Do your movies give people ‘pleasure’ or ‘joy’?

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

I have a feeling this is going to be a long one. Because it’s about my mom. Buckle in, my friends.

And I’m going to be saying ‘pleasure’ a lot. Try to keep your mind out of the gutter, Internet.

I can’t remember the last time I saw my mother enjoying something. I once saw her pop a pickle in to her mouth and she looked ecstatic.

But no, nothing after that. We spent her birthday in hospital in Vellore, Chennai. I tracked down a bakery and found her some awesome chocolate cake. She scolded me for it. And I can’t remember her eating even a little bit.

My mother felt the need to earn pleasure. To reward herself for hard work. For reaching a goal-post.

That’s all good. But the trouble is, those goal-posts are slippery. Like a just-lotioned toddler with no clothes on.

My mother never earned the right to pleasure, though she did a lot with her life.

Oh, but what is pleasure really, if you think about it? Life’s basic necessities with a little extra oomph. Tea and cakes instead of bread and water. A silky pajama with lace trimmings instead of trusty old cotton.

It’s, of course, a matter of taste what is pleasing. But what I’m getting at here is, it’s just a little prettier than what we would normally have.

There were times when my mother would deny herself basic necessities too.

I remember shopping for my impossible-to-please husband with my mom.

Some backstory: Sri Lankan Muslims have this beautiful custom of exchanging gifts when a couple gets married. There’s a couple of baskets of stuff for the bride/groom – usually clothes, toiletries, costume jewelry, the stuff you might give your spouse on an anniversary. And lots of baskets of fruit, chocolate, all kinds of food, for the bride/groom’s family. A flipping humongous cake is also customary.

After the wedding, the food baskets get divided among all the relatives present. It’s finger-licking good.

On this particular occasion, we were shopping for my husband’s baskets. I was sending him picture after picture, trudging into one designer outlet after another, and the dude just wasn’t satisfied.

I remember being pretty pissed at my husband. And my mother was frothing herself up into a panic. I can just imagine the thoughts swirling around in her head. “Oh my God, what are we going to do, child, he doesn’t like anything we choose, what will people think?”

But it was lunch-time and damn it, I wanted to eat. She wanted to keep looking.

Freaking heck, Indiana Jones couldn’t find what this guy wanted. But my poor dear mother wanted to skip a meal to keep trying.

Pleasure? She hadn’t pleased her overlords, so she did not even deserve food. I forced her to sit down and eat. This makes me a spoiled brat.  A food-court Chinese meal.

Tell me this isn’t about colonialism. That this isn’t about misogyny.

Now I’ve followed my mother’s example faithfully.I used to regularly work myself into a nervous breakdown.

BUT. After years of depression, anxiety and, God help me, a little guy who might follow in my footsteps, I want to change all that. I want to experience the delicious things of life. 

And I don’t wait till I hit a goal either. That particular habit, I haven’t shaken yet. My goals aren’t as SMART as I’d like. I’m working on it.

But – yes, another but – I’ve found that cake is nice and all, but it’s even better with company.

Which leads to me to this other concept. JOY.

What is joy to me?

Joy is sacred. Pleasure is the doorway to the sacred.

You can share pleasure with just about anybody. But joy has to be earned.

Joy is the difference between love and lust. Between hunger and satisfaction.

After overdoing pleasure, I’m now looking for joy. In every part of my life.

I’ve recently taken up yoga with this awesome woman’s videos.

I love that yoga practitioners tend to be radically calm. They don’t pour their bodies into punishing sports clothes and then yell and push till we all faint. I’d like to leave a session of exercise marveling at my body, not hating it.

Aerobics has always made me hate my body. Even if and when they speak of ‘modifications’, the underlying idea is that those are for the weak among us.

Adriene tells us to ‘find what feels good.’ My knee-jerk response to that was, ‘What right have I to feel good?’

The thought felt Like an electric shock, like a whip to my back. 

‘Let me punish myself before someone else punishes me. Because I deserve it.’

And joy? Joy was an insult to God. I need to always be humble and humility excludes joy.

I don’t know who taught me all of these lies about worship and God.

Which leads me to storytelling. My stories might be pleasurable, but are they joyous? This is where it might help to let go of structure and just tell a good story. To really dig deep into what makes you unbearable and establish a connection with the audience.

Ultimately the movies we remember didn’t just bring us pleasure, but also joy.

Oh but it’s more than that.

Because as we all know, Death is coming for all for us – and not the adorable Discworld kind either. Most of us have no idea when it’s going to strike. We should find that joy before it’s too late. And walk through as many pleasure doorways as our senses and values and resources will allow.

See. Told you it would be too long and about my mom.

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