I turned 38 in February. I feel like I’ve earned every one of those 38 years. But it’s strange to look back at those years and see a Joy I barely recognize.
I’ve been changing all my life. You’d think I’d know how to do it by now. I think I should, anyway.
You and I are fluid as the clouds. Never still. Sometimes racing, other times languid. Sometimes heavy and dark, others wispy and delicate. I envy the clouds’ effortless change. Becoming ourselves is damn hard.
If you knew me Back Then, you knew a different me. But I never leave any previous Joys behind completely. They’ve left their fingerprints, or sometimes scars, behind.
It’s the same for you. But somehow, we never get over the surprise at the way we all change, become new versions of ourselves. We forget that everyone is more complicated than they appear. Surprised that we all change.
Some of us leave more traces of our earlier selves than others. I’ve blazed quite a trail of words across the internet over the past almost-decade. Those old words and the old Joys they represent drag at my heels like Jacob Marley’s chains. And they represent yet another version of Joy – my online self.
I have always been ready to give the finger to the establishment and fight injustice. I am to this day filled with fire to repair what is broken, right wrongs, and make it all better. I can see potential and cannot stand by and let that vision melt under the blazing sun of apathy and that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it.
But my online persona exaggerates and amplifies the Warrior for Justice part of Joy. Online, you see only that one part in isolation, without any tempering by the rest of who I am. Read me online and you might think I want to be the next Joan of Arc.
Sometimes I think we’re all caricatures online, all hard edges and chiaroscuro.
My first blog title, back in 2004, was “Joy’s Little Soapbox.” It is a humiliating memory. Fortunately, I quickly smelled the hubris and changed it. But the attitude that led me to that initial choice – the desire to spew opinions and tussle over issues and demonstrate the superiority of my ideas – remained. I delighted in generating long threads of debate on Facebook. I enjoyed thinking out loud and reading other people’s thoughts and playing mind games.
Thank God, I didn’t stay there. As it does for all of us, life didn’t go easy. It chewed me up and spat me out, leaving a tenderized Joy behind. Her words were still unflinching but shifted with the pain, growing heavy, fraught with emotion, theological, and critical.
People who met me during that time (maybe even today – self-awareness is clearer looking back) discovered someone much less intense than they expected. Once again, the online trail of words exaggerated one part and hid the goofy, quirky woman who enjoys a good potty joke and teases as a love language.
It”s a strange and disconcerting thing to change. We’re uncomfortable and clumsy, straining against persistent patterns stuck in the subconscious long after the conscious mind has chosen something different.
It is even more disconcerting to know that my trail of words is still there, leading to Joys who mostly exist in my rear view mirror.
Yes, I used to think I could argue you to my point of view. Today, I try to remind myself how long change takes, because I know how long it took me. Past Joys wanted you to change. Today’s Joy wants to understand and hopes that you will take the time to understand me, so that we can both acknowledge and honor the journeys that brought us where we are.
When I get the old longing to proclaim something online, I ask myself why (let’s be honest –I am aware enough to ask that on a good day). Do I want to express my own perspective and the ways I came to a conclusion? Do I want to convince you to conclude the same? Sometimes it’s both.
But I know this: it is much easier to honor your journey when I take myself out of the caricatured all-text-except-for-tiny-avatar world of social media into in-person. When I see you in living color, in three-dimensions, when I can hear and touch and see and maybe even smell (depending on your choice of cologne) you, I understand better how each of us became who we are today, where we got our baggage, and what resonates or sickens us.
It gets messy. Life sucks, people are complicated and sometimes make life suck worse. But walking it together reminds us that most quick fixes fall apart, most simple answers fail the real world test, and the people who appear two-dimensional online are flesh-and-blood people in the midst of their own evolution.
I remember not to judge you by your words alone because they may have been written by a different you. Neither of us have arrived, by any stretch.
I’m just another version of Joy, wondering when the next one will begin to emerge.