On the first day of the year, I stood in front of an outdoor fire and discussed the topic of delight. The flames flickered in the late morning, warming salt-streaked skin fresh from a cold plunge. A delight, to be sure.
Delight has been on the tip of my tongue these past months, something brighter to grasp at during darker days. A practice of paying attention, of observing, of existing.
If delight is on your radar too, it might be thanks to the American poet Ross Gay, author of “The Book of Delights: Essays.” The book is a compilation of a yearlong project, in which Gay gave himself a list of guidelines: write a delight every day for a year, write them by hand, and draft them quickly. Delight does not want to be edited or overanalyzed.
Delights are those moments when you feel a joyful spark. It’s not conceptual, in fact, the more tangible the better: the luxury in a nap, the sound of someone’s voice, spotting a dandelion growing from a crack in the concrete, the shape of a cloud, peeling an orange, the first taste of morning coffee.
That practice has inspired many to take on their own version, whether that’s documenting or simply observing those moments of delight. The real beauty of delight: once you start finding them, noticing them, heeding them, sharing them, delights seem to take on a life of their own, multiplying and multiplying.
A few weeks before I stood in front of that outdoor fire, I had been at the Key Center Library. I was looking through the shelves to see what popped out at me. I’m never in “need” of another book to add to my reading list, but sometimes you just want to see what will appear. Like window shopping, but for ideas.
I’m not sure why, but Gay’s name surfaced. Thoughts are often like that, appearing from seemingly nowhere but somehow rooted in the complex constellations we are constantly building and shaping in our minds. Not seeing his name in the sections where I had been looking, I walked over to the counter to ask if they had any of his books. On the shelves of the Key Center branch, no, but I could put them on order.
There was the “Book of Delights: Essays” and “Inciting Joy: Essays,” both of which I had already read but figured would be worth returning to in the depths of winter, and to my — yes, delight — a new one too: “The Book of (More) Delights: Essays.” I put all three on order and pedaled down a few days later when they arrived. Another delight: the speed and efficiency of getting books at a rural, community library.
If Gay’s musings are worth two published collections (and bestselling at that), then I think we have good proof that, even in the slowest, most mundane moments, there is something to delight upon in the everyday. We just have to pay attention. Here are some of mine:∙ Winter shadows on a wall.
∙ The first appearance of green trillium leaves working to push their way out of the ground.
What’s really in a delight is an element of the unexpected, the unplanned, the surprise. We don’t spend much of our lives this way. Everything is scheduled, controlled, managed. Anything we can do to distance ourselves from the one inevitable human truth: that, in fact, everything is entirely beyond our control, a life shaped by a consistent path of unknowns and unexpected(s).
We’ve gotten used to carving out reliability, and in a world of abundance — in a world where an algorithm already knows what we might be interested in — there’s something powerful in the discovery of something entirely by chance, or at least an old school analog recommendation from a friend. The serendipity of a book title mentioned in conversation, a new song that you hear on the radio, a podcast someone sends your way.
Waiting to pick a family member up from a doctor’s appointment in Gig Harbor recently, I went to the library to wait. I walked around perusing the shelves. Again, not because I needed yet another book, but because I wanted to see what would appear, what would present itself. What would serendipitously put its way in my path?
I picked up a book titled “Hame,” mostly because of the cover: water, a ferry, an island. In italics in the bottom corner: (hem, S. hjem) n. Scottish for “home.”
Hame. Home. Languages, like thought constellations, are full of links. “Ham” in Old English, means dwelling place. In my other language, Swedish, it’s “hem,” derived from the Old Norse “heimr,” meaning “residence, world.” Also, the reason why -ham anchors many a city and town name: it’s the indicator of a village, a collection of people, a place to settle, dwell, to be at home.
And maybe that’s what the ultimate delight is: something — a taste, a sound, a fire, a smell, a swim, a conversation, a book, a view — that reminds you that you are home.
Anna Brones is a writer and artist who lives in Vaughn.
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