Issue 22: What We Talk About When We Talk about Joy
A memory, plus Young the Giant (sorry), Jenn Shapland's essays, the small-world economics of bread, and more.
👋 Happy Tuesday, people. If you're new around here, hello. If you've been around, also hello.
Did someone forward this email to you? You can subscribe right here. (This thing is free and always will be.) 👇
Here's some of what I'm up to lately:
Writing a scene from (my) memory;
Listening to (you know) Young the Giant; and
Reading many tiny essays, among other things.
1. What we’re talking about when we talk about joy
I’m flexing my calves up and down and up and down, and she rolls along and cries. Sometimes a whimper and sometimes a wail. Her first birthday arrives this week, and with it comes a virus with a dumb name that spikes my firstborn with fever. Its heat ebbs from her glowing skin and pushes through her sherpa-ish onesie so that on my chest she feels like one of those neck rolls you heat in a microwave. And she quivers from untrue cold.
Here in a midnight-gray corner of her nursery we sit and rock and rock and sit for what could be minutes or hours.
I’m a person who’s almost never satisfied. Not that I’m mopey or depressive, I’m not, but a low-grade discontent often loiters around my awake hours just to remind me of things I could be doing or places I could be going. Until some 12 months ago when Grace breathed earth’s air for the first time and I could see her.
In church, we say joy isn’t the same thing as happiness, and I feel less happy than I can remember. Yet I can’t, I won’t be anywhere else. I can’t comprehend doing anything else. I do, with each quiver, feel sadness and frustration and anxiety, the kinds of things you’d think breed discontent, but now they play into some new reality. A Grace.
Oh, and in a few months, we’ll welcome Grace’s little sister, and we’ll name her Joy.
Note: Y'all, I spent a decent portion of the last three weeks — well, the three weeks before the Thanksgiving week, I guess — workshopping some writing with a small collection of swelteringly brave and humble writers in an intensive-type format. As a part of it, I worked on this scene from my memory-meets-aha-moment. I plan to develop this piece into something lengthier soon.
2. ‘The Walk Home’ for your drive home (or wherever you’re going)
I will not apologize for yet again talking about Young the Giant. Yes, they’re likely the most frequent topic here, but I’ve got what’s now a long history with the California outfit, including that they’ve supplied the soundtrack to my relationship with Hannah. Well, they’ve got a new album, and we just got back from catching their Atlanta tour stop. Is the new album their best? Eh. Is that the point? Nope.
Plus, the new offering includes gems like “The Walk Home,” which, I’ll tell you, was also a high point of the live show.
The acoustic version is worth watching, too.
3. Here’s (some of) what I’ve been reading
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland. As some of you know, I’m writing a book, more or less, of linked essays, and I’m always looking for the best versions of that form. That search brought me to this complex, ambitious memoir. It tells its story through 80 (!) entries that weave in and out of research and personal narrative and criticism, and the acclaim it garnered seems merited. I’m not all that far along, and I’m just reading a few entries here and there. But there’s no doubt why memoir writers fawn over Shapland’s work.
Seven Loaves of Bread by Ferida Wolff. This is a delightful, seemingly rare book, which deserves a fuller interaction. I’ll work on that. Until then, know this: You should read it, and then read it to your children or just any children. The story shows the kindly but foolish Rose attempt to make farm life easier by avoiding hard work. She learns that laziness not only makes life harder on her, but also on her whole community. And it’s funny, and the five and three year olds who live in my house love it as much as I do.
“Inside the chess cheating scandal and the fight for the soul of the game” by Aishwarya Kumar. I don’t care about chess — no, not even The Queen’s Gambit — but this piece of long form reporting is, to my eyes, one of the best of the year. Recommend, whether you’re chessy or not.
See you soon.