Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fearing joy

Saturday night, Walhydra and Hubby Jim joined about a dozen colleagues and assorted spice for a reference department holiday party, at the home of one of the other senior librarians.

As the night progressed, Hubby Jim and the other spice got to see what no one else in the public sees: library types letting their buns to speak.

There was good potluck food from several cultures, and, in the second half of the evening, a silly game of White Elephant Gifting (which Jim recognized as a variation on the mathom exchange of hobbits.)

The idea was that each family would bring a gift they had previously received (or bought) and...ahem...wanted to get rid of.

Each family drew a lottery number, and, beginning with #1, took turns picking anonymously wrapped gifts. To make the game more silly, anyone who had not yet picked, or anyone whose gift had been "stolen," could "steal" a gift from someone else.

Apple pie candlesWalhydra knew that she and Jim had accumulated a number of "oh, um, thank you" gifts in the various storage spaces of their home, so she hunted until she found one, still in it's box, under that stairs to the second floor duplex apartment.

It was a set of three apple-pie-scented candles in graduated sizes, housed in "cute" red crockery. (That word "scented" seems much too mild.) Someone had given this set to Senior Witch the previous Christmas, and, after the guests were gone, she had turned to Walhydra and said, "Here, do you want these?"


So, Walhydra dragged the mathom out from hiding. When she opened to box, the cats fled the smell in alarm.

"Oh, yes," said JimJim. "That will do nicely."

[Segue to the White Elephant Gifting]

Lottery ticket #5 had picked Walhydra's candle set and loved it.

Walhydra, with #6, picked what looked like a very safe, thin package in discreet silver wrap.

Ah, a "quotable 2009 calendar."

Now, Walhydra must explain. In her own misanthropic way, Walhydra is actually very much an optimist. Despite all her grouching, she genuinely believes that all things will work out for the best—at least from the point of view of the Divinely Real.

(Granted, her strange, ex-pyschologist step-mother calls this trait of Walhydra's "magical thinking." But then, Walhydra's step-mother believes there is scientific proof of life-after-death, handwriting analysis...and possibly aliens...not to mention "vast leftwing conspiracies" on the part of Hillary and Obama.)

In any case, despite Walhydra's witchy faith, she has no patience for the unending flood of New Agey "self-help" literature—strong emphasis on self—which fills the bookstores and *grrr* the shelves of her library. So, what a delight to get a calendar which has for each month a saying like:

"Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle." —Christian D. Larson
"Of course," Walhydra thinks. "Reflux."

But silliness was the point of this game, and Walhydra gave a genuine laugh.

Later, chatting with one of her best buddy fellow librarians, Walhydra said, "Seems everyone actually got appropriate gifts. I got a tacky 'power of positive thinking' calendar."

"Yes," said her friend. "That was from me. I thought it was a stitch."


"I like it," Walhydra muttered quickly. "It's so unlike me."

They laughed.

By now, the gentle reader is probably wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this piece: "Fearing Joy."

Well, this exchange with her friend has gotten Walhydra to wondering just why she doesn't like such perky, enthusiastic quotations.

"About time you wondered about that!" Goddess blurts out.

"Oh...," Walhydra begins.

"'s you," she and Goddess finish in unison.

Goddess gives her a sour look. "As I was saying, it's about time you looked at that fear of yours."


"Yes. You have an almost insurmountable fear of untrammeled joy...and I'm really getting tired of it!"

Walhydra frowns, puzzled.

"Oh, stop! I'll give you two hints: tomato juice and giants."

"Huh? Oh...."

The first hint by now should ring a bell with the long-suffering yet still gentle reader, who has surely become tired of the amanuensis constantly linking back to the "Teacher's Pet" piece.

The other hint requires a bit of a back story. It's a story Walhydra was originally going to tell shortly after it took place, except that she was already well into chronic depression.

In July of 2007, four months after Senior Witch had to leave her home and just before Walhydra put it on the market, Walhydra and Hubby Jim took a week plus vacation to the Shawangunk Ridge, east of the Hudson River. For most of that time, they stayed at Mohonk Mountain House.

Mohonk Mountain HouseThere's much Walhydra would like to share about this wonderful vacation, a gift from dear Hubby Jim. But the crucial story for now has to do with the nightly entertainment, specifically, the first Monday night they stayed at the resort.

Fish-or-manThat night's event was Masked Theater with Michael Cooper.

Michael Cooper is an astoundingly talented puppeteer and storyteller. He uses a variety of puppet masks and costumes to act out his whimsical stories and songs. Quite a delight!

However, on that Monday, Walydra resisted this man's art all through the evening, not liking what she experienced as his aggressive demand that she enter into his magic. Into his androgynous physicality. His child-focused humor and song.

That is, until he got to the last story of the evening, the story of "The Clumsy Giant."
Apparently, long ago, giants were actually graceful creatures who loved to dance. Then some enemy overthrew their castle and their kingdom and exiled them to a valley where there was no music. They became forlorn and clumsy and could find nothing to love.

Generations passed. The giants survived in an increasingly clumsy and brutal way, losing all connection with their former lightness and artistry.

Until, one day, the son of the giant king decided to explore beyond the walls of the valley, something that had been forbidden by law since the exile began.

Through great struggles, he climbed over the mountain range which entrapped the giants. He wrestled his way through forests and swamps, till at last he came up to the walls of his great-great-great-etc-grandfather's castle....
Cooper had been miming much of this story as he narrated it, clowning as he had done throughout the show. Walhydra continued to feel annoyed and resistant to his humor.
Now the king's son heard a very strange noise. It struck some note of recognition in his blood, even though he had never heard it before in his life. It was music....
By this time Cooper had climbed upon a stool to the side of the stage, a stool at least six feet tall. He began to strap long stilts to his legs, telling the story as he worked, while a lively jig began to play in the background.

Then he wrapped pants legs around the stilts and drew around himself a cloak which reached halfway to the floor, fastening it at his throat. He slung on a shoulder bag and reached behind himself for something else which he did not yet reveal.
The strange noise, the music, stirred the young giant's bones. He began to feel the rhythm within him. He began to want to do something which his blood seemed to know how to do, even though he wasn't sure what it was.

Soon enough, though, the music took over....
Giant maskAt this point, Cooper pulled a giant's mask over his head and stood up on the stilts.
The giant took one step, and another, and then suddenly sprang into a wild and graceful dance.
Cooper strode forward on the stilts, pirouetting and high-kicking and leaping to the jig. He danced all the way around the theater, while the audience cheered and clapped.

And Walhydra felt her chest heave to life. She gasped for breath and wanted to cry.

It was so painfully startling and wonderful to see this giant actually come to life.

"Well?" Goddess asks after a few moments, as she watches Walhydra reliving the night. "And...?"

"And...I remember going back to our room later," Walhydra whispers. "I sat on our balcony and wondered why I had wanted to cry.

"Then I knew. I wanted to cry for lost childhood. Childhood I don't want to re-enter, resist re-entering...because I'm afraid of the pain of losing it again.

"Childhood which would remind me of the mother I'm losing to Alzheimer's. The father I'm losing to Parkinson's. Childhood I am losing to my own aging."

Goddess sits beside Walhydra and touches her hand lightly. "And...?"

"I was shut down. No sex. No body. No joy...except the dry joy of 'spiritual materialism.' I feared how much I believed it would hurt to open up again."

The hand brushes hers again. "And...?"

"I'm still afraid of that."

Walhydra remains silent for a long time.

Then Goddess stands up slowly and turns to face her student.

"Yes. We all fear that. All of us. But how silly not to enjoy something for fear of losing it. Especially when we can re-enter it whenever the music starts again.

Dancing Giant"Dance, darling, dance."

And so it is.

Bless├Ęd Be.

Note from Bright Crow: There is another approach to this issue on The Empty Path in "Melancholia & Thisness."


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...


Ah, thank you for this. There's a _reason_ I love your writing so much!

Vicki Winslow said...

I loved this story. You made the Giant come alive, and I wish so much I could see him myself! This piece also reminded me a bit of the C. S. Lewis autobiography, Surprised by Joy. I just looked it up again, and he writes, "Joy was not a deception. Its visitations were rather the moments of clearest consciousness we had, when we became aware of our fragmentary and phantasmal nature and ached for that impossible reunion which would annihilate us or that self-contradictory waking which would reveal, not that we had had, but that we WERE, a dream."

Bright Crow said...


Thanks for your comment.

One thing I don't usually mention in these pieces (because it's Bright Crow's experience, rather than Walhydra's), is what a blessing it is to me to be led to write these stories.

I began writing stories in grade school...but never really published any until blogging came along.

Even so, I've always said that, for me, writing is another way of thinking...and of learning.

Joy to you and to all,
Michael Bright Crow

Bright Crow said...


Thanks for reminding me about C.S. Lewis. I need to read that book.

Blessed Be,

Kema said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with me. It is beautiful.

Bright Crow said...

Thanks, Kema.

BTW, I like your Violet Skylight.