Issue 62 of Creative Nonfiction (CNF) is dedicated to Joy. The published essays can be divided into two segments: essays about the craft of writing and essays following a more literary and narrative vein. Both segments best utilize the theme of joy when the authors bring the reader into the moment so we experience joy by their side.
In "Tricks of the Trade: How to Have More Fun on the Job," Susan Bruns Rowe interviews four of her favorite writers (Brenda Miller, Brian Doyle, David Quammen, and Abigail Thomas) on how they bring playfulness into their work. Through quotes from her interviews, Rowe provides us with four distinct approaches to find joy and creativity in writing, especially to not take ourselves too seriously. Every author has a different process, but one similarity remains: as Rowe explains, these authors “have discovered ways to bring joy into their work, so perhaps it’s no surprise that their writing is a delight to read.” An essay geared toward writers, Rowe prepares us to come to the page refreshed and ready to bring joy to ourselves and our readers.
Brian Doyle’s piece “The Wonder of the Look on Her Face” brings energy and renewed vigor to a piece that might otherwise be cliché. Doyle recounts an experience he had speaking with an almost nine-year-old girl about writing. He captures the curiosity of the child’s voice (including the way she said her age, “you could hear the opening capital letters on the words Almost and Nine”) until nothing in his writing is cliché. Told in one paragraph and energized with the rapid-fire questions of the girl, his essay moves into a discussion of how to write a book. “She thought her third book was going to be about a mink [ . . . ] Could you write a book if you didn’t know what would happen in it?” For Doyle, the answer is yes. But what works best is when Doyle doesn’t have an answer. When he doesn’t have the words to describe “the wonder of the look on her face.”
Some of the more literary essays on the theme of joy, however, strike the theme too hard. In "Hair/Ear" by Alicia Rebecca Myers, she links her decision over whether to give her son his first haircut, to the sudden onset of deafness in her left ear. Yet, though Myers expertly connects these two stories, she tells us about the experience of joy by using the word again and again until joy begins to lose meaning. Myers played "Ode to Joy" on the violin in high school. She mentions Joy dish detergent. We are inundated with joy to the point of distraction and leave the essay without experiencing the joy Myers hopes to convey.
In "The Gentleman's Guide to Arousal-Free Slow Dancing," Brendan O'Meara invites the reader to experience joy through laughter. Primarily through laughing at his eighth-grade self. O'Meara ventures back into the awkward shoes of a middle schooler and the fear of having an erection during his eighth-grade dance. Or, as O'Meara recounts, " the rush of blood to the rogue nation south of my navel." It's impossible not to laugh and smile alongside the narrator when he parts hands with his crush at the end of the slow dance.
Toi Derricotte beckons us into her private joys in "It Wasn't Until I Was an Old Woman that I Began to Enjoy Being Beautiful." Derricotte opens her wardrobe and lets us into her secret night ritual of dressing up for no one but herself. When she has bouts of insomnia, she experiments with fabrics against her bare skin; she loves her body. Derricotte's essay encompasses a specific idea of joy best conveyed when she connects her journey toward feeling beautiful with her journey toward becoming a writer and a reader. "I will admire the best things about me [ . . . ] And in such a way, I will write." A quiet, condensed, and beautifully evocative piece.
In this issue of CNF, lose yourself in someone else's joy. Do not expect happiness or simplicity, but rather—like the best creative nonfiction has to offer—expect surprises. And in this issue, expect hope. These writers pull you into their joys so we can share these emotions and emerge more hopeful for the future.