A friend once told me that “delight” is a word that she associates with me, because she doesn’t know many other people who use the word, yet I use it a lot, especially in my writing and my TuesdayDawnings musings.
Well. That delighted me.
It seems (thanks to the American Heritage Dictionary) the word evolved from the Latin root lactāre, to entice, which in turn led to the Old French term delitier, to please or charm, to our current meaning of a great pleasure, joy; something that gives pleasure, joy; to take great pleasure in; to please greatly. [Knowing this delights me].
Perhaps it’s no surprise that I was highly attuned when I listened a few years ago to Krista Tippett’s conversation with Ross Gay about his then new book The Book of Delights. I flagged the book as one I might like to own, and was — yes! — delighted when, a few months later, before I yet owned a copy, I discovered the book enticingly placed on the bedside table of an AirB&B I’d rented in Salida, Colorado. Reading just a few pages affirmed my desire to own a copy.
Sometimes when I have a book I know I’m going to adore, I hold on to it a while before indulging myself. That anticipation of delight is delicious, and when I do finally allow myself the joy of immersion, it’s like a decadent gift to myself.
I’ve owned The Book of Delights for a year now, withholding the delight of indulgence till now. Finally in the early hours of this morning, I dove in.
From the very first page I was charmed [READ: delighted]:
One day last July, feeling delighted and compelled to both wonder about and share that delight, I decided that it might feel nice, even useful, to write a daily essay about something delightful. I remember laughing to myself for how obvious it was. I could call it something like The Book of Delights.
I came up with a handful of rules: write a delight every day for year; begin and end on my birthday,… draft them quickly; write them by hand. The rules made it a discipline for me. A practice. Spend time thinking, and writing about delight every day.…
It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study. A month or two into this project delights were calling to me: ‘Write about me! Write about me!’ Because it is rude not to acknowledge your delights, I’d tell them that, though they might not become essayettes, they were still important, and I was grateful to them. Which is to say, I felt my life to be more full of delight. Not without sorrow, or fear, or pain or loss. But more full of delight. I also learned this year that my delight grows – much like love and joy – when I share it.
~ Ross Gay, from the Preface to The Book of Delights
After reading his first delight essayette — which includes such delightful noticing as “a cup of coffee from a well-shaped-cup. A fly, its wings hauling all the light in the room, landing on the porcelain handle as if to say, ‘Notice the precise flare of this handle, as though designed for the romance between the thumb and index finger that holding a cup can be.’ Or the peanut butter salty enough. Or the light blue bike the man pushed through the lobby….” — I decided to put down Ross Gay, take pen in hand and note my own delights just then before sunrise:
- the ease, with which this pen glides across the paper. The smoothness of the page.
- the candle — low, and in a shallow, ceramic vessel, handmade — spewing light across this page, it’s pointed flame occasionally flickering, popping, like soft rain droplets on the roof.
- the aliveness that comes to my mouth as I drink cold water from a tall, cobalt blue glass – cylinder of color and cold lava. Next to it, a white cup with soaring cranes, cradling green jasmine tea.
- the sensation in my hand, switching from the cold glass to the warm teacup.
- the close darkness outside my window, gauzy with clouds — the hope of rain or better yet, snow.
- that today I can get up off my cushion on the floor more nimbly than yesterday.
- pouring a cup of tea from Miya’s small blue stoneware teapot, then pulling over it the colorful ski cap that Keith gave me some 20 years ago. Remembering how I accidentally shrank the cap in the wash, rendering it much too small for my head, but then transformed it into a perfect tea cozy.
- wrapping my neck in cashmere, slipping on my slippers, stepping out into the bracing darkness in my pajamas to look for the moon. Noting how its light lights up the gray, cottony clouds: no sound, but my slippers on pavement. All else is asleep, but for the clouds and moon and me.
For five years now I’ve been sharing via my weekly email TuesdayDawnings my observations big and small. Big in the form of my landscape photography of expansize New Mexico vistas, and small in the way of the diminutive beauties that catch my eye — like the delicacy of milkweed seed silks…
or the astonishing constellations of winter weeds…
Honing in on these ‘tiny beautiful things’* is what I refer to as noticing. Really though, it’s another word for delighting in.
That friend who aligns “delight” with me once asked how she might learn to notice better. [I was delighted that she asked!] Step 1 is to pause. Step 2 is to silence and put down the phone. As I described previously, Step 3 is to breathe. Finally, look around and see what you see. “Notice what you Notice,” as my friend Joan advises her students. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll then see something that charms you; that delights you. Make a mental note of it. Then later when the heavy weight of the world bears on you, remember that tiny beauty of a thing. Or even better pause and look around again. Look for the delight — It’s everywhere — even in the patterning of cheese grater up close.
Perhaps Georgia O’Keeffe said it best:
Nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small it takes time — we haven’t time —
and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
or even better —
If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.
If the stars were to align and somehow Georgia O’Keeffe and Ross Gay were able to enjoy coffee together, I suspect they would notice many of the same delights.
What a delight it would be to be a fly on the wall in that room. Or better yet, to be a fly with its wings hauling all the light and landing on one of their well-shaped-cups, catching their delighted noticing.
*Hat tip to Cheryl Strayed.
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Stay safe. Be kind. Notice what you notice.
~ Dawn Chandler
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020