Joy On and Off the Page

Clever Manka, · Categories: Guest Posts · Tags: ,

This is a post I recently wrote to share with the group of eco-feminist rosary nerds I hang with online, for a day when we were praying the Joyful Mysteries. As you can see, things venture pretty far afield from the Bible. The biographical info here is scant to the point of oversimplification, but whaddayagonnado? I was in a hurry.

Can we talk about Betty Page for a minute? She had a complex, difficult life, but her work is still popular today. Pin-ups are weird things, straddling the lines of taste and propriety, but hers project more joy than sexual energy to me, and that’s interesting.

Enjoyment of the human form is not something I’ve ever been able to do without tremendous shame. In or out of relationships, my appreciation is somehow mired in the messages I received growing up: It’s bad, it’s not for you, you’re doing it wrong. I got my start freelancing by reviewing pornography, erotica, and sex toys; it was the only way I could try to reverse how awful I felt about myself as a person inconveniently packaged in a body. And while it was a great experience, it didn’t really fix anything.

However. Betty Page made it clear that she enjoyed her work and had no shame about it. Sexually abused as a child and assaulted by a group of men as an adult, she found personal agency as a pin-up model, and her delight frequently leaps out of the frame. Later in life she had a religious conversion experience, and then a psychotic break that led to extensive hospitalization, but she ultimately came to appreciate how much joy her work brought fans of all genders and made peace with it.  

Maybe she’s on my mind because my body can feel like a barrier to spiritual connection. I often wish I could escape these aches and anxieties and just be dunked into the great cosmic tea mug and dissolve. But here I am, feeling anything but joyful, far from beautiful, and very confused about it all. I look at these photos, though, and think it’s not just the aesthetic perfection that touches me. Joy is the only word for it; she’s vibrant, charged. I find it hard to look away.

What do you do that has a similar effect on people? It’s a little hard to disengage from the sexual context here, but what do you do that compels their interest, lights them up? Is it a family recipe everyone demands? Musical ability that moves those close to you when you perform? What’s the joy you can share most readily with the world? How soon can you do so? We need it.

Heather Seggel is a freelance writer who would just like to emphasize how much hygge she’s packing in this photo.


42 Responses to “Joy On and Off the Page”

  1. RoseCamelia says:

    I'm sorry you feel "far from beautiful". But that's not what I saw when we met a week ago. Your intelligence is obvious in even your most neutral facial expression. Your face is attractive, for its physical features as well as for the fascinating character that shines from it when you let it.

    • Heathered says:

      Thanks for this. I was thinking more in terms of not wanting my "self" to be the vehicle through which I try to either give or receive any kind of joy. But sadly it's what I've got, hence the need to learn me up some new skills.

  2. CleverManka says:

    I got my start freelancing by reviewing pornography, erotica, and sex toys
    So, like…how does one get started with that?

    • Xolandra says:

      O yes hi i also have that question.

    • Heathered says:

      In my case it was a pretty straight hop from making zines (for free) to writing stuff for others' zines (also for free but at least I wasn't the one paying for printing and postage). Nowadays I suspect you either affiliate yourself with a website or start a blog of your own, and if you build it (a readership) they will hopefully come as a result of your recommendations? It's *possible* to get jobs with print mags that pay, but my sense is that they want a porn star or someone who looks like one in a lot of cases. It's like book reviewing–fun but not lucrative overall.

  3. Onymous says:

    AAAAᴀᴀᴀᴀaaand crying.

    • Heathered says:

      You don't have to say more if you don't feel like it, but I'm around, here and heatherlseggel at g mail-abouts.

      • Onymous says:

        Oh, no; I'm thankful that you're there but it's just that general dysthymia vs discussions-of-joy thing and that recognition of part of me in other people and also the phrase "I often wish I could escape these aches and anxieties and just be dunked into the great cosmic tea mug and dissolve." Which hits so very close to home.

        • Heathered says:

          Yeah, dysthymia makes everything into a sandbag. (When it was first mentioned as part of my Brain Fun Package, I had not seen it written down anywhere and left thinking I had a problem with "this thigh meat." Also true! But beside the point. Hugs, fist bumps, Monte Cristo sandwiches as your preferences dictate.)

  4. Xolandra says:

    O HELLO, it turns out joy is something that I have been ruminating a lot on, lately. Specifically, the ways in which society both trains us out of demonstrating it (think teen fangirls and how we shame their enthusiasm) and prizes those of us who can escape that minimization (cf literally every single manic pixie dream girl trope). A lot of the project of being a better version of myself over the last few years has been allowing myself to _express_ things without fearing other people's reception of that expression.

    I also have issues with enjoyment of the human form; my background is firmly Catholic, and although it wasn't the whips and scourges kind of Catholic, it was a "mortify the body to maximaze the soul" kind of religion, and so enjoying bodily things just… wasn't really that encouraged? I'm tryna let go of those hangups, and the results so far have been pretty A+, I have to say. It turns out I really enjoy an awful lot of things that I didn't _allow_ myself to enjoy because of how I perceived the people who enjoyed those things. Turns out letting go of being a shitty, judgy person towards others has allowed me to take that same attitude towards myself, and it's been really _nice_.

    The thing I do that intrigues other people? I am bringer-of-parties. Whether I am at home or out and about, I *sparkle* in the presence of others, especially when there is music to dance to. I got called a sparkling angel of delight on Friday night (we only crossed paths on the dance floor, idk who that person is). I am an impeccable host. People do not, as a rule, leave my house or company unsatisfied. Right now I am struggling to know if I do that because _i genuinely like to make people happy_ or if I have been conditioned to believe that that is what gives me pleasure. I am also wondering if, in the end, it matters.

    Also I have a lot of useless knowledge crammed into my brain and people also enjoy that. For me it's just the detritus of my liberal arts education, hahaha.

  5. vladazhael says:

    I'm sorry you're feeling un-joyful and un-beautiful and I hope you are able to conjure up some joy and self-appreciation soon.

    I suppose how I share joy depends on who I'm sharing it with and what exactly it is I want to share. A lot of the time it centers around making things, especially with yarn, which has a highly variable appreciation rate but is awesome when the right project gets to the right person for the right reasons. I like making things that people I care about will both love and use.

    I also offer a lot of snark to various situations, which doesn't seem like a joyful thing perhaps, but when correctly deployed it can be. I've more than once cheered a friend up by responding to their bad news with creative cursing of whoever wronged them.

    • Heathered says:

      You made me rethink snark just now! I don't like it as a default cultural setting, but *personalized* snark within a friendship is a whole 'nother animal, and I think it strengthens social bonds to feel like you've got a passionate advocate. Also, most of what I make with yarn is knots, so I salute anyone who can make a thing that looks like what it says it is.

  6. Kazoogrrl says:

    This reminds me, I was reading an article about ADHD (I have no idea if I have it), and of the points the last one talks about rejection sensitivity. I have spent my life censoring how I express my feelings about things, because getting hurt is devastating and I deeply internalize how it feels (which can also be physical). Or, as I've told people, I keep my feelings close to my chest. I think by acting that way protectively, I've also short circuited how I feel and express joy.

    As I've gotten older I've tried to give a lot less of a fuck about this, but it's still hard. I would say I'm not a joyful person, though it's something I admire in other people. Doing something like a fan podcast is waaaaaay outside my norm, because in a way it's exposing vulnerability, but positive feedback and my own pleasure in the project reminds me that it's worth it.

    • Heathered says:

      My feelings are pretty close to the surface at all times and I wish I could clamp them down a bit, because even though I may get it out in the moment if they're bad they tend to burrow in quite a bit; my default state is intensely defended as a result. I think a fan podcast is a super-cool way to both share something you're passionate about and connect with others who share that passion–that's like a joy multiplier!

  7. Rillquiet says:

    Hm, this is one of those "my friends would say I'm…" questions that can be so challenging to answer. But what I hear the most reactions to is that I can travel alone and will try different activities with few apparent concerns about looking silly or being uncool. And honestly there's plenty of internal fear and stress, but I don't usually end up regretting the choices nearly as much as I would not making them.

    Also I make superlative blini, but they're labor-intensive and wildly unhealthy, so not many people get to try them.

    • Heathered says:

      Blini is like a superpower, so it's good that you use it sparingly. And one of the things dearest to my heart about Riot Grrrl was the attempt to liberate women from pressure to be "cool" and celebrate dorkiness instead. It's SO hard for me to try things I might not be good at, which is so dumb! I really applaud people who can dive in with both feet.

      • Rillquiet says:

        Oh man, the Splendid Table's blini recipe is the cosmic rays/irradiated spider venom/gene X for people who want to have the superpower. Just…with great power comes great cholesterol.

        The Riot Grrrl movement and the "I'm older and give less of a damn" are definitely congruent in some respects. Your feeling of not being joyful in your body, your physical self, is something I've struggled with in other ways, but over the past few years I've worked on finding joy in challenges–hence the weights and dancing and now intermittent lyra. The reactions of other people have come as a pleasant surprise. Evidently dorkiness is more in the mirror than in others' eyes!

  8. CleverManka says:

    I don't think I have much of an effect on people (other than all you darlings) right now, but I used to be famous for my house parties (*fistbump* to Xolandra). I also like to feed people (something else I can't easily do right now). Oh, and bellydancing (ugh, also on the alas-not-now list). Being so disengaged and inactive from a social life has been one of the hardest parts of dealing with my health. So many parts of me are missing/gone and who knows if/when I'll get them back.

    I so so much appreciate everyone here for giving me such a rewarding experience at this online cocktail-and-coffee party. Thank you for giving me an outlet to share some joy!
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  9. Heathered says:

    You host the shit out of this party! And it's funny because we are virtual polar opposites in terms of dietary likes and wants, but when you mention something my first response is always to want to try it super bad (like, even liver and onions, which is never going to happen unless the liver is magically vegetables.) So I think you're still exuding hostessness even when I'm not actually in your kitchen.

  10. Heathered says:

    Haha, I had a good time posing this question, but it's hard to answer. Writing is a piece of what I have to offer, for sure, but it's never as much of a vehicle for Joy as I'd like it to be (Note to self: Be funnier.). I'm stymied in terms of a lot of things that have potential, like making handmade gifts, because they require another person to receive them. Hmmm. Yesterday I picked up trash for an hour and someone yelled "thank you!" across the street at me, so maybe low-bar civic engagement is my superpower. 🙂

    • Onymous says:

      >>low-bar civic engagement

      Low bar Civic engagement is pretty amazing though. If half of last year's mayoral candidates in Albuquerque did anything other than run for mayor every few years this town would be spotless.

    • ru_ri says:

      The card that you sent me brought me _so much_ joy, I can't tell you. I hung it up on the bulletin board at my desk so I can look at it and smile. It is seriously one of the coolest things I have ever received, I want to frame it. So thank you for that! And i am sorry I lack the talent to respond in kind!

      • Heathered says:

        I'm surrounded by roosters and lightning bolts! I so appreciate their butt-kickiness on slow-butt days. Glad you liked it, though–I get pretty unorthodox with origami when left unsupervised.

        • RoseCamelia says:

          1st ER nurse: Yeah, it's Heathered again. Another origami incident.

          2nd ER nurse: What is it this time?

          1st ER nurse: Hard to tell. It's not finished yet, obviously. Something gold and green. All I know is she folded both her hands into it and now she's stuck. Again.

          2nd ER nurse: I'll get the bandage scissors. I hope she lets us cut it up this time.

          1st ER nurse: Yeah. Remember when she insisted we unfold her platypus? Would not let us cut her loose, she was so fond of it.

          2nd ER nurse: Well you have to admit, it was a very attractive platypus.

          1st ER nurse: Yes it certainly was.

  11. exitpursuedbyaclaire says:

    What a beautiful way to put this– "What’s the joy you can share most readily with the world? How soon can you do so? We need it."

    I am not sure how to answer the question, but I know I do share joy with people, because quite a lot of people like me. I think I share joy most readily by being kind, but it may be through enthusiasm for fantasy books and weird animal facts.

    • Heathered says:

      Kindness is like stealth joy delivery, but I love the idea of spreading joy via weird animal facts. We get a lot of Mormon and JW door knockers in this town, but if someone came to the door and said, "Let me tell you about platypi!" I would be all in.

      • RoseCamelia says:

        I am tempted to do that, knock on your door and offer to tell you about platypi. Or ask if you want to know more about our lord and savior the pig-footed bandicoot.

    • damngoodcoffee says:

      Kindness is something that is so, so valuable and one of those things that is appreciated more and more as you get to know someone more, I think. It took me a while to realize just how much I admired my office mate, for instance, for her kindness, but it just grew and grew. That kind of thing is invaluable.

  12. Lee Thomson says:

    I love people easily, and tell them so pretty much as soon as I think of it. One part of life I am very bold about!

  13. damngoodcoffee says:

    That is a great question; I have a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor that I have tried to hone so that it does not alienate anyone, and I think people are generally drawn to that, or at least made more comfortable by it.

    I know very little about Betty Paige but now want to know more. Thank you for this!

    • Heathered says:

      For an amazing fictional retelling that she hated and railed against, The Notorious Bettie Page is nevertheless so, so good. And then Bettie Page Reveals All is a straight telling of her story that she was interviewed for in her 80s, preferring to remain off-camera to preserve her legendary look. (I am weird about preferring the "with-a-Y" spelling of her name.) I really like her work a lot, despite how bananas a lot of it is. Also, right on for calibrating your humor! I'm reading a book by Whitney Cummings right now and that's a high-level skill in the world of comedy.

  14. meat_lord says:

    Great post, gave me plenty to chew on for later.

    I don't readily externalize many of my emotions, except for joy. I think there's something to be said for being able to share that.

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