I’d like to share a secret with you: I love ABBA. And all manner of cheesy 70s pop.
There’s more. Do you remember several years ago when the first Dark Knight movie opened after Heath Ledger’s death, and everyone and their mother went to the opening night? Well, I also happened to go to the movie theater that night, but I was shocked to see the crowds there. (Second secret: I’ve never seen a Batman movie). As we got in the massive line, I turned to my friend and said, “Wow! Do you think all these people are here for the premiere of Mamma Mia too?” The man in front of us slowly swiveled around and stared.
(For the record, I would like to ask all Dark Knight goers whether they got to sing along with their movie that night. And whether their movie ended with the entire movie theater getting up to dance to “Waterloo.” A true story.)
Really, it’s okay if you love Batman just as much as I love ABBA. In fact, that’s fantastic. My point – and I do have one – is that we do not get to choose what gives us joy. Superhero movies or cheesy 70’s pop music.
When I first started this series, I made a list of what filled my well. I wrote about the bright beams of joy that sustain me through dark days: bluebirds, milkshakes, bonfires. This list is absolutely, authentically true, and it brings me so much joy each time I look at it. At the same time, perhaps it’s not entirely…complete.
I love ABBA. And while we’re at it, I’ll clear the other musical skeletons in my closet – Meat Loaf, the soundtrack to Cats, and Hilary Duff’s debut album. I take great joy in all manner of newspaper puzzles. Sometimes I pretend I am competing in the crosswording Olympics. Don’t even get me started about the moment of discovery of the final Jumble clue. I adore young adult literature, and I rank the fourth installment of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants among my life-changing books.
In other words, I am devastatingly “uncool.”
I also take great joy in things I ought to have “no business” enjoying – things at which I am, by all conventional means of measurement, terrible. Painting, singing, Zumba, learning Spanish – according to our success-oriented culture, I ought to be miserable with these pursuits. But I cannot get enough.
Yes, I’ve often wished I was the “kind of person” who found joy in marathon running, bar hopping, or symphony-going. I’ve watched myself construct elaborate, utterly false answers to questions about my “cool” hobbies or music tastes. More than once, I’ve feigned ignorance about Harry Potter or Broadway musicals because I wanted to keep my “uncool” card tucked away.
But cool has no place in the business of well-filling joys. Rationality has no place in that business either. The business of joy is nothing more and nothing less than our souls responding to the beautiful, silly, countercultural,, “embarrassing” things that make it sing.
We don’t get to choose what gives us joy. We do get to choose how we respond. We get to choose whether we put our time, energy, and money toward being cool or toward responding to that inexplicable, nonsensical, joy-filled call of our souls.