At some point in the last two weeks I started read poet Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. I’ve known since my 20s I need to cultivate delight in this confusing world, and have read Diane Ackerman’s book Cultivating Delight, about her garden, and her reawakening book A Natural History of the Senses. I’ve read many books on keeping hope and delight alive over the years. I need all the help I can get remembering that there is so much goodness in this world.
I try to keep a gratitude list when I find myself caught in the jaws of depression; although sometimes it takes awhile to finally look up and practice that medicine. Depression makes me forget. I forget all that is amazing about life. A veil falls over my eyes, I can’t see clearly. The weight, all the weight of all the wounds in my life, all the mistakes I made (make), take form and it feels as if I’m dragging them along with my every step.
The day before I started reading the Book of Delights, I’d felt that weight start to lift. (It doesn’t really go away, but somehow becomes airborne, troubles are inflated, still tied to me, but so light I hardly notice them, they are buoyant, I feel almost like they’re going to lift me off the ground, make me fly, with the power of pop song, with my beautiful balloons. I have to question it, and every strong emotion — is this really good or bad, or is it a chemical imbalance? I think a state of grace comes when I’m grounded, balanced — my history and mistakes are braided together strong as the bones that support me. Because all paths lead to here — and if I judge myself too harshly, give too much weight to my mistakes, I don’t remember that life is a learning experience, so hard heavy things I go through leads to here, to this hopefully stronger wiser self.)
Ross Gay decided to write an essay on something delightful every day for a year.
“I came up with a handful of rules: write a delight every day for a year: begin and end on my birthday, August 1; draft them quickly; and write them by hand. The rules made it a discipline for me. A practice. Spend time thinking and writing about delight every day.”
I read this on my porch, the book on my cellphone’s Scribd library app, in the palm of my hand. (I like reading books on my phone or kindle because they don’t strain the arthritis in my hands. I read most books this way now — unless they’re illustrated. I want to see the full glory of the combination of illustration, paper, print — the heft of illustrated/art/children’s books.)
Gay wanted to write by hand for several reasons, but the one that delights me was that if he wrote on computer, “it would have less of the actual magic writing is, which comes from our bodies, which we actually think with, quiet as it’s kept.”
I read that and POOF the last traces of my bout of depression vanished. My whole body became something more than it was before. There among the flowers I’ve planted, the little blue table where I set my drinks and my illustrated books, in the warm afternoon, when the sun goes behind the shade tree, I let delight invade my body.
I write by hand almost every morning. During the COVID quarantines I had a long lapse of not writing or painting. It was a manifestation of depression but also the darkness of winter, the minimizing of hope, the glorification of anger, the denial of racism, the doom theme of practically everything I read online.
Then I decided to reread Asta’s Book by Ruth Rendell under the pseudonym Barbara Vine (do we all need secret selves?), which I read in the 1990s. I could remember parts of it vividly, but not really what it was about. In it, the character Asta wrote so lovingly about her friend, her non-judgemental, accepting of every mood and indiscretion friend — her diary. I took up my own handwritten journal practice again, puzzling out my days.
And though I try to write about gratitude, and I try to uplift myself, and use the medicine of language to deal with my disorders and distresses, I also need to write about undelightful things, things I’m not grateful for at all.
Gay wrote an essay on bad dreams — gross bad dreams and the terrible beast of subconscious sexuality. I’ve had such dreams, and they fill me with shame and fear. But Gay finds delight in waking from them. “Very few things have been as delightful as when I woke from that dream, let out a groan, shook off the grossness and shouted Thank you! Thank you! to no one but me.”
When I get that floating balloon feeling after a depression, I almost feel grateful for my bipolar disorder, to experience the darkness, then wake up, back to myself, in my degenerating old body, where around me so many things are growing, and far away someone I don’t know is writing and sending delight my way.
Every day now I read an essay or two, after I water the plants, in the late afternoon, on the porch. Traffic wooshes by but I am delighted by the sound, and also of the way all that noise disappears as I read about the small and grand treasures in life someone else witnesses, names, and has shares.
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