Brave Joy

by christie shumate mcelwee

Brave: possessing or exhibiting courage

Joy: the emotion of great delight or happiness or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation

Brave Joy: possessing the courage to recognize delight despite difficulties due to sorrow or grief or loss

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

What are you going to do with your time? Yes, life is different and often difficult right now, but this is the life given to you. You…now.

Will you breathe in delight? Laugh deeply and sincerely? Know there is great treasure in the quiet?

Or…will you stubbornly sit with bitterness? Point shaking fingers while yelling “Shame! Shame!”? Fester and brood as you make endless lists of all you miss while ignoring what you have?

There is a paradox to living a life of brave joy, because it may create great cognitive dissonance. How can we revel in simple delights while chaos and darkness descend upon us?

How do we find brave joy? Is it in the brilliant red and orange fall leaves? How about that glass of pinot at our favorite outside wine bar? Or perhaps those long walks around the city park, observing all of the people with their dogs and kids and bikes?

Or is brave joy deeper that all that? What if brave joy was more than a visit to the zoo or botanical gardens? What if brave joy was an ongoing journey of discovering our hearts? Is it walking past the dread and, instead, seeing the wonder? Is brave joy allowing ourselves to love and forgive while attempting to put aside shame and judgment?

Brave joy is not ignoring our emotions. If you are having one of those “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days,”* then roll with it. Breathe in the ‘shittiness’ of the moment, but also see it through and then send it out the door. Brave joy is honoring emotions, yet still believing in the wonder, the exquisite, the delight that is this one life.

We’ve all made a voting plan, so how about we make a Brave Joy winter plan together? We will come up with concrete ways to discover Brave Joy as the cold winds rattle the windows. During the next few months I will explore Brave Joy through research, experiences, and reflection. I may also chat with a few friends and experts who may present their own original takes on Brave Joy.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. I would love the company.

A few Brave Joy topics may include:
Creativity
Nature
Music
Art
Books
Poetry
TV
Relationships
Exercise
Family
Breathing
Connections/Friendships
Cooking/baking

(definitions of brave and joy from dictionary.com)

(*Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst)

Acknowledge Fear, Breathe Courage

Breathe

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventures or to be limited by the fear of it.” – Judy Blume

I have a few true fears that make my heart race and my blood pressure soar. I try not put myself in situations where I may begin to feel the claustrophobic effects of a small, enclosed space or the stomach-dropping terror that comes when I am dangling from a ferris wheel. These fears are visceral. I have no control over the physical symptoms, so I choose to avoid certain circumstances that might accelerate the panic. 

Other are not so well-defined. I can’t swerve around sudden change, failure, rejection, or the unknown. These fears come at me like fast-moving projectiles in an 80s video game. I may attempt to dodge or side-step, but they are always there, bombarding me with anxiety.

The world can be a grim, terrifying place. Danger lurks, even in the bright light of day. How do I cope? Do I hide, cowering in the safety of my little house, never venturing out? Unless I want to embrace agoraphobia, that isn’t a realistic choice. 

Fear is a big part of my writing. I enjoy the process, but I fear everything about it. I’m too old. It is drivel. Someone will be offended. It is embarrassing. I’ve run out of ideas. No one wants to read my inane ramblings. These fears often block my creativity. Fear is my personal writer’s block.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book Big Magic about how she lives simultaneously with fear and creativity. She states, “…I don’t try to kill off my fear. I don’t go to war against it. Instead, I make all that space for it. Heaps of space. Every single day…I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortable. It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.” So she invites fear on the journey. Fear is allowed on the trip, yet it doesn’t make decisions and it definitely doesn’t drive. Fear must sit in the back seat as a member of the family, but it does not have a vote.

This is a novel approach. So much of our lives we are told to “conquer our fears.” If we are afraid of the water, we must learn to swim. If we are petrified of flying, buy that ticket. And if we are scared of the deep water, dive right in. Sometimes these approaches work, but often we are just more afraid. 

What if we invited fear in, introduced ourselves and told it to have a seat? We don’t feed fear any snacks, and we never let it touch the thermostat. We acknowledge fear is part of the family, but we sit it at a small card table in the next room, knowing it is there yet not letting it dominate the conversation. 

Acknowledging our fears is acknowledging our vulnerability. Creative work requires vulnerability, putting our voices out there for the world to judge. We are often shamed back into the cave by our harshest critics, which often are the voices in our own heads. I know this personally. Shame and fear run neck and neck in my world. 

I have been working on a novel for over three years about loss and grief and learning to forgive. Every time I enter the world of my characters I become lost in the smells and sounds. I want to live there. Yet. Yet, I have struggled with the ending. A few weeks ago my dear friend Ann came for a visit while my husband was on a business trip. We giggled, ate, drank wine, and shed a few tears over our shared stories. One night I began to tell Ann the plot of my book. After I was done, I looked at her and said, “You know, that is the first time I have shared the details of my story with anyone.” And she replied, “I’m honored.” I then said, “You know, I think I’m afraid to finish the book, because if I complete the story, then what do I do? I’m scared.” Ann replied, “Then you need to do it. Who knows what will happen, but you’ll never know until it is finished.” The day after she returned home I sat at my laptop and banged out the ending. I then printed out the 150 pages. Three plus years of words stared back at me. I read through them, circling errors and making notes. Some of the story was wonky, but other parts were good. Damn good.

My shitty shitty rough draft now requires hours of editing, revising, and reworking, but I have relegated my fear to the back seat. It is buckled safely in its car seat. I will glance at it from time to time, but I will not grant it power over my process. I will not worry about publishing. Now is the time to dive into the details and work on the flow, dialogue, and pacing. It terrifying and exciting and I’m ready for this journey.

Courage is not conquering fear. Courage is recognizing fear, not giving it power over your heart. Brene Brown writes, “Courage is like – it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn to courage by couraging.” Courage is knowing the truth and showing your truth to the world. My courage, my vulnerability, my truth is writing, and I will no longer grant fear the power to silence it.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.” – Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead


“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something-anything-down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Swimming Away From the Shore: Practicing Courage

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue.” – Maya Angelou

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses what it takes to be courageous. She states everyone wants to be brave, but that most of us believe heroics are only in the superhero stories, individuals with great strength and capes and magical powers who save the day as they zip across the sky, but true everyday courage, “is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” Brown writes, “The root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart.” Isn’t that sublime? Our courage lies in our hearts. This reminds me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. He didn’t think he had courage, but as he defended his new friends against the Wicked Witch, his spirit took charge. All three of Dorothy’s new friends believed they didn’t have brains or heart or courage, but during their trek down the yellow brick road, they discovered their intellect and love and bravery was always there in their hearts. It is in all of us. We just need to dig deep and pay attention.

As I navigate my new town I am practicing courage. No, I haven’t saved any lives or rescued puppies from wells, but I do believe it is a small act of bravery to reach out to strangers, to show vulnerability, to desire connections. Courage does comes from the heart. I am trying not to hide away, but to walk into scary situations and for this introvert, that is indeed an act of bravery.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” – William Faulkner

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future, and every day I will be practicing courage as I learn to swim away from the shore.

You’ve Always Had the Power, My Dear

It is the second Monday of the first month of this new year. The cinnamon sprinkled in my coffee gives me pause. I wait for it to brew as I contemplate my place in this land of ours. Who am I? Where are my brains? Where is my heart? Where is my courage? They are all here. I possess all three, yet there are many times I feel like that stumbling straw man or a creature made of hollow tin or a cringing ball of matted fur. I doubt my own worth. I believe the little man behind the curtain who bellows falsehoods and bullies the trembling. 

But…on this second Monday of the first month of a new year I gather my pink words and step forward with the burnt broom recovered from the wreckage. I muster my power and no longer quiver. A rumbling begins, soft at first but gaining momentum because these words are life. They are mine and only mine. I own them with my brain and my heart and my courage.

A twister didn’t have to drop my sorry ass on the yellow brick road in order to find my awakening. The sepia tones have transformed into freaking technicolor and it is stunning in its clarity. The cinnamon coffee is a magical brew. With each word written the flying monkeys scatter. Oh, they still hover, but I swat them away with a quick flick of my pink pen.

That scared gingham-clad girl is standing taller and speaking louder. Glinda the Good Witch whispers, “You had the power all along, my dear,” and I spy those fabulous ruby slippers. Damn, I’ve had them on all this time! I click my heels three times and summon the magic that has been smuggled in my frightened luggage of a soul.

The sun is out today. It shimmers on the frosted grass. Even on a frigid day its rays make it appear warmer.

So I gather up my brains and heart and courage, inspired by a bright star that lit up the the night sky the night before. I will write feverishly crazy colliding pink words. I will love with painful, gorgeous, wretched laughter-filled tears. I will summon my spirit even as my knees tremble with exquiste terror.

Because I am Dorothy. I am the Wicked Witch. I am Glinda. I am those damn ruby slippers. I am a stronger, more powerful version of me, skipping fearlessly into those poppy fields, not afraid of snowy dreams.

“For I consider brains far superior to money in every way. You may have noticed that if one has money without brains, he cannot use it to his advantage; but if one has brains without money, they will enable him to live comfortably to the end of his days.” 
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others” 
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” 
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

 photo from onceuponaspice.com
photo from onceuponaspice.com