THE MAKESPACE BLOG

AN ODE TO POET ROSS GAY

The Labor of Delight

In July 2018, poet, teacher, and author Ross Gay had an idea—what might happen if he wrote about something he found delightful as a daily practice for a whole year straight.

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In July 2018, poet, teacher, and author Ross Gay had an idea—what might happen if he wrote about something he found delightful as a daily practice for a whole year striaght. His idea grew into The Book of Delights, a selection from his yearlong meandering through the experiences, observations, and reflections that arose from his daily “essayettes” and developing “delight radar”.

Here is one excerpt from entry # 60: “Joy is Such a Human Madness”: The Duff Between Us

…Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it occurred to me that among other things—the trees and the mushrooms have shown me this—joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and thing we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, into the duff between us, we will find it teeming. It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves in a body. We might call it sorrow, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy.

Ross’ practice reveals an important truth about the experience and feeling of delight—delight can emerge from myriad types of moments in our days, including sorrow and loss. Delight can arise from the simple appreciation of the mundane that often goes unnoticed in our lives, such as hearing a song being played in public that draws us back to the delight of teenage prankstering. Delight can burst forth from the close observation of a mysterious creature, such as a praying mantis, which we might otherwise shoo away from our cafe table if our delight radar wasn’t turned on. Delight can emerge from dissecting the experience of racism in daily life as a person of color and extracting the optimistic possibility of progress from the subtle gestures of those around us. And, most importantly in the upturning of our world in recent days, weeks, and months, delight can also be found in the joining of our sorrows—maybe the true essence of joy, as Ross ponders. 

Ross’ practice reveals an important truth about the experience and feeling of delight—delight can emerge from myriad types of moments in our days, including sorrow and loss. Delight can arise from the simple appreciation of the mundane that often goes unnoticed in our lives, such as hearing a song being played in public that draws us back to the delight of teenage prankstering. Delight can burst forth from the close observation of a mysterious creature, such as a praying mantis, which we might otherwise shoo away from our cafe table if our delight radar wasn’t turned on. Delight can emerge from dissecting the experience of racism in daily life as a person of color and extracting the optimistic possibility of progress from the subtle gestures of those around us. And, most importantly in the upturning of our world in recent days, weeks, and months, delight can also be found in the joining of our sorrows—maybe the true essence of joy, as Ross ponders. 

In fact, in my own experience writing about really difficult experiences from a delight point of view, I have grappled with the true complexities of life, turning toward with inquisitiveness rather than away with fear. In turning on my own delight radar, I have found my mind inhabiting the gray area between good and bad, left and right—the middle way as Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (another valuable thinker for stressful times). 

Looking for a delight perspective on our observations and experiences can be instructive. Ross does not provide a formula to follow. There are no rules to writing a delight essayette. In fact, the object of Ross’ delights are a wild variety of moments from his days. For instance, a flower (was it a lily or an iris?) painted on the jeans of a passerby while shopping for second hand sweatpants draws Ross into the deep delight of pushing, drowning his face in the blooming lilies in his garden each spring (watch his reading of this entry above). Ross’ delights give us all permission to notice and wonder about the ordinary, everyday preciousness in the world around us and allow those wonderings to bring forth reflections, memories, and ponderings, as simple or complex as the delight demands. 

What is beautiful about writing delight essayettes, regularly, is that there are no rules, no judgment, no form to follow. A delight can be captured in one sentence or require several pages to explore. A delight can be purely observational or deeply philosophical. Delights reveal the uniqueness of our points of view and the underground web that connects us all to the human experience. Delight is a feeling, it is personal, ephemeral, and in community with our past selves and the world around us. If you are curious, I strongly suggest finding a copy of Ross Gay’s Book of Delights. You may even find some of his entries important to share with your students. In fact, offering students the Ross Gay delight essayette approach to noticing, wading into, and exploring different moments from life could be an antidote to the sorrow and loss they are experiencing around them. 

If you want to hear Ross himself, check out these different podcasts and videos:

On Being Podcast episode with Ross Gay:  https://onbeing.org/programs/ross-gay-tending-joy-and-practicing-delight/

A Ross Gay Delight entry “Lily on the Pants”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqFyi5BXEJw

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Meet the author

Ross Anderson

CAPOEIRA ENTHUSIAST, STUDENT OF GUITAR AND OUTDOORS EXTRAORDINAIRE!

Ross is a designer, researcher, and strategist in the education field working to harness creative potential of educators and students, alike. Ross aims to contribute solutions for equitable, engaging, and aspirational learning environments and to understand how this process unfolds. Ross practices Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art dance form, and loves to write. 

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