Joy is like a pair of muddy shoes. This is the time of year when tracking dirt and grime and grit and wet-leave-covered-snow-covered earth slop into the house is inevitable. I think it’s nature’s way of tugging on our sleeve, of following us around like a dog snuffing out the crumbs in our pockets. A friend recently told me about a mandate passed in his busy household: only one pair of messy, dirt-caked shoes allowed downstairs. I find this unacceptable. Sure, it’s a pain in the ass to mop, wipe, swipe, and Swiffer ever other goddamn minute of the day. Noted. But one person’s mess is another person’s proof of the epic pond hockey win or memory of a great day tramping through trails to get to their favorite fishing spot. It’s the gritty, literal evidence of life—the fertile organic stuff we come from and return to—that’s leaving its mark on those beautiful hardwood floors. And isn’t that a thing of wonder? Ajax and Lemon Scented Pledge sold us the lie of what the pristine house represents. Don’t tell yourself otherwise.
We track joy into our lives too.
I traveled to New York this weekend to meet up with a group of kindred spirits. Road trips rearrange your molecules and are fundamental to your mental health as well as to the mental health of those around you. Don’t you notice the look of restrained relief on your girlfriend’s/roommate’s/live-in companion’s face when you sling your bag in the car and back out of the drive? Next time glance in the rear view, oh wait, they’re not there. They’re already running the bubble bath, ordering a pizza, and cuing up every movie they love and you hate.
There was a lot of laughter, a bit of wine, and a ton of music. There were long conversations about something (politics, art, why aren’t people as evolved as us?) and nothing (politics, art, why aren’t we as evolved as other people?). There were no shortages of smiles. To say that I felt like I was floating along on an airstream of pure love and goodwill sounds dangerously close to what I imagine a good chunk of the 1960s felt likeWe stopped at an artisan’s collective in western Massachusetts on our way to the Empire State. The farm grounds had been converted into buildings housing gallery shops full of handmade jewelry, pottery, glass items, and exquisite scarves and knitted things. The person who makes such exquisitely detailed handicrafts earns my deep respect and wretched jealousy. How anyone can take a gooey blob of hot glass and transform it into the kind of thing that belongs in the palaces of St. Petersburg is beyond my capacities to comprehend. It’s not normal, not natural. Testing a theory here, but I suspect these people were grown in a lab.
Of course I can’t help but surround myself from these types of beautiful pieces—artful, functional—for my own selfish pleasure, and maybe, because there’s a small chance I’ll learn their craft by osmosis. Again, testing a theory here. An achingly lovely pitcher caught my eye. It’s body curved and feminine. The glaze was a fantastic aquamarine and sea foam green, all liquid and pearly. It looked like someone had poured a Mediterranean tidal pool into a kiln-fired mold. I labored under the delusion for a full three minutes that I might give this vase to someone as a Christmas gift. But I knew better. This piece belonged with me.
One of the things I love about coming home after a trip is the sugar-salt feeling of newness and familiarity. I love coming back to my own space, my lovely and peaceful surroundings, but I also love the feeling of new strangeness that I bring because the road and its adventures changes you. Maybe you stand up straighter, maybe you look with more heart upon your person, your furry, four-legged children, your bed. Maybe you walk through the door, fire up the email, and write that resignation letter you’ve been dying to do for the past four years. Maybe you think about how you can bottle up the good times you just had, how to keep your heart cracked wide open, keep it saturated with the love and happiness and fellowship of the kindred spirits you just left behind.
I thought about that very thing as I unpacked my gorgeous new treasure. And as I held it under the warm, soapy water, watching the glaze shine even brighter, I turned it over and discovered a word written on the bottom: Joy.
And I knew in that moment that in the days and weeks that would follow, as life returned back to its normally scheduled program of laundry and bills and grocery store lines, I would not have to try so hard to get back to the place I had left, emotionally, spiritually, in a heart-sense.
It had followed me home and left its trace, like a pair of muddy shoes.