When I had my second knee reconstruction surgery in 1981, arthroscopic surgery was not yet common. Or available. Or whatever. It was also before they had light polymer casts. When it was over I had about 20 lbs of plaster from my ankle to my thigh. And it itched like hell for months.
One of the things that has stayed with me in the many years, was the anesthesia regime during surgery. I had an epidural (the original numb nuts treatment), but they also gave a sedative, in this case, IV valium. I remember silver, glowing dots going up my arm as the drug started. They were amazing. I thought so. I also thought the nurse was amazing and smiled big at her. Then I realized the surgeon was amazing.
At that point a small part of my sane brain said "dingbat, its the drug". I thought that perhaps I should make use of this state and do a little positive reinforcement. I was in grad school, and struggling a bit. I was not in my advisor's favor. My thesis wasn't interesting to him. He was probably right, but for the wrong reasons. And was whatever the opposite of favorite was.
So, I thought, its time for Good Thoughts. I love my thesis. The silver dots had turned golden and were pulsing with numbers and symbols (it was a theoretical thesis). It is a brilliant thesis. In fact, I love my advisor, ugly pseudo-humble arrogant ass that he was. He is a wonderful advisor, I thought. And really felt it. Other brain part replied: He is not. First part: Oh shut the fuck up and enjoy the situation. (I don't need another person to have a great argument). I spent the rest of surgery having profound thoughts about how wonderful my thesis was, how great the program, how marvelous my friends. And a few brilliant ideas, which alas, disappeared with the gold dots.
Anyway, the surgery taught me the idea of pure, uncompromised, unconditional and unearned joy.
The unearned part was important to me in grad school. Subsequent joy and its quiet younger sib, pleasure, were, and still are, earned. Grad school was and still is tough. Being The Woman in the program is hard. I succeeded, but I always knew what it cost. That the uncompromised joy was not real and was brain chemicals has stayed with me. The earned joy is more complex, and richer for it. (But you should also go read Ursula LeGuin's story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" )
This morning, for reasons I know not, I woke up filled with joy. I was simply happy. So now I am work. Writing a grant and helping trainees with data exploration for meeting abstracts. There are things not perfect in my life (imagine that). And it cost a lot to get here. But damn, sometimes I look at this grant, these data and think: not bad Potnia, not bad at all.