Spring has arrived in California, bringing warm air, sunshine, and vibrant splashes of wildflowers up and down the coast so massive that they can be seen from space. I find myself longing to be outside, longing to chatter like the birds outside my window with my family, friends, and the person behind me in the checkout line who complimented my reusable bag. Yesterday my brother and I decided to set up in the sunshine spreading across our front steps for a couple of hours in the late afternoon. This isn’t something I’ve done very much, most people don’t sit in front of their houses in our neighborhood, and it can feel a bit awkward to know that everyone can observe you as they walk by, but the sun was warm, so I wanted to give it a try. We read for a while and then put our books aside, grabbed a couple of drinks and talked and laughed for over an hour, catching up with each other about our weeks and the books we’ve been reading. As we sat and conversed and enjoyed the fresh air, neighbors walked past on their way home from work or school, getting in their daily jog, or taking their dogs for a walk. People seemed pleased to see us out there, eager to exchange smiles or say hi, one neighbor paused, lifted their glass and called out to us as they passed, “cheers to your stoop sitting!” It struck me how human and precious it is that we long for these little moments when our lives bump up against each other and remind us that we’re not alone, no matter how brief they are. Maybe one reason Spring feels so sweet is because it brings more opportunities for us to connect to the world around us.
Connection has been a big word for me for most of my adult life. Connection to other people, connection to nature, and connection to something larger than myself are all integral to my well-being and understanding of who I’ve been and who I am becoming. My experience of the pandemic and the division caused by the politicization of the questions and challenges it raised about how we care for the most vulnerable in society have further solidified my belief in the crucial roles that both value for and experience of connection play in our capacity for mental health, compassion, and hope. The highs and lows of my own mental health journey are inescapably tied to moments of connection and disconnection in my life. I am most able to move through the world with hope, vulnerability, and awareness of those around me, and when I have a keen sense of the reality of our interdependence and experience regular moments of meaningful connection with other humans and the planet we live on. This interplay and its simultaneous simplicity and complexity fascinate me.
A few years ago I began building a collection of fiction stories exploring connection and disconnection and their impact on one’s mental health, understanding of self, and beliefs about the world. I drew from my own experience throughout the first half of my 20s, times when I felt isolated and depressed and believed that the problem was in my worth and not in my brain chemistry, times when I’ve relied on adhering to the safe, self-protective roles in my relationships instead of meeting people with curiosity and vulnerability, times when I didn’t trust my feelings enough to share them, causing distance between myself and others when I most needed support and understanding. However, the barriers to reaching out are very real. It is difficult to prioritize creating space for meaningful connection and practicing vulnerability when there is work to do and bills to pay. And when we’ve been feeling stressed, unsafe and lonely for a while (whether due to trauma, mental illness, or a global pandemic) our brains actually learn to perceive connection as a threat. It is really difficult to push through those barriers and ask for the connection you need… and it is so worth it. I truly believe that pursuing connection is a radical practice that grounds us in our own humanity in ways that can shift how we see ourselves and how we show up to the world around us. My hope for my collection is to celebrate the impact that relatively small, everyday moments of vulnerability and connection can have on our sense of well-being and to encourage readers to keep seeking connection, especially when it feels most challenging.
Ironically, the process of writing is a largely solitary one, until my book is released into the world, I have a relatively isolated relationship with it. As its release draws near, I find myself struggling with anxieties about practicing the vulnerability I aim to represent in its pages. The publication process has been bumpier and more difficult than I’d imagined, I’ve had to delay several times and even un-release the book once. I’ve worried people will judge me for not knowing exactly what I’m doing as I navigate the self-publishing world for the first time. I worry that the long build up will lead to disappointment in the book once people have read it. I worry that I am not cut out to do this story-telling thing I’ve felt compelled towards since I was two years old. But I am trying to practice what I preach in hopes that ultimately there may be wonderful opportunities for connection as I share the highs and lows of this publication process, and when people finally read the book itself. The greatest reward I experience as a writer is when readers tell me that my words made them feel seen or helped them articulate something about their own experience. That reward doesn’t come without risk. Like sitting in the sun on my front steps, it might be uncomfortable to know I can be seen, but it brings more opportunities for the kind of connection that reminds myself and others that we are not alone.
My debut book, Reaching, will be available soon online and through your local independent bookstore. Follow me on instagram at @haileyjoywrites or visit my blog, https://haileyjs.wordpress.com for updates and links to order my book.