Nurturing Joy During Quarantine: Some Words of Advice from Author Gabby Rivera

BY: Ichtaca Lira

 It is no secret that there are many elements of our daily lives that have been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, finding time to prioritize joy during these unprecedented times can prove to be a difficult task due to workloads shifting, constant Zoom fatigue, having to stay inside as much as possible, and the impact of current events hitting incredibly close to home. Joy for QTBIPOC(queer and/or trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color) in particular has always had the tendency of being culturally overlooked, especially when so much of their portrayal in the media revolves around their trauma, discrimination, and pain.

The podcast Joy Revolution takes a new approach to this reality. Created by Gabby Rivera, a queer Puerto Rican writer from the Bronx, Joy Revolution’s episodes each feature a different QTBIPOC guest, and through holistic conversation and empowering questions, they and Rivera unpack not only how their hardships have shaped themselves, but how their joy has come to fruition throughout their lives.

YR Raw’s Ichtaca Lira, as a QTPOC themselves, recognized the importance of a podcast that empowers marginalized communities by putting an emphasis on positive narratives, and was able to interview Gabby Rivera to ask her not only about the thought process behind the creation of Joy Revolution, but for some words of advice when it comes to nurturing joy during quarantine.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ichtaca Lira: How did you get the idea to create Joy Revolution?

Gabby Rivera: When our president was elected in 2016, that really ruptured something in my psyche…There was something about seeing that person’s face everywhere I went in every airport, every news building on the TV that, to me, is like white supremacist media causing me harm on a daily basis by putting that human being and his violent rhetoric, his total disregard for his neighbors, compassion, respect for women, respect for queer people…That was just starting to tear out my spirit… and I started thinking about my grandma. When I was growing up, I’d be like, “Grandma, what do you want me to be when I grow up?” And she’d say “Happy, I want to be happy. You got to wake up every day and be happy, deeply satisfied and to be proud of yourself.” So I started thinking about Joy Revolution. I’m exhausted. I’m tired. But there is this divine Joy in me. There is ancestral Joy in me. That was the seed. I personally wanted to take back my own life, media experience and conversation experience and censor it from a Joyous perspective and QTBIPOC perspective. We never get to celebrate that. At least, I don’t see that in a mainstream way. 

IL: How is Joy reflected in the work you create?

GR: Well, this is just me trying to survive with my happiness and my spirit feeling full. My work with Juliet Takes a Breath, my first novel, I wanted a story about a little chubby Puerto Rican girl that was bouncy and joyful and not completely centered on like oppression or her pain. Because those narratives are important. We learn from those stories. People have to tell their truth. Of course there’s a lot of pain in truth, but we can have more room, right? So with Juliet Takes a Breath, she’s joyful, she’s queer, she loves herself, she loves her body. And she lives. That was the baseline. That was America Chavez, a character that already existed. So I was like, what can I do with her? In the series, she gets to experience joy. She gets to like, go on a wild motorcycle ride through the desert and end up in a boxing ring…Now Joy Revolution, this podcast is an offering of love. I was like, I’m going to reach out to people that have loved me and respected me…we’re going to talk about joy, you know? And we didn’t reach for people because they have the most followers or anything, no, like real life, everyday people.

IL: In the last few months, we’ve seen nationwide protests against police brutality, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. What role do you think joy plays in organizing or participating in revolutions?

GR: For me, as a queer Puerto Rican, my joy in times of protest in the name of police brutality, in the name of Black lives, my joy is being able to offer energy, to offer resources, to send supplies to the marches where I can…My joy is in the movement and the action and in boosting what I can and finding ways to stay connected to Black-led organizations, Indigenous-led organizations, the people. I believe that joy is deep-rooted in that sense of community, compassion, justice. Joy looks at the world around it, sees injustice and says, no, this is how we work together to combat, to shift power, to shift resources.

IL: Why haven’t discussions about joy been pushed to the forefront?

GR:  Our language, especially here[in the United Sates], is rooted in violence and aggression. Men in particular control a lot of that language that we use, how we speak to each other. The world hates femininity. It hates gentleness. There’s no real room to tell people like, “I love you” or, “I care about you.” Like, imagine, you know, two regular heterosexual dads having a conversation. Are they going to be like, “Hey Chuck, how’s your heart?” I know they want to laugh. They mock compassion and in turn also scare people from being vulnerable. But there’s a tenderness that I think a lot of people want. Across sexual orientation, across race, I think a lot of folks are acting out and being violent because they don’t have that tenderness, because no one asked if they’re okay. When I was able to tour and go to colleges, I would ask giant rooms full of seniors and students, “Who has ever prioritized your joy? Who has ever cared about your joy?” And most people say no one. And so the thing I think about with Joy Revolution is that it’s a place for soft language. It’s a podcast that’s literally like, you deserve joy. And it opens you up to be able to love others as much as you are loving yourself and looking and finding and building your own joy. 

IL: You started Joy Revolution before all of the things 2020 has thrown at us. A pandemic, anti-racism protests, murder hornets, wildfires… What does joy look like for you now? Has anything changed for you? 

GR: When we released Joy Revolution, we were also doing Instagram lives to launch each episode. And in the middle of it, it was just too much. Coronavirus was wildly spreading, and I was terrified. We just couldn’t maintain that regularity. I was just exhausted and numb. And we sat down, me and my producer, and we were like, look like if we’re really here talking about joy, then joy is also the dismantling of set schedules for everything all the time, rigidity. Like, that’s also based on capitalism, the expectation that above all else, you’re a worker or you’re machine. So we took our time with that. Now, joy looks like rest and taking things one moment at a time versus planning for the next five years.

IL: What’s the most difficult part of staying joyous these days? Do you have any suggestions for ways in which people can bring positivity into their lives?

GR: Staying joyous is like a puzzle. The moods and the energies are always fluctuating. A new trauma is coming. So you just root yourself in the fact that, like, you believe in joy and you want joy. Know that you don’t have to always be joyous. And a lot of this is like what we see on Instagram; very simple specific acts of self/community care. Like, when it is really awful and you can’t do anything, can you drink some water? Can you sit in the sun, you know, have you cooked a meal? Is there enough to bring to your friend and just do a quick drop off? At the same time, joy is also saying, f*** joy, today I’m going to be mad!

IL: What should we do to check in our friends and family who are most impacted by current events? Do you have any suggestions as to how we can bring joy into their lives?

GR:  I mean, just stay involved. COVID-19 has led to me writing letters and getting letters from my friends. One of my friends actually sent me some seeds for my garden. And like, if you’ve got a grandma, you can spend literally three minutes of your life to call your grandma. And that’s the best part of a month. You know what I mean? Life and neighbors. I’ve really gotten to know my neighbors in these in these times. They helped me build my garden and they offered tomatoes. I gave them sunflowers. We’ve become better functioning as a community because we need to feel that real love. 

IL: What do you want listeners to take away from your podcast, especially now?

GR: All I really hope is that they carry some of that joy with them and share it with somebody else. That is the simplest thing. We are all worthy of joy. We deserve it. And it is in us. And it is how we can help each other.