Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Welcome to Creativists in Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.
Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.
Elizabeth: Today is our good friend, Joy Jones, who is a novelist, a playwright, an educator, a public speaker, a daughter, a friend, a double Dutch expert, et cetera, et cetera. So, thank you, Joy, and welcome.
Michael: We like to start our interviews with a couple of questions. And the first one is the role that creativity plays in your life, but specifically, what aspects of your life do you think creativity have had the greatest impact?
Joy: Obviously my writing, I’ve known since third grade that I wanted to be a writer and always liked coming up with [00:01:00] stories and wanting to show everybody—my parents, my classmates, my teachers—what I had written. And so, finding a way to make that happen required creativity in the traditional sense of actually inventing stories and using your imagination, as well as trying to be inventive and imaginative about getting leads, sustaining rejection, connecting with others in the field, finding your tribe, getting your work out in the, your work out in the world, et cetera, et cetera.
Michael: Okay. Yeah, I hadn’t thought about the creativity of enduringrejection.
Elizabeth: How to imagine life beyond rejection.
Joy: Because I knew I wanted to be a writer at a young age, I learned at a young age that rejection was part of being the writer’s, on the writer’s journey. And so, that has helped me not be too shaken when I get the rejection letters. For me, one strategy I have is I apply for something and then I forget about it.
Joy: And a lot of times when someone does say yes, I’m like, [00:02:00] I don’t even remember… I don’t remember submitting this story, I don’t remember applying to this opportunity. And I have to sit with the letter or the email like really search my mind ‘cause I have really let it go. I apply, I submit, I make the attempt, and then I forget about it until—
Elizabeth: Send it out into the universe.
Joy: That’s right. Until they say yes or no.
Elizabeth: You’ve had a lot of happy surprises on that front and we’ll get to that.
But, as Michael said, we deal with creativity in a number of ways. One of the ways is through the definitions of creativity. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—I think I’m getting to say this right; it’s the very long Hungarian name of this erudite gentleman that begins with a “c”—anyway, he has written numerous books on creativity, particularly flow and creativity in which he focuses on acts that advance a particular field of endeavor like fiction or engineering, or double Dutch, perhaps.
Conversely, in his book, Human Motivation, the [00:03:00] author Robert Franken focuses on creativity in relationship to problem solving and communication. Now, in this project, we lean a bit toward Franken’s definition in that we feel that to be creative, quote, “you need to be able to view things in new ways or from a different perspective.” Close quote. Joy, how do you personally view creativity or the creative act.
Joy: Ah, I would like to take slight issue—perhaps that’s too strong a word—with the second definition in that, for me, I need to not necessarily look at things in a different way, but I need to not look at them at all. I need to create a void. I need to create an emptiness so that new vision can present itself to me. It’s akin to what I was discussing about rejection. I don’t need to think a whole lot about whether a particular person or company or opportunity is going to say yes or no to me, I just need to do the footwork and then let it go [00:04:00] and allow something else—a different way of looking at things, a different opportunity, a different mindset—to sort of catch me by surprise and tap me on the shoulder. You mentioned double Dutch. That’s a prime example. I can’t say that I ever thought as a child, or especially as an adult, that I would have a career jumping rope. Never entered my mind.
Elizabeth: It wasn’t on the aptitude test—
Joy: Not at all!
Elizabeth: –college application or whatever.
Joy: And I liked jumping rope a whole lot as a, but I have jumped double Dutch more as an adult than I did as a child. I wasn’t that good at double Dutch. But I loved jumping single.
And the double Dutch opportunity, all of those opportunities, came through the back door. Certainly it’s—I feel like I’ve been creative with making the most of those opportunities, but it was not a logical planned process for me.
When I was in my late twenties, early thirties, the other women on the job I was working, we were always talking about losing weight. Always talking about—
Elizabeth: Of course. Yes. Yeah. This is [00:05:00] the constant, one constant in a woman’s life is you’re always try to lose weight.
Joy: Indeed! And I worked on Pennsylvania Avenue at that time, and Pennsylvania Avenue is a broad boulevard with large sidewalks, lots of space. So, I said, why don’t we get a jump rope and jump double Dutch on our lunch hour? I thought that was a great idea, but my coworkers said, oh, no, I’m too old. Mind you we’re in our twenties and thirties. Way too old to be doing that now. And so, I never did it. And I let the idea go, but I thought it was an idea that had legs, maybe not in real life, but I could make up a story.
So, I ended up writing a play called “Outdoor Recess” about a group of adult women who form a double Dutch team. And, in the play, a Washington Post reporter sees them and writes a story about them and wonderful things happen.
Elizabeth: Oh, this is in the play. This is in the play. Your imagination.
Joy: This is my imagination. Yes.
Elizabeth: Oh, this is art imitating life.
Joy: No, it was life imitating art—
Elizabeth: Or life imitating art.
Joy: And so when the play—and this is taking place over a period of years—when [00:06:00] the play is up and running and I’m promoting it, someone says, You ought to actually do that. You ought to get some women together and have them jump double Dutch. In my mind, I’m like, okay, I tried that once. It didn’t fly. But something made me say, why not? And so, the recreation center in my neighborhood—which is right across the street from me, which is why I chose it, not a long commute, I can just walk out the door across the street and I’m there—they said I could have double Dutch there. And so, every Friday I would. I put the word out and some women actually showed up.
Elizabeth: How old were you at this point?
Joy: I was in my forties.
Yeah. And after a period of time—I was working at a hospital at the time, and so I had a lot of contacts in the health field—and someone called me and said, Why don’t you come and bring your double Dutch team to our health fair and do a demonstration?
Joy: And then, someone else said, Why don’t you come do a street festival? And I said, do you have any money? And they said, Sure, we’ll pay you. And I’m like, oh! [00:07:00]
So, we started getting these invitations. Why don’t, you know, our school needs an afterschool program, can you teach jump-rope? So these things began to unfold. And ultimately, then I started writing grants to formalize the process. We’ll do somebody’s program if you pay us to do X, Y, and Z, blah, blah, blah.
And then one day we were doing a street festival—I wasn’t even at that particular event—and a Washington Post reporter happened to be there. He wasn’t there working; we were in his neighborhood. He saw what was going on and he wrote an article about the group. A woman who was affiliated with the State Department saw it and contacted us. She would arrange for artists to perform abroad. And she was really excited about the prospect of bringing double Dutch because, unlike musicians who need amplifiers and expensive musical instruments to be transported, et cetera, et cetera, all we’d need is a flat surface and a rope.
Elizabeth: You can go through security, no problem!
Joy: Precisely. And so, we ended up being Goodwill [00:08:00] Ambassadors to Russia several years ago.
Elizabeth: Oh, yeah, I remember that.
Joy: Evidently, we were, our goodwill wasn’t that great given there are still—
Elizabeth: Oh, oh, true! I didn’t even consider that. Double Dutch and diplomacy is very much in need right now.
Joy: But, but we were very well received while we were there. Had a great time. Some of the people we met have since come to Washington, D.C. And they shared their cultural experiences with some of our friends and family members. But, so, none of that was planned. None of that was on my radar.
Elizabeth: Except that you foresaw it in your play. It’s a—
Joy: I was just, my imagination was making up something farfetched. Not something that—
Michael: The person in your play didn’t end up going to Moscow, did they?
Joy: No, they didn’t. They didn’t go to Moscow.
Michael: Otherwise, you’re a prophet!
Elizabeth: That was in the Chekhovversion. [In Russian accent:] I want to go to Moscow.
Michael: That’s a fascinating story. Wow.
Elizabeth: Oh wow. Oh, I wanna hear—
Michael: But it is a [00:09:00] great story about, just, I mean you had the impulse to, what, lose weight, nobody really wanted to do it, so you wrote a play about it, and then ultimately you did it, and then the Washington Post reporter does show up, and then you go to Moscow! So it’s all, it’s just fascinating.
Joy: And yet I’m still trying to lose the weight.
Elizabeth: Oh, for our listeners, Joy doesn’t need lose weight. She looks great.
Michael: It was a creative way to problem solve that weight. Anyway.
Elizabeth: I wanna pivot here in, in some ways, into a more formal part of your life as an educator. ‘Cause you have taught everywhere. You’ve taught children, you’ve taught adults, you’ve taught in settings, institutional settings from senior centers to psychiatric institutions, lots and lots of places. I’m wondering how you use creativity in those educational settings.
Joy: There’s a quotation I’m gonna mangle, but it goes something like this: [00:10:00] An artist’s job is to give the audience back to itself. And so, when I’m standing in front of a classroom or any other group, I want the people sitting in front of me to have an experience. And what that means for me is I’m gonna make you do the work. I’m gonna, when they say workshop, you are going to do some of the work. So, I try to find things to make the class participatory as much as possible, so it’s not just me standing up in front of a classroom talking the whole time. I want to have the student doing something that will make the lesson memorable. Now, it doesn’t always work that way, particularly with kids. But that is my goal.
When I worked for DC Public Schools, one of the things I did, a teacher could request me to come in and do a black history lesson during February, a women’s history lesson during March. And for the teacher, this is, oh, this is a little mini vacation for me. Somebody else is in charge of the classroom, I can sit in the back in the [00:11:00] room and grade papers or sip a cup of coffee or chill out for a minute. And it was always a personal point of pride for me if I could get the teacher to stop what she was doing and be engaged in the lesson also. So that I, I’m really working to try to get everybody in the audience to be a part of what I’m saying and doing.
Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah. What about in your work at both St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, which our listeners will probably know, is a national hospital located in Washington, DC. It’s a psychiatric hospital. It’s both an inpatient and, perhaps, an outpatient facility. Anyway, you’ve taught at St. E’s, you’ve taught at Psychiatric Institute. You’ve taught in settings where art and creativity serves a, very much a healing purpose and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that healing process of the creative act and how that has played out in your experiences.
Joy: Oh, you don’t have to be in a hospital to benefit from the healing powers of art. Most people in the educational [00:12:00] circle, sometimes they’ll say you need a particularly interesting lesson to engage the slow students, but you need the same thing for the bright students. You, you need it for humans! Nobody wants to be lectured at. Again, people want to feel something. They want to have an experience. And a lot of times things can be gleaned through an artistic medium that you can’t understand or appreciate when you’re when spoken to you on. The doctor can tell you, “You need to lose weight, you need to exercise.” And you don’t do it even though you know that would be a benefit to your health and an authority figure has told you this is what you need to do. But, if I’m at a street festival and I see some old women, who need to lose weight also, jumping rope and having a good time, then I’m more likely to be motivated to try to exercise by jumping rope. Only then I’m not exercising, I’m having fun.
Elizabeth: Yeah, you’re having fun.
Joy: I’m playing. That playful aspect I think is [00:13:00] often more powerful than the official authoritative aspect, right?
Michael: So, the playful experience is obviously a key feature of a creative lesson plan when you’re, or a creative, a workshop.
Joy: Yes. Or a lesson or a class, a lesson plan, a workshop. Yes.
Michael: Yes. So are there other attributes beyond, beyond just the playful experience that you would see as part of this, sort of, creative lesson plan? What does a creative lesson plan look like?
Joy: I’m going to find something for the audience to do as well as something that I’m going to be doing. And I’m going to try and inadvertently make you think, if possible. That doesn’t always work.
Like I said, when I was doing a lot more classroom activities, I wanted something that would make the teacher look up and say, oh, this is fun, this is interesting. Let me participate.
And recently—I guess it was about two years [00:14:00] ago, just before the pandemic—my former supervisor had to do a workshop and she was asking me for help on how to organize a PowerPoint. And I was like, no, you don’t wanna do a PowerPoint. And she wanted to present facts and figures and information. And she was talking to an audience—everybody was an expert on the same field—she was talking to her peers. And so, I suggested that she do an activity that requires you to poll the room on every statement. You make a statement and then you poll the room to see who agrees or disagrees with the statement. And so I said, come up with provocative statements and get the opinion of the people in the room. And so, she did that and a lively discussion ensued. And afterwards she told me that people came up to her in the hall and said, “How did you understand adult pedagogy so well to engage everybody like that?” And it, it wasn’t rocket science, it was just, I had a clever way for getting her to make the audience be interested in what was [00:15:00] going on. And because they were already knowledgeable about the subject, she couldn’t tell them anything new, but they could have a discussion about their various opinions about what they already—about the field. And it took the pressure off of her. She doesn’t like public speaking, so she could just make a provocative statement and then the opinionated people in the audience took over the discussion.
Elizabeth: You can always count on that! Smart move.
Actually, as an educator, again, you’ve worked with so many different kinds of learners from, young children and teenagers to adults and professionals and elders and et cetera, et cetera. So, does your approach, your creative approach, change when you deal with different groups of people from different ages or cultural backgrounds or in different kinds of settings?
Joy: I know it’s—you’re supposed to say, yes, I have a new technique for each audience, but not really, because that’s like asking Hollywood, do you change the basic storytelling techniques for [00:16:00] movies? People like to see things get blown up, they like to see people fall in love on the screen, and so the basic formulas don’t change that much. And they make money selling movies to teenagers and selling movies to seniors. So, the basics don’t change that much. I feel the same way. If I’m telling a good story and getting you interested and participating in the story that I’m telling, it doesn’t matter if you’re incarcerated and just now getting out of prison or if you’re a third grader coming to class to hear the black history presentation. It’s pretty much the same process.
Elizabeth: True. Yeah.
Michael: Yeah. Let’s, so let’s switch to creativity in families. And from what I’ve, what I’ve come to understand over the years that you have a relatively close-knit family. And if you were to write a chapter or two on, on problem solving or creativity in the family, what would some of the topics [00:17:00] be in that chapter?
Joy: It would be a chapter with a lot of blank pages.
I don’t have the problem solved in terms of family relationships. I get along well with my mother, my father died a few years ago, and I have two younger sisters and we get along pretty well, but there’s no formula that I can give you for ensuring that things will go smoothly.
My mother is 91 years old, and so that’s been an interesting journey just by itself. She she’s a very smart woman. She graduated from high school early, went to Howard University. She loves learning. She’s a retired teacher. And now that she’s declining a little bit, it’s just interesting watching that process. She loves learning. She has always loved learning. She reads every single word of the Washington Post daily. When I was a child, we always had three newspapers coming into the house and we would still have three newspapers coming into the house if newspapers weren’t going out of style. So, she likes information, and she likes sharing [00:18:00] information.
But as she’s gotten older there’s been spots in her memory. She recently read a biography of Obama. And she was sharing with me about that, and she said, “Did you know that his family was from Kenya?” I said, “yes,” I knew that. She said, “Did you know that the Europeans came to Kenya and made those people work and didn’t pay them any money?” I said, “Yeah, it’s called slavery.” She says, “I never knew that.” And I’m looking at her in amazement.
And then on the other hand her parents left her plot of land in Texas, which is strange because her parents never lived in Texas. I don’t know why they bought this plot of land. It’s just a open field. And so recently she’s decided to sell it. And that was prompted by some random piece of marketing mail asking her, do you want to sell your property? We’ll buy your property for $1500. And she was like, I haven’t seen this land, but I’m sure it’s worth more than $1500. So she told me to do some research and I found a real estate agent in Texas, and the real estate agent says, oh, [00:19:00] I think I can sell your property for about $45,000. So she was smart enough to recognize that.
Elizabeth: Well, yeah. Looks like a duck. Walks like a duck. Talks like a duck. Wow.
Joy: So the real estate agent actually has made an offer. She found somebody who wanted to buy the lot and the buyer offered my mother $40,000. And so I reported this to my mother, ‘cause she’s not computer literate so I’ve been handling the email transactions. And so, I said, the real estate agent found a seller for $40,000. She said, what do you think about that? I said maybe we can ask for 42. She says, no, I think we’ll ask for 43. And so I emailed the counter offer and the buyer says, 43 is okay. So. on one hand she’s still smart and savvy. And then on the other hand, she doesn’t know that slavery existed.
Michael: So it sounds like lifelong learning is something that she’s done. Obviously, you’ve done. Is that sort of a general characteristic of most of your family members?
Joy: I would say in my family [00:20:00] education was the religion. My mother was a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher. My grandfather went to Tuskegee Institute at the time where very few blacks or whites went to college. Both of my parents have advanced degrees beyond what I have and it’s one of my mother’s pet peeves that she’s continually telling me I need to go back to school. Both of my sisters have master’s degrees. And my nephew is pursuing a PhD at Howard as we speak. With my undergraduate degree, I’m—
Elizabeth: I hear you. I love my little undergraduate. Michael over here has got all the credentials in this family.
Joy: And my mother’s very annoyed about that, and she still says, as recently as, a month or so ago, when are you going back to school?
Elizabeth: Wow. Speaking of learning, you’ve told us your mother, who sounds like a remarkable woman, has taken up the study of Chinese. From our good friend, mutual friend, Phil Kurata, who is now striving to teach your mom Chinese.
Joy: That’s not going so well. [00:21:00] As I told you, she reads the news voraciously. And so, she came to the conclusion that China is a rising power and that it would be wise to know how to speak Chinese. But because her mind is not as sharp as it used to be, you can teach her how to say, hello, my name is, and then a half an hour later, she’s forgotten the phrase. So in addition to her—she has books for children on how to learn Chinese all around the house that she’s checked out the library or bought and she’s constantly telling all of us, you need to go back to school to learn a language because you’re gonna have competition from not just people in DC but around the world. So you need to have a second language.
Elizabeth: Go back to the Washington Post. Didn’t you call up the Post sometime? There was—I don’t remember the anecdote, but—your mom having been a lifelong Washington Post reader. I’m trying to remember some sort of interaction—
Joy: Yes, for her birthday several years ago I contacted the Post and let them know that she had been subscribing to the Post since the 1940s. And I think it was her [00:22:00] 85th birthday. And I asked them, would they just send her a letter saying thank you for—and they sent a messenger with a letter and some Washington Post swag and they sent her the first page of the Washington Post on the day she was born and the front page of the Washington Post on her birthday for that year.
Elizabeth: Oh, so sweet.
Joy: Yes. She had those framed.
Michael: That’s wild.
Elizabeth: Speaking of the Washington Post and the whole communication industry, it seems—and to tap into what Michael was saying about communication and creativity within families—certainly communicating within a family is one of the biggest challenges. There’s just stories about issues that families have, but in what ways have you been able to use creativity in your own family network and with friends and colleagues? Have you been able to pull your rather expansive creativity skills into the realm of communication?
Joy: [00:23:00] Oh, my father was a psychiatric social worker. He worked at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and at Psychiatric Institute of Washington where I also worked. And being able to use humor to diffuse situations I think has been a good skill. Some years ago, at the end of a disastrous love affair, I was a wreck. I was and sad and moping around and crying. And one day my father said, Joy, do you want me to have one of my guys from Saint E’s rough him up? He was, he was joking. ‘Cause he worked with men who had committed felonies and heinous crimes. And I said, No, daddy, I wouldn’t have you waste your money on a contract to, to, kill somebody. And he said, oh, my guys, they would, I wouldn’t have to pay them anything, they would do it for the fun of it! He said, I know one guy, he would do it if I just gave him a red soda, that would be payment enough, just a red soda. So that, that has become a running joke in our family. Whenever somebody has made someone angry, someone [00:24:00] will buy a red soda and put them, attach their name to it. And that helps to diffuse some of the rage you have if someone has made you angry. So if you ever come around my family for dinner and you see someone drinking a red soda, then you might wanna—
Elizabeth: There’s a serious payback coming.
Michael: That sounds like creative problem solving. Let’s hire, I can hire somebody to rough that boyfriend up there. Yeah.
Elizabeth: Michael grew up on a prison farm, this is home turf for him.
Michael: Yes, my father did that occasionally.
All right I’ve heard you, I’ve heard you talk about your various workshops over the years, and I’ve also heard you talk about switching during the pandemic to these online experiences. As someone who’s also dealt with online experiences, I know how frustrating that can be.
Joy: Oh my goodness.
Michael: But can you maybe talk a little bit how creativity [00:25:00] helped you get through some of those online experiences?
Joy: No, I think wine got me through those experiences.
I didn’t enjoy doing workshops online too much. I made the adjustment because we had to. But I’m still looking for other people who teach or do presentations online to get ideas from them, to find ways to make it a smoother process. So that’s been a steep learning curve for me, trying to make that work.
What’s interesting is I continued to do my workshops at St. Elizabeth’s online, and I was complaining every step of the way for the last two years. I just hated having to do it that way. I missed the interaction. I missed being able to hand out a piece of paper to someone and say, look at number two and let’s discuss it. I just hated everything about it. And then this month, my contact there said, Joy, we can come back in person! And my first thought was horror. I was like, oh no!
Elizabeth: Gonna have to drive all the way across town.
Joy: Yes, I gonna have to drive [00:26:00] across town. I’m gonna be in rush hour traffic. I’m gonna have to put on real clothes. I’m like, if I forget something, I can’t just look it up online, quickly. And so I, I was surprised at my initial reaction. I didn’t wanna go back at first. My first time is next week, so we’ll see how it goes.
Elizabeth: We wish you well.
Speaking of challenges, you’ve also done a lot of work in organizations—nonprofits and governmental organizations. And I wondered if you have any examples of how you’ve been able to use creativity or humor to navigate some of the difficulties within an organization?
Joy: That’s a good question. Other than using humor to diffuse a situation when possible, if nerves are tense, that’s helpful. Although that can be sensitive.
Getting people to a safe space to express how they really feel, if it’s possible to create that safe space, sometimes in a corporate [00:27:00] environment is not so safe. So maybe finding some other outlet for them to express how they are feeling if it can’t be done head on in a direct fashion. I haven’t had a whole lot of experience in that direction.
Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah, it’s—that’s a tough one in terms of how you can navigate some terrain that’s already pretty well established.
Michael: Let’s shift to an area where you’ve had a lot of experience. Your early passion was you knew you wanted to be a writer.
Michael: So. let’s talk about novel writing, ‘cause you’ve had a number of books published. Jayla—
Joy: Jayla Jumps In in is my first novel in my most recent book. And as a child I thought I was going to be a novelist, but it’s taken me all this time to finally get a novel done. I had other things published—nonfiction and a picture book—but that initial goal of being a full-time novelist, which I thought as a child, by 25, I’ll have, two or three books [00:28:00] on the bestseller list. Again, the thing I was focused on was elusive and these other opportunities fell in my lap. So to speak.
Michael: But now you’re on the road. You’ve gotten your first book, your first novel, published.
Michael: And so, I think people are mystified by the process of creating a story from scratch in a sense, right? And some people think that it’s easy probably that you just sit down and you just write it. Or maybe some people think you talk to a muse and the voice in their head talks to you and tells you what to write. So could maybe, could you just maybe describe sort of your process for writing? How does the story come?
Joy: Well, something that’s a book length project is usually something I’ve been thinking about for years. Decades, even. And that doesn’t mean that I spent years actively writing it, although sometimes that’s the case also. But the thought or the theme for that book, or that story or that play has been something [00:29:00] that’s been on my mind for a very long time.
I wrote a play called “A Musical Level of Pain” and the impetus for that came when I was about seven years old and I was watching the Ed Sullivan Show and a comedian did a bit that I thought was clever. And my play arose out of that comedian’s sketch. So I had thought about that off and on for many years. And then eventually I sat down and wrote about it. But I had been playing with idea for quite some time.
Jayla Jumps In was slightly different. Again, I had written a play about Double Dutch, I had organized a double Dutch team, I had done a lot of work promoting the team. And so, I wasn’t actively considering it for a creative project in terms of a book, but it was something that I had been living with for a long time. Someone else actually suggested that I write the book about double Dutch for a kid audience, which I dismissed ‘cause I figured I had written a [00:30:00] play, I had managed the group, I was done with double Dutch. But this person was knowledgeable about the market and she kept saying, no, I think that would be a good idea. And I said, okay, let me play with the idea. And I wrote the story and it’s sold to the very first editor I presented it to you, which is not the norm. It is not the norm.
Elizabeth: Your six-year-old dream finally came true.
Joy: For me, I’m a slow writer. Even when I’m excited about an idea, it takes me a long time to get it down on paper. And it takes me a long time to go from that first sentence to a completed work.
Michael: But it sounds like you were immersed in the double Dutch world—
Joy: Yes. Yes.
Michael: Prior to the writing of the novel. So this, it had already nurtured your imagination in many ways. From wanting to lose weight, that initial impulse to want to lose weight to then writing a play and then doing the thing with at the rec center and then going to, so you had this whole, sort of, long history [00:31:00] with it. And so that fed your imagination when it came to the writing of the story.
And then you had this other book on public speaking and you yourself have done a lot of public speaking.
Joy: Yes, indeed.
Michael: How has public speaking—Do, does, do your novels reflect or are they informed by your knowledge of public speaking?
Joy: No, if I hadn’t been a writer, I had thought about being an actor. I like performing. I like standing in front of an audience, whether I’m just talking to them or being dramatic. And one, one interesting thing that I talk about in my book, Fearless Public Speaking, is I loved performing. And sometimes other people would say, aren’t you scared when you’re on stage? And I’m like, what is there to be afraid of? I’m talking, I’ve done that since the age of two. I really didn’t get it. Why is it frightening to have a conversation with somebody? And it wasn’t until I was maybe a teenager that I really understood the question they were asking. Before I speak in front of an audience, I frequently do get an unsettled feeling that’s lodged in my chest. And it feels like a big ball of energy that’s roiling [00:32:00] around inside my ribcage. And it’s not a pleasant feeling, but as a child in particular I didn’t assign anything negative to that feeling. It was the energy that was gonna allow me to project my voice to the people in the back.
Joy: Or it was the energy that was gonna help me remember my lines in the play, or it was the power that’s going to help project confidence on stage. And when that, that feeling doesn’t show up, I don’t do as good a job, so I welcomed it even though it felt a little bit uncomfortable. And what other people interpreted as fear I interpreted it as fa—as power. The initial title, the working title of Fearless Public Speaking was “Stage Fright Is Your Friend.”
Michael: Yes, yeah. The title ended up being exact opposite. Overcoming the stage fright.
Joy, you, as we’ve been talking about, you have a tremendously varied background. You’ve worked in theater you’ve done public speaking and journalism and advocacy and double Dutch and literary writing. [00:33:00] As our friend Tom says, you are just a true Renaissance woman. Anyway, can you talk a little bit about how each of these different pursuits has informed your creativity, some of the interplay between them? Is there any cycle that laces everything all together?
Joy: I’m sure there is something, but I don’t know what it is, other than, I guess the writing interlaces everything together. Even when you’re speech-giving, you have to write the speech. Maybe that interlaces everything together, perhaps. Creativity in the broad sense pulls everything together.
Elizabeth: Speaking of pulling things together, you recently went to, I think, Indiana? To—
Joy: I did.
Elizabeth: To see the production of a play that you co-wrote with a number of other playwrights in the Black Women’s Playwright Collaborative that you’ve been a part of for some time. Can you talk about what that collaborative writing process was like and, just, again, the feelings of being a playwright, seeing your work [00:34:00] come alive on stage.
Joy: I belong to the Black Women Playwrights Group headed by a woman named Karen Evans, who’s a phenomenal playwright herself. And one of our members lives in the Netherlands. And in the Netherlands, there’s a grave site of World War II veterans who came there to help liberate the area. And although they were successful in their pursuit, they ended up dying in the Netherlands. And she wanted to do something to honor them. And she got the names of some of the actual men who were buried there. And we used our imaginations to write monologues reflecting what these men might have been thinking and feeling visiting Holland for the first and, regrettably, for the last time. And we have another member who lives in Indiana, and she arranged for some theaters there and one in Indiana—Indianapolis and one in Fort Wayne to do a presentation of these monologues to present over the Veterans Day weekend.
And although I’m a playwright and although I’ve [00:35:00] been an actor, I’m still amazed at the magic when a director and an actor who are talented, take your words on a blank—on a piece of paper and breathe life into them. It’s just transformative. Something that I thought was okay became moving because there’s a human being embodying the thoughts and the feelings of the ideas you put down on paper. So, it was magnificent.
Elizabeth: Magnificent. That’s great.
Joy: Yes, it was. More so because of the performers and the director than anything I said or did.
Elizabeth: So as a group, did each of you take a character, an individual and write that person’s monologue?
Joy: Yes. And it was a short presentation. We did about six or seven men, and each person did a monologue for each man. And it was so well received, we’re thinking about ways we can expand that to make it more of a full-length presentation.
Elizabeth: Were you able or could you, in the future, reach out to the actual families of these men? Who would be—
Joy: That might be a [00:36:00] possibility. Because, for most of those men, their families have never visited their grave sites in the Netherlands because of the cost and expense of going there.
And one other way we are sharing that story is the Black Women Playwrights Group has a program called Twelve at Twelve. And those are 12-line scenes that we post. You can download the app onto your cell phone and see a different one every day. It appears at 12 noon and disappears the following day at 12:00 noon. So you have a day to watch it on your cell phone and you can make comments or add to the scene yourself.
Elizabeth: So these are actual acted out scenes?
Joy: No, it’s not acted out. It’s just written out.
Elizabeth: Just written out?
Joy: Yes. Yes. You read it on—
Michael: But there’s a, you read it on a different little play every day?
Joy: A different little scene. Yes.
Joy: So those monologues are part of the Twelve at Twelve.
Elizabeth: That’s a huge commitment for the team, new pages every day. Seriously! Oh my gosh.
Michael: Switching to, you were a Washington native [00:37:00]
Joy: Born and raised, yes. Born and born on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Michael: And knowing some of your fiction, your novels, Washington, the setting is Washington—
Michael: –the ones that, the fiction I’ve read. So can you just talk a little bit about how the place of Washington and the scenes of Washington then that the reality of Washington feeds into your creative process and into your novel?
Joy: My most recent book Jayla Jumps In is set in southeast DC which is also where I work. I work for DC Public Library at a neighborhood branch called Francis Gregory. And the neighborhood is called Hillcrest, and I wasn’t super familiar with Hillcrest, it was just someplace I would drive through on my way to somewhere else. But having worked there, I got to discover the neighborhood a little bit better. And so I made that the setting for my novel.
The novel I’m currently working on called Walking the Boomerang, of course, is also set in Washington. And this aspect is not [00:38:00] directly reflected in the story—again, that idea of thinking about something for a long time before writing about it—when I was working down on Pennsylvania Avenue, every day after work, I would walk from Metro Center to Union Station which is about a little over a mile every day. And I loved that walk. It was the highlight of the day. And the protagonist in Walking the Boomerang is not walking downtown, but he’s forced to have a walk every day. And in his case, he hates it.
But for me, that walk was just, just very enjoyable and grounding. I miss being able to do that every single day. Now I get off work sometimes at nine o’clock, so walking through Washington at nine o’clock at night by yourself, it’s not advisable.
Michael: That’s right. Right.
And you are, you’re also a tree lover, if I understand, ‘cause you’ve gone to California.
Joy: [00:39:00] Yes.
Michael: And I’m also a tree lover, you know.
Joy: Oh good! I’m a big fan of the redwoods.
Michael: Could you talk, is there a relationship between sort of the experience of the redwoods or these majestic trees and Creativity itself. Is there a connection? Does it rejuvenate you?
Joy: I like the trees in DC too. I met them first.
Elizabeth: First loves.
Michael: You just went to see their big brothers.
Joy: That’s right. I don’t know what my fascination with trees is. I thought maybe as a writer you use a lot of paper, and paper comes from trees, maybe that’s the connection. I don’t know. But trees have a very grounding energy about them and, at least trees on the East Coast, they go through a transformation every year from being in full leaf to changing colors, to losing their leaves and then repeating the process again. I like watching that change. So, I don’t know what it is about trees that speaks to me. Maybe in a former life I was a tree. I don’t know.
Elizabeth: Now there, there’s all this research now that say trees talk to each other. There’s all this communication [00:40:00] going on underneath.
Joy: That’s true. Yeah.
Elizabeth: And I want to—just speaking of the variety of your work—I wondered if you could share with our listeners a little bit about the history of Double Dutch, ‘cause you’ve talked about that and I know you have a lot of knowledge about where it comes from. It’s a, it’s an East coast thing, isn’t it?
Joy: Yes. Although I’ve met women who’ve told me, I grew up in California, I jumped double Dutch. I’m always surprised. But it is primarily an urban East coast black girl kind of thing. And from what I understand in colonial times, the Dutch were rope makers and there was some process where they had to move fast from one end of the factory or the place where they were making ropes to another, and they had to jump over ropes. And then that sort of evolved into some sort of game. And from what I understand, the British, when they would observe that, would call it double Dutch, and that’s a slightly pejorative term. Us saying, seeing something confusing, “That’s Greek to me.” That’s, they would look at the [00:41:00] Dutch and say, “Oh, that’s double Dutch.”
Elizabeth: That’s people jumping over rope.
Michael: Is that right?
Elizabeth: I didn’t know that, yeah.
Joy: And somehow it evolved into a game and I don’t know where the transfer came from—Dutch colonials to black girls—but, somehow there was cultural transmogrification.
Elizabeth: Transmogrification, yeah. Is that an Edgar Allen Poe word?
Michael: There is a single Dutch right, isn’t there?
Joy: No. Single rope? Yes.
Elizabeth: What is your favorite type of jump rope? Do you like the rope or the cord, or the, what do you like?
Joy: Double Dutch is a lot of fun. It’s a little bit more challenging than single. Most people observing, who have never done it, think it must be really hard. But DC Retro Jumpers claim to fame that we can teach nearly everybody to jump. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never done it before. It doesn’t matter if you’re up in age. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a million years since you last were in the rope, we can pretty much get you in.
Elizabeth: Yeah. I’ve seen it.
Michael: As long as you can still jump.
Joy: And even if you can’t. When we were in Russia, in Moscow, we went to [00:42:00] a home for the handicapped, a program for disabled people. And there was a man who had no arms and one leg. And Coach Robin got him in the rope.
Elizabeth: Wow. Wow. That’s, I’ve seen on Facebook, I’ve seen some little clips of, in, of you all doing your stuff in neighborhoods. And you’ve got some police officers who will get down.
Joy: With the gun, belt, and the uniform.
Elizabeth: It’s just really, and you’ve gotten some incredible coverage from some major publications. Am I remembering correctly that you got a—
Joy: Yeah, we’ve been in the Washington Post twice. We’ve been in the AARP magazine and they did a video documentary about it. As well as a lot of other local publications. We’ve been on television the ABC affiliate here in Washington and some smaller cable outlets. There’s a retirement living program that—this was a few years ago ‘cause it was hosted by Walter Cronkite—
Elizabeth: Oh, wow.
Michael: Oh, wow.
Elizabeth: You could have a bumper sticker, “I jumped rope with Walter Cronkite.”
Joy: He didn’t, he was the host [00:43:00] of the overall program. Just a little second.
Elizabeth: [Imitating Cronkite:] “And that’s the way it is.”
Michael: Alright. Okay, we like to conclude our interviews with a similar, the same question and this really looks at the, the larger sort of relationship that people have with creativity. And it really looks at the, how it shapes who they are and how they think of themselves and how they evolved over time.
Yeah, and this question was inspired by this—I met this woman recently who had worked in the corporate world for many years and recently she had decided that she just, she had to leave the corporate world because she felt like the corporation had just taken over her identity and so she was like a corporate person now. So, in recent years she’s been exploring and trying to recreate or rediscover, however you want to think about it, who she is. But [00:44:00] clearly creativity it—for me, it’s—wow, creativity is so necessary to how we act out each day and how we evolve as people. In our relationships, in our communities, or just in terms of who we are. So, if you could maybe just speak a little bit about how creativity has become a part of who you are and how it has influenced you and developed you as a person.
Joy: There’s a teacher named Nancy Schwab, and in her classroom, she has a banner that says, “Poetry is not a luxury.” And there’s another quote I’m gonna mangle that says something like, you can’t get the news from a poem, but every day men died for lack of what was found there. So, you need the arts to be a fully realized human being. Yes, you need money, yes, you need food, shelter, and clothing. But without that creative spark being nurtured, you’re not fully human.
Elizabeth: Yeah, one of the reasons that we’re doing this podcast we talked about is because we [00:45:00] completely and utterly agree with you. Anyway, that creativity is a vital, a truly vital life force. It is just a necessary ingredient to a healthy emotional life. And I think we also agree that we humans are definitely in need of some emotional health. So, what advice would you give people about the creative impulse about sustaining it and nurturing it and developing it in their own lives?
Joy: Think about some of the things you did as a child that you enjoyed and see if you could incorporate those into your life, because you do need vivre that children often have. One of our slogans with the Double Dutch team is, “Not everybody likes to exercise, but everybody likes to play.”
Elizabeth: Oh, good point.
Joy: So, you need to play. And a lot of times when people think art, they think you need to go to college and be able to understand in order to understand, art. But art is really playful. Find ways to entertain yourself, not in a passive way, like watching television or playing video games, but where you get to help [00:46:00] create the art as well.
Elizabeth: Sure, make your own fun.
Michael: And a number of theater artists that I’ve read have talked about creativity as being a playful engagement with the world.
Joy: I like that.
Michael: And so, and you’ve mentioned play a number of times with your, the lesson plans you create. Playful experience in a sense is the creative experience and so, yeah. I mean, yeah, to play, I think is another definition of creativity.
Elizabeth: To play is to create, to create is to play.
Joy: “Create” is at the heart of recreation, literally.
Elizabeth: Recreate, yes. Yeah. To create yourself, to recreate. And over again.
We have really enjoyed talking to you, Joy.
Joy: I’ve had fun too!
Elizabeth: Thank you so much for carving some time out of your busy life. Is there—we’d like to give our guests an opportunity to announce any kind of events with the proviso that this will probably not go live until sometime in 2023. Are there websites or links or anything coming up for you that you can tell our listeners about?
Joy: Oh, you can visit me online at joyjonesonline.com. That’s my website. You [00:47:00] can check out the double Dutch team at dcretrojumpers.com. We’d love for you to visit. The Instagram site is JoyJones1433 and my Facebook is just Joy Jones.
And keep tuned, I have some projects that I’m shopping around that I hope will come to a publisher near you. I have a co-writer named Tom Adams and we’re working on a book called Bill and Lois Wilson: A Marriage that Saved the World about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon and Walking the Boomerang, which is my next novel. With any luck.
Elizabeth: Yeah, which is done, you just shopping it around.
Joy: Looking for a home.
Elizabeth: Yeah, it’s looking for a home.
Michael: Coming to a bookshelf. Near you.
Elizabeth: Near you!
Elizabeth: All right. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Michael: Thank you so much, Joy.
Elizabeth: This has been great. We really appreciate it, and we are delighted to be in creative—
Joy: I’m so delighted too. Thank you.
Elizabeth: All right, thank you all. We’ll see you next time! [00:48:00]