to instead delve into what gives us hope, brings happiness, and can be powerfully drawn on. I’m not coming with recommendations or neat conclusions. Instead, I’d like to listen, sharing in gratitude, and learning from what I hear.

Post 335.

Today, I turned 45. I’m not sure I feel celebratory. I feel like a survivor. Like the walking wounded. Moving slowly, but surely on my feet.

For all my empowerment, I’m amazed I’m still negotiating women’s timeworn challenges. Like an increasing number of us, precisely because sheer hard work has led to vastly more university educated women than men, I’m a main breadwinner.

At the same time, because male privilege remains so resilient, I also put in the majority of time on child care and carry the majority of responsibility for managing all the logistics and planning related to family life.

This comes at the cost of my savings and my career. It brings the exhaustion that so many single mothers are familiar with, and dust off like just another day.

It’s labour that is mostly invisible, undervalued, taken-for-granted, and assumed to be mine. For the good of my daughter, like so many moms, I do it willingly and wholeheartedly. I’m clear-eyed about the inequalities, but I’m prepared to sacrifice, to provide the absolute best, and to teach lessons of generosity, care and justice with joy.

I’ve started a whole new life. It’s like adulthood, which is cynical at best, but blushed with rose-coloured bliss. Maybe bliss is just a choice. I imagine I’m past life’s half-way mark so, at this point, I have fewer years ahead than I’ve already lived. These days, therefore, I’m just trying to be happy.

There’s debt to climb out of, overdue publications to submit, a house to buy, and ends to meet. It’s the kind of stress that keeps you up calculating at night.

There are also rivers to walk, waterfalls to find and beaches to remind of the wind and the waves, alternately whispering and roaring, as both wash across the shore.

There’s also love which feels like winning the Lotto every day. Maybe past forty you are not looking for perfect, maybe you are not even looking, maybe you just get lucky enough to cross paths with someone committed to growing.

Inside, I’ve turned bountiful like the hillsides after first rains. I awake more aware that love is a harvest you sow each morning. I count lessons about commitment and communication like seeds, in between calculations at night.

Some days, I lift each limb depressed and empty, like Sisyphus waking to discover the boulder he had shouldered uphill had rolled back down again. What working mother doesn’t know the feeling of not having an hour for herself, to breathe, to think, to feel or to stay sane.

I pole dance twice a week now which is both hard and hot AF. It enables me to support a woman-run and women-only small business which challenges women to become strong, to feel good, to recognize their challenges, to value themselves, and to connect to their sexuality. My goal is simply to show up, for me.

I’ve reached here through taking on and giving up, through gathering and letting go. I remind myself that it’s not possible to have it all, at least not at the same time, wondering if men tell themselves that daily too.

Patriarchy, from politician to religious leader to employer to lover, is a killer, but it’s like rising above the falling rain when you finally reach where you know yourself, your rights and your power. Women come into our own because we’ve hurt and healed, stooped and conquered. I hope I can carry my own independence and freedom, for it has been hard earned.

I now understand how women seem to become more certain, more centred, more unapologetic, and more fearless in their fifties, sixties and seventies. They’ve paid their dues pleasing everybody. Having learned through love and loss, they know there’s far less to fear than they thought. Such insight is a trade with age.

I’ve learned gratitude and forgiveness for those on my side, for those in my softly-beating heart, for the giants in my life, for the child who teaches me, for allies and inspiration, for opportunities to become a better person, and for laughter and cool mornings with trees in the distance.

Every dawn, we receive life as a gift to keep opening. Every dusk, women know the weariness from standing tall like a silk cotton tree, carrying our scars and imperfections, worries and burdens.

Over my shoulder, my own jahajin bundle is slung. Thirty kilometres per second on this next rotation of the sun, and blossoming in my own time and season, here I come.