Ode to Joy.

February 22, 2012 § 4 Comments

There were eight of us, all women, in the spacious vacation rental on St. George Island.

With the bold act of signing on for a writing retreat we had renounced our daily lives, and even the lure of the beach.

Desperate to write, we had gone from stealing minutes from the rush of daily life to seven straight days of staring at a page or a blinking cursor.

But although each writer had come with a project burning to be put down on paper, going from stolen minutes to seven uninterrupted days was overwhelming, like being told, “Oh, go ahead, eat the whole Whitman Sampler right now.”

Confidence waxed and waned. But no one wanted to let go of the thread of their writing. The time was too precious and too hard-won. This was the one chance all year any of us had to say what we had to say perfectly and fully and without interruption.

Visits to the refrigerator provided an easy excuse to walk away, until one of the writers discovered a pulpy thesaurus among the popular novels on the bookshelf in the living room.

I noticed, as the days passed, the pilgrimages being made to the book increased. If the perfect word was not in there, an excuse for a moment’s pause from the difficult task of writing was.

My own job as writer in residence was to read the stories in progress and comment. As the week progressed I felt more and more saturated by the anguish and drama in the pages being handed to me. Maybe I didn’t need a perfect word, but I needed a break.

I purloined (stole, filched, lifted, swiped) the thesaurus myself and retreated to the porch. I opened the paper cover and stabbed the page with a finger. It landed on the word “joy.”

As I read the list, each word hit me a little differently. Some were notes played on a toy piano, others a baby grand. My respite from reading the writing of the group was to list these choices and explain what each meant to me:

Glad: Swollen but light, your heart rises in your chest like a helium balloon.

Ecstasy: This moment is all there is; the blood sings in your veins!

Exultation: Arms raised over your head, palms skyward, a beam of light through a chink in the clouds singles you out—you are the one!

Rapture: See ecstasy.

Delight: One of joy’s smaller forms, often used when not really felt, i.e., “I’m delighted to meet you.”

Happiness: Generic, plain-vanilla. Happiness looks like this : )

Enjoyment: Save this one for a good meal, an amusing comic strip, or a throwaway novel.

Felicity: Why did “bliss” not make this list? No problem. I’ll add it. “Bliss” and “felicity” both involve eyelids at half-mast and a dopey smile. Mood enhancing substances may be involved.

Glee: Only the young can pull off glee without embarrassment. It drives the body into antic motion (jumping up and down, throwing one’s arms in the air). Past age thirty-five glee will get you a free ride to the loony bin.

Cheer: A seasonal form of joy that smells of nutmeg.

Transport: Now the beam of Godly light mentioned in “exultation” is being operated by Scotty. The distance between your feet and ground is growing. Enjoy the ride.

I put the thesaurus back on the shelf and returned to a story in progress, this one about a girl who’s been raped. An excellent story, but I knew its author would not be looking for synonyms for “joy.”

I wanted to flag a page for her, underline the word “Hope,” and all its synonyms.

Note: For a more extended visit to the Fiction Among Friends writer’s retreat see my earlier post, The Writer’s Retreat. To learn more about joining the retreat visit http://www.persisgranger.com/ 

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§ 4 Responses to Ode to Joy.

  • Words. We screech them and yell them, whisper and sigh them, sing them with others and pray them in silence. We escape to them, flaunt them, search for them, and struggle: what do you mean, what do I want, what can I say so you will understand?

    Gossamer, turgid, sharp, tender, ticklish, they are reaching across a table and touching the hand, they are slamming a door and walking away. They are raw us, 100% genuine, even when they make you want to curl up in a ball and protect the tender spot.


  • And words are the best we have when it comes to understanding the hearts and minds of those around us–words and the outstreched hand that reaches across the table.


  • Psalm 30:5: …Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

    To me, there is always hope of joy.

    Thanks for the reminder,

    Mary Lois


  • KM Huber says:

    What a truly delightful post, Adrian! As “Ode to Joy” played in my head, I romped right through the joy of the Thesaurus with you, and when I reached rapture, I returned to ecstasy. What fun, really!

    It is overwhelming to go from having no time to nothing but time; don’t think it is ever given its true worth in writing or in life, for it does happen for most.

    Always enjoy hearing about the retreats.


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