necessary Vulnerability of Joyful Creating

Joy is a part of my process. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that poetry, as a practice, necessitates a sense of joy. It’s exhilarating to come into contact with the things we write into being. And a real sense of play and abandon – even when we are relying on hard-won technique, and even when the aim is deadly serious. How often do we get the excuse to stop, think, and then stop thinking altogether and try to listen to what sits behind our outside of our thoughts? Poets are lucky.”
— Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate in a 2012 Ploughshares interview

           It has always amazed me how the specificity of language within a piece of writing ultimately makes the work more universally relatable. The details and the unique phrasings of a piece are what make us fall in love with it. The cliché falls flat, while the vulnerabilities of disclosure enable a writer's work to resonate with the masses as they recognize a part of themselves in the words.

           If I tell you that I’m writing this at 2 a.m. because I cannot sleep, you may nod along, perhaps relating. But if I let you know that my glasses are slipping down my nose, my feet are bare, and that I have a sudden craving for anything chocolate, you feel a bit more connected to the moment, right? Art allows us to expose our desires, fears, and quirks in hopes that someone out there just might understand or feel less alone.

           Those of us working in the art world tend to assume that in order to achieve this divine sort of specificity, we must dive deeply into our emotions: allow our feelings to swallow us whole, spit us out, and then demand that we get the hell to work. This is accurate. However, it is an illusion that writers and artists must be sad or depressed in order to create the most meaningful work. Yes, you can change the world with the work you create while miserable. And yet, restricting yourself to creating only during unhappy moments is to rob yourself of half of the creative process. The stars are invisible to the eye in the daytime, just as the sun hides her face at night. There is joy to be found in the mundane, and especially in the ugly.

           Break free of the illusion. Your imagination knows no limits when fueled by the creative energy of joy. Bringing your happiness into your creative work is a vulnerability with which you may be uncomfortable, simply since we are socialized in a culture that praises pain and endorses dissatisfaction. We are told that we should strive for more or better, rather than to appreciate and celebrate what we have at the moment. We are led to believe that we will never be "good enough" and that we are undeserving of Joy.

           In this time, when an increasingly-authoritarian American government promotes hateful propaganda and attempts to divide us, it is vital to seek joy in even our smallest successes. We must support one another and continue to hold hope in our hearts. Be your own biggest fan, as you are absolutely valuable and worthy of love, and you possess more power than you can fathom. Continue to make daring artwork that applauds joyful victories just as much as it memorializes moments of suffering.  


“Think of all the beauty still around you and be happy.” –Anne Frank

(You can read the Tracy K. Smith Ploughshares interview here.)