Cleaning up, I followed a thick black thread that had wrinkled under a drawer. I tugged a bit and out popped the necklace that my brother Matt had given my youngest daughter last year. The clasp had broken but the pendant was still on the cord. It’s a bit of silver metal in the shape of a plectrum with two words etched into it: PICK JOY.
Joy is a radiant noun, one defined by the Macquarie as: “an emotion of keen or lively pleasure arising from present or expected good; exultant satisfaction; great gladness; delight”.
The witty necklace made me smile but that feeling passed quickly. Soon I was cross. My daughter had been careless. Why hadn’t she put the necklace somewhere safe? I fingered the plectrum and then I felt a bit sad.
A friend had given it to Matt but he had decided to pass it on to Frances because he thought it was better for her than for him. His honesty touched me. His admission acknowledged a feeling I understand well: that worries and responsibilities can kill joy.
I would probably pass on such a necklace to a child too. Children are better at joy than adults. They’ve got a knack for it. They find it everywhere: a button sparkling in a gutter; a harlequin bug on a leaf; a bag of lollies; a new knock-knock joke that involves the word ‘poo’.
How can we adults pick joy more often?
This question has occupied me lately because – inspired by Jill Stark’s excellent, confronting memoir High Sobriety – I’m taking a few months off booze. I’ve managed almost four weeks and it has been harder than I expected.
I miss the joy of being drunk. I miss the feeling of letting go, the sweet, silly freedom that arrives with the third drink (but definitely departs somewhere around glass number four or five, replaced by a darker determination to keep on going, heading who knows where.)
Saturday night was the biggest challenge yet. We were at a friend’s birthday party. As children played tag, toasted marshmallows and trampled the host’s new vegetable plot, adults drank wine and whiskey. I drank mineral water, then upgraded to soda water and then threw in a Phoenix organic guava and apple juice (my special little non-alcoholic treat, which was sickly sweet). I also ate a lot of food.
Eventually, I couldn’t fit anything else in and was unsure of what to do next. As my friends got drunker, their conversations became harder to follow and less interesting. Time slowed down. By 8pm I had had enough. I realised that I had never been sober, at night, in this particular backyard before.
Then Andy got out a uke and started plucking away and then Jo joined him. I know the ukelele has a certain kind of anti-cool cache but I have never been a fan of the little guitar. Still, I was desperate.
I sidled over to them, bent down to see the lyric sheets and started to sing along. We did Johnny Cash, Cole Porter, Jolie Holland, Gillian Welch, Neil Diamond and the Beatles. It is amazing how many truly epic songs could be shrunk down to fit into uke-land. It is also amazing how the saddest lyrics out (for example ‘Solitary Man’) can be transformed into something quite jaunty at the hands of two tipsy ukelele players and some enthusiastic backing singers.