By Z Zoccolante
Even though we’re grown women her son drops us off at the bookstore like we’re teens again. As we walk through the doors we understand we’re in a world of words, of universes alive with every page and space on the shelf.
They call to us. We run out fingers over the glossy prints. Never judge a book by its cover they say but is that really true, because titles and the shimmer of designs is always how I’ve chosen random books on a shelf, here or anywhere.
I pick up a shimmering blue one. “That’s hardcore BDSM,” she says, “Anne Rice’s old stuff.”
“What,” I say like I don’t believe her until I flip through a random section and it takes me less than a page. “Wow,” I say and close the book.
“That’s not even the half of it,” she says as she runs her fingers over the next stack of titles. “Look at this doorway,” she says holding up a cover.
“Beautiful,” I answer and pull another off the end of the second row of shelves. “I read this one. It’s good. About a world where everyone is separated by whether or not you have plastic surgery.” I flip the book around and he’s written four total in the storyline. It was almost three years ago when I read the first.
I think about an author I met a writer’s conference once, who said sometimes he wrote for 12 hours a day and took his dog for walks on breaks in-between. I remember thinking, 12 hours! I don’t think I’m that kind of writer. But what would it be like to live solely in the world of your stories and sometimes come up to breathe like a fish, little gulps on the surface.
Last week I walked into a bookstore with the same friend. Books spilled off the shelves and into the isles like curtains, like wax spreading the length and width, like an ocean to lose yourself in. And that day I wasn’t strong as I pulled books from the shelf and felt it in my chest, the sinking heaviness of being pulled into the waves.
All these books. Hundreds of books. Published. All these people writing. Their words in books. Published. And then, what the hell am I doing with my life?
You’ve felt it, the sinking feeling of getting older, time slippage, and wondering if Walt Disney lied you to about dreams really coming true.
I round the corner where she’s standing in awe leafing through books, pulling them off shelves, leaving little spaces like pulled teeth. I’m about to tell her how a wave of depression just hit me, how I’m overwhelmed in the sea of my internal sense of failure. . . My feet step around the corner, my thoughts a whirl and then with her back still to me I have a thought.
“What about Joy,” the thought says. And my brain goes, “Yeah, what about joy? Say more.” So some part of me fills in the pieces.
What if it was just about the joy – the joy of writing, of being lost in worlds of my creation, of being everything I can create or imagine, of stopping time, of love and trust and betrayal and innocence, of magic and wonderment and fairytales and darkness and light. What if it was just about the joy and what if the joy was enough? What if the outcome didn’t matter? What if the joy was enough?
All this pools into me in the few steps towards her. As I slide up next to her, she turns with her smile and takes a breath as though she could inhale stories into her brain, into her body, make them a part of her.
“I love seeing books that are like old friends hanging out at the store,” she says.
I smirk, and smile internally.
Today, like last week, we find ourselves among rows and aisles of books, words in ink strung together on pages and bound. Life is weird when you break it down into its tiniest parts.
Today though, as I run my fingers over covers and titles flicker through my mind, I think about the joy instead, I think about how someone told me that the beginning is always the hardest because you don’t see the reward, but everything we do pays off in some form or another, but there’s joy in the doing.
And so today, I’m surrounded, engulfed in the oceans of others people’s imaginations, of the wonders of the worlds they create that I get to enjoy at my fingertips. And they will make a difference for some boy or girl, some man or woman, some person somewhere, even if for just a respite from something in their lives.
Because isn’t it the little moments in life that are joy, the moments in-between things that joy fills and strings together like the tethering of a pearl necklace. The joy is what holds it together.
And I think of a line from Ani DiFranco who I’ve listened to for hours during the darkest times in my life.
“I do it for the joy it brings
Because I’m a joyful girl
Because the world owes me nothing
And we owe each other the world
I do it because it’s the least I can do
I do it because I learned it from you
And I do it just because I want to
Because I want to . . .”
– Joyful Girl by Ani DiFranco
And what if the joy is enough. What if the joy is what pulls us into the future instead of us being pushed by the past.