The world is full of delight if you choose to see it
Poet Ross Gay spent a year observing the little things that brought him glimmers of joy.
This story was originally published on September 27, 2019.
While on a writing residency in Italy, poet and teacher Ross Gay was overcome with how beautiful his surroundings were - a sunflower field, the trees, the light - and just how perfect everything seemed in that moment. He quickly jotted down how delighted he felt before he continued with his day.
This action inspired him to devote some time each day to be on the lookout for unexpected moments of delight. He wondered if in considering and writing about delightful things his experience of life might shift.
He was right.
The few rules he gave himself were to capture his thoughts quickly and by hand, and he had to write about one delight every day for a whole year.
What emerged was a collection of essays he published as The Book of Delights.
Some of the small moments that captured Gay's imagination and gave him a glimmer of joy were watching a praying mantis on an empty pint glass on an outdoor table in a cafe, writing by hand with a lavender coloured pen, nicknames, Coffee served without a saucer, flowers placed in the hands of statues (often beside weapons), and the music of Toto.
"Watching this video for Toto, I was like, oh! These are some really average looking dudes. You know, they can really sing, they can play their instruments, but these are some really average looking dudes and isn't that nice?"
It feels important as a sort of soul gesture but also as a political gesture to be articulating and praising and taking care of what you love. That feels really crucial.- Ross Gay
While observing delight may seem like a quiet, personal act, Gay says it's really about sharing and connection.
"The experience of delight is a reminder of my desire to point to someone else and be like 'this amazing experience happened, or this flower smells this good, or did you taste this berry that's growing on this bush in front of the public library for anyone to have.... So for me the experience of delight is absolutely social."
As a teacher, Gay feels it is his job is to encourage enthusiasm and wonder, and to teach others to look more closely at the things around us.
"I teach creative writing. The class I'm teaching right now, I'm calling it the 'class of wonder and care'. What I'm interested in is not proficiency, but in the sort of profound possibilities of our attention and our care. That's what I'm interested in."
But to fully appreciate delight, says Gay, means to also appreciate what isn't.
"There is the constant tension in The Book of Delight, and delight's opposite, or delight's absence. And throughout the book,you can kind of feel a kind of straining, that while I'm calling attention to this delightful experience or this delightful interaction or this delightful whatever, there is also always, or often, this other thing, this other stuff that is not delightful nearby … Which to me, is sort of like life."
Ross Gay is a poet who teaches English at Indiana University in Bloomington.