Thursday, August 24, 2006

PERFECT JOY

emma

St. Francis claimed that perfect joy was accepting humiliation with equanimity. Though few of us would actively seek that kind of joy, it demonstrates the power of attitude and belief in how we experience events.

For me, perfect joy is a capricious and unexpected moment; it's a wriggling puppy that never performs on command. Like my purse and various other objects that constantly go missing at our house, it is rarely where I thought I left it.

One such capricious moment occurred last week at my waitressing job. We were in the clearing phase of a wedding in the tent and had set up our usual breakdown station behind the bar. While a couple of my co-workers cleared the room, another waitress and I worked the station, scraping, sorting, stacking, and then carrying trays and glass racks up to the kitchen. Scraping garbage and hoisting heavy trays hardly sounds like an occasion for joy--but there it was. Who was I to argue?

The band was playing the old Donna Summer tune, "On the Radio" and moonlight bedazzled the ocean outside the tent. But music and beauty are regulars where I work, and joy, as I said, is an unpredictable guest.

For at least an hour, we worked in synch, in almost balletic labor, perfectly attuned to one another's movements and to the task at hand. Focused on our common goal, we used our bones and sinews, our efficiency, our cooperation to get the job done. It felt good and satisfying. And then a breeze came up off the water and the Donna Summer song started, and joy, perfect joy, danced in.

Much is made of the state of "flow" that artists or runners enter when they lose themselves in their activity, but physical work, when its going well, also generates flow.

I don't waitress much now--one day a week or less, and soon, very soon, I will not do it at all. For many years, I talked about this, waited for this, dreamed of this. But that night, feeling the end of the season in a particular way, I lingered in the dark tent when the clean-up was done. After all the tables had been rolled out, I sat on a folding chair, and contemplated the stars, the black ocean, the empty space that had so recently been filled with celebration; and I wondered where joy will find me now.

23 comments:

marja-leena said...

"Much is made of the state of "flow" that artists or runners enter when they lose themselves in their activity, but physical work, when its going well, also generates flow." How true and how well written this post is, as always, Patry! Finding joy even in good old work.

chuck said...

I love that "losing yourself" feeling.

I get the feeling when I swim in the local river.

Today, the river was autumn-morning cold; and the chill seized me. For a few minutes, my consciousness was The River...and the river's flow was my whole world.

The unexpressable rapture of being lost: how sweet!

Patry Francis said...

marja-leena: From what I've seen of your prolific work, I'm sure you're o stranger to the mysterious state of flow.

chuck: Thank you for sharing your swim in the river. I felt like I was there with you.

rdl said...

Nice post! I can relate totally!

Fred Garber said...

Patry, it is so true that work can be its own reward. You know you do not have to give up waitressing. William Carlos Williams continued to practice medicine after he became a well published poet. Even a couple of days a month.....who knows...maybe you would get some kind of inspiration for another novel while you were working....

Patry Francis said...

r: I'm sure you can!

fred: I've thought of that, but at this point, it feels as if my life is pulling me in another direction-- whether I'm ready to go or not.

Sky said...

Hmmmmmm...joy will tip toe through your routine days and sit beside you at the computer as you count your book sales on Amazon! It may linger in the air above your desk as the perfect description of a particular moment is given birth - when the words become the sentence they were always meant to be in your next book. It will find you, Patry...always.

This post was just deliciously written...you are such an extraordinary writer!

Sara said...

"...[P]erfect joy is...a wriggling puppy that never performs on command. Like my purse and various other objects that constantly go missing at our house, it is rarely where I thought I left it."

Love it.

For an idea of how and where joy might find you during the next chapter, I recommend a close reading of Yarn Harlot, a knitter, mother, and published author who takes her socks-in-progress on book tours so they can have lots of cool experiences and see lots of interesting things while they are being made, before devoting the rest of their existences to being, well, socks. Your joy will not be her joy, precisely, of course. I merely recommend the reading to give you an idea of some of the new opportunities for joy which might be coming your way soon. Book tour joys. Writing next book joys.

I wish you a heaping helping with blueberries on top.

Sara said...

"...[P]erfect joy is...a wriggling puppy that never performs on command. Like my purse and various other objects that constantly go missing at our house, it is rarely where I thought I left it."

Love it.

For an idea of how and where joy might find you during the next chapter, I recommend a close reading of Yarn Harlot, a knitter, mother, and published author who takes her socks-in-progress on book tours so they can have lots of cool experiences and see lots of interesting things while they are being made, before devoting the rest of their existences to being, well, socks. Your joy will not be her joy, precisely, of course. I merely recommend the reading to give you an idea of some of the new opportunities for joy which might be coming your way soon. Book tour joys. Writing next book joys.

I wish you a heaping helping with blueberries on top.

Patry Francis said...

sky: your vision certainly does sound like fun. Thank you, as always, for being here, and for a lovely comment.

sara: From what I hear, joy with blueberries on top is the very best variety. Off to check out the yarn harlot...

Lorna said...

Joy danced in---that says it all.

Sarah said...

Great post - this is almost a short story and could definitely be a poem!

zhoen said...

Yes.

I experienced that in the army, a dozen women moving heavy objects that the men would tackle in pairs, or alone. The flow in surgery with an experienced team getting a room ready for a big case, or a trauma. Bellydancers who enjoy and trust each other, dancing for each other, reflecting each other.

The possibilites for this kind of joy are endless, but must be sought, and practiced. The joy itself comes like a cat, unnoticed and uninvited, and never when forced.

Anonymous said...

ahhh

Very zen AND very Shaker-- taking pleasure in the simplicity of the task brings joy no matter what the task-- also, it is clear that you have GREAT capacity to receive/experience joy and you'd be surprised how many people don't no matter how wonderful the state they are in.

~bluepopy

paris parfait said...

I love that expression about joy being a capricious and unexpected moment. Lovely post - you write so beautifully.

MB said...

Joy is a mystery, a perfectly lovely mystery. May it surprise you often, Patry! Thank you for another wonderful contemplation.

Edie said...

joy is experienced thought reading this. wonderful post.

colleen said...

You won't miss it when you don't do it any more, but you might as well make the best of it when you are doing it. And that goes for everything.

Coll said...

Ah.. that is what makes life so worth living.. those unexpected moments of joy.

tinker said...

What a wonderful post, Patry. Though physical work can bring its own kind of joy, I hope 'hanging up the apron,' and concentrating on your talented writing skills will bring you even more fulfillment.

Patry Francis said...

THanks all. Your comments--rich, insightful, kind-- are another occasion for perfect joy.

Granny said...

To find joy in strange places is a special gift.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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