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Posts Tagged ‘delight’

Hello, friends. It’s technically the halfway point of winter, though we in the Northeast know we still have weeks to go before spring really comes. No matter what the groundhog says, we can expect biting winds and freezing temps for a while yet.

That’s one reason – though not the only reason – I’m joining up with Anne Bogel’s annual celebration of what’s saving our lives right now.

January was unusually grey – the cloudiest in decades, according to my favorite weather guy. I struggle with short days and bitter nights , and have been feeling a bit uninspired at work and in my own creative practice. So I needed the push, more than usual, to really look at what’s saving my life these days.

Here’s my list – I’d love to hear yours, if you’d like to share:

  • Clementines. These little bursts of sunshine are my favorite winter fruit. Their sweet-tart zing is just the best, and I love the way the scent lingers on my hands.
  • Petting Gigi, our affectionate office dog, whom I adore (it’s mutual).
  • Yoga, several times a week. I’m lucky that The Point, my beloved studio, is down the street from both work and home.
  • Strong black tea in my red Darwin’s mug. I miss the place itself, but the mug and the memories live on.
  • Fresh flowers, always, and houseplants. My stripey nanouk plant and African violet are thriving, and I’m starting my second batch of paperwhites soon.
  • Season 3 of All Creatures Great and Small, which is as joyful and funny and life-affirming as ever.
  • Spotify mixes, made for me: soulful singer-songwriters, Broadway hits, smooth jazz and the women of country.
  • Bright red toenail polish, even if nobody sees it but me.
  • Twinkle lights, at home and at work.
  • Travel plans coming up.
  • The &Juliet soundtrack, full of poppy, upbeat, feminist, blues-curing hits I adore.
  • Good books, as always.
  • Colorful pens and cute stickers, from Katie Daisy and Brandi Kincaid.
  • Trading texts and Marco Polo messages with a few dear friends.

What’s saving your life this winter? I’d love to hear.

P.S. The fifth issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, comes out soon. Sign up here to get on the list!

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birds art life mug

As we grind our way through winter (I’m trying to embrace it, but grey days and sleet make it hard), I’m taking delight in a newish enjoyment: watching, and identifying, the birds in my neighborhood.

I’ve long loved the sight of a cheery robin redbreast, and the squawks of a bluejay send me to the window to search out that flash of bright cobalt against the bare branches. I adore the cheeky house sparrows who perch on my windowsill, and I like watching the mourning doves who sometimes take up residence there. But lately, I’ve been trying to pay attention to other breeds as well.

I found an Audubon guide at a used bookstore last summer, and I’ve been using it to try and identify a few of the birds I see on my windowsill or on my morning runs: black-capped chickadees, bright goldfinches, the terns who swim in the harbor. The gulls and hawks are easy to spot, but so many of the smaller gray and brown birds (known, apparently, to birders as “LBJs” or “little brown jobs”) require a bit more attention. I’m not always sure I’ve gotten it right, but it’s fun to try and puzzle out the name of a new species.

The other week, on a walk with my friend Sharon, I stopped in Piers Park to watch a flock of birds on the water. We spent a few minutes debating: they were ducks, clearly, but what kind? We squinted in the fading light, studying the white rings on their necks and the little spikes on the backs of their heads. Sharon pulled out her phone, consulted a birding app, and we decided: they were probably red-breasted mergansers.

I get a little thrill from identifying a bird, as Mary Oliver describes in her poem “Bird in the Pepper Tree.” But I get a different, deeper satisfaction from simply watching: noticing, observing, trying to see these birds as separate from my categorization of them. I loved watching the flock of birds bobbing on the water, knowing some of them were mergansers but some might be other species. The snapshot, in my memory, of leaning against the railing with Sharon, watching their black bodies against the waves blue with reflected light, was better than knowing their names.

As Oliver notes, “a name is not a leash” – though it can be, or enhance, a true joy.

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I was waiting in line at the post office recently (enjoying the Mary Tyler Moore episode playing on their new TV), and witnessed something that made my day…

A stooped older gentleman came in asking about the keys to his post office box, which he’d misplaced. One of the postal workers – who clearly knew him by name – immediately said: Oh, you left your box open last week, so we put the keys in it for you, honey. Her colleague retrieved the keys and handed them over, and with some gentle teasing, the man went on his way.

I loved everything about that interaction: the fact that the man got his keys back, the fact that the workers instantly knew where they were, the kindness in the woman’s voice as she called him honey. (She was probably young enough to be his granddaughter.) It was such a moment of care, in a busy city on a grey Thursday afternoon, that it delighted me simply to witness it.

I always feel privileged when I get a peek into moments of tenderness between people, and this sweet instance of neighborly kindness – in a business setting, no less – felt especially precious. I appreciated, too, the not-so-subtle reminder that, as the Mary Tyler Moore theme song reminds us, love is all around.

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If you read my recent newsletter, you know: the first week of January here was dreary and grey, with mornings shrouded in mist and afternoons that looked just like the mornings. It wasn’t particularly cold (at least, for New England), but it was gloomy as a Yorkshire moor, and not in the romantic way. By Thursday I was mopey, and by Friday I was downright cranky. And on Saturday morning, I nearly squealed – or wept, I couldn’t decide which – when I woke to bright sunshine.

There’s a sharpness to the light this time of year, a sudden urgency, as though the daylight itself is trying to make the most of its limited hours. The sun’s low angle bounces off the harbor and arrows straight into my kitchen window, nearly blinding me, but its golden warmth is welcome.

My houseplants stretch toward the light, and so do I – making sure to bundle up and get out for walks as often as I can. If it’s too cold or I’ve just come back inside, sometimes I stand in the kitchen window and let the sunlight flood my cells, my shadow stretching long on the floorboards behind me, lighting up the ordinary objects that crowd my shelves. Even my silverware drawer looks ethereal, bathed in that kind of light.

For the grey days, I still have my happy lamp and vitamin D pills – and you can bet I’m outside every day, whether walking or running or simply commuting the few blocks to my office. The fresh air helps, no matter what color the skies are. But the sunlight – blazing or shy, intense or elusive – is its own particular gift. Especially on these short, dark days, I’m making the effort to soak it up as much as I can. (I’m also thinking of dipping back into Horatio Clare’s lovely memoir, aptly titled The Light in the Dark.)

How do you find light in the middle of winter?

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We’re a week into the new year, and in typical fashion, it’s chilly (though not as biting as it could be). The blue-sky days are brilliant, and the winterberries are showing off their cheery red, but there’s not a lot of visible growth outside. These days, the growing things I cherish – and a consistent delight – are my profusion of houseplants, a cluster of pots positioned to catch the winter sunlight.

I’ve nurtured a couple of geraniums for years – sometimes red, sometimes pink. Currently I have one of each, and I’m keeping a close eye on them after they got frostbitten during our Christmas cold snap. I’m hoping the southern sunshine will coax them back to thriving before too long. I love their cheery faces and the spicy scent of their leaves.

Across the kitchen, there’s a trio of smaller pots: an African violet sporting purple flowers, a re-sprouting amaryllis, and a purple-and-green striped nanouk plant from Trader Joe’s. Their spot on the waist-high cabinet that serves as a pantry means they catch the afternoon sunlight, and their fresh green growth makes me happy when there’s only brown to be seen outside.

On each kitchen windowsill, I’m starting a paperwhite bulb: my florist sells these around Christmastime, and I always scoop up a few. We are weeks away from crocuses, months away from daffodils and tulips and blossoming cherry trees, but the tall green shoots and sweet-scented white flowers always give me hope that we’ll survive the winter.

I love my houseplants for their inherent beauty, for their promise of new growth in a cold and dark season, for the unruly joy they bring to my (mostly) tidy apartment. New life is messy; growth pokes out an elbow or stretches out a leaf in unexpected places, and I often need the visual reminder. These plants, plus the fresh flowers I buy on the regular, and the fern that sits next to the humidifier, help me look for growth and vitality where I otherwise might not.

What’s delighting you this week? I’d love to hear.

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Happy New Year, friends. However you celebrated, I hope your holidays were lovely.

I spent some time in Texas with family and longtime friends, then came back here for a few days to settle back in and hang with my guy. I’m grateful for the time away and also thankful to have had some time here, in my little book-lined flat near the harbor, which is currently filled with winter sunshine.

I often need a writing project to kick-start a new year or season, and – inspired by Ross Gay’s wonderful The Book of Delights – I’ve decided to share a different delight on the blog each Monday in 2023. I want to celebrate the good, especially after the last few difficult years, and this feels both fun and doable. Each week I’ll share a brief meditation on an everyday – sometimes overlooked, but truly wonderful – delight.

In the spirit of the holidays, here’s the first delight: giving, and receiving, gifts that make you feel seen.

I’ve written before about my gift-giving anxiety, the way I can get tied up in knots over what to get my people to properly express my love. Sometimes, I’ve put too much weight on the buying of said gifts: expecting them to somehow make up for the time I can’t spend with people, or the conversations we don’t have. But increasingly, when I can (mostly) let go of all that pressure, I truly enjoy searching for gifts that my people will love.

This year, I bought my guy a few things he adored: a new graphic novel, a bag of his favorite tea, a beautiful ramen bowl he’d admired, a bandana from Janine Kwoh’s wonderful shop. I found fun novels for a few girlfriends that I knew would suit their tastes, and bought my nephew the sequel to an adventure book he loves. And each time, I loved watching their faces light up (or receiving the joyous text) that let me know: I’d gotten them something that would bring them delight, something suited to their particular ways of experiencing joy.

I was also on the receiving end of this delight: my sister bought me a sweatshirt that says, “Drink tea, read books, be happy” (basically my life motto). A friend got me a gift card to the charming new bookstore in Abilene, so I could browse and pick out just what I wanted. Other friends sent citrus shower steamers and cute spatulas and a darling red hat (my favorite color). My guy bought me a stack of thoughtfully chosen books, and a delicate pair of gingko-leaf earrings I’d wanted. And my parents got me a couple of gift cards that will help me plan my next trip – plus a chic plaid scarf, a Christmas ornament from a favorite local shop, and a big bar of creamy Cadbury chocolate.

I often quote Clare from I’ll Be Your Blue Sky: “I am one of those people who believe at least half of love is paying attention.” Giving, and receiving, gifts like this lets me know that my people and I are paying attention to each other. They see me, with my quirks and preferences and particular tastes, and I see them, too, and celebrate their unique souls. Tangible gifts aren’t the only way to pay attention, of course, but they can certainly be a delightful one.

What’s delighting you so far in this new year? I’d love to hear.

P.S. The fourth issue of my newsletter, For the Noticers, comes out soon. Sign up here to get on the list!

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snowdrops flowers gravel flowerbed

The calendar has flipped, officially, to spring. The piles of snow (mostly) melted while I was on vacation in San Diego, though the wind’s still got a bite, most days. But this week, I was still searching for a reliable sign of spring: the snowdrops I watch for every year.

I’ve been seeing tiny green spears – “crocuses an’ snowdrops and daffydowndillys,” as Ben Weatherstaff has it – poking out of the ground for weeks. But I was afraid they’d get frostbitten, and they did get covered up, by February’s bitter winds and an early March snowstorm. I hadn’t seen the shy white bells of snowdrops yet, though I had seen – to my relief and delight – the electric yellow and vivid red of witch hazel.

When I worked at the Ed School at Harvard, I would walk to Darwin’s down a straight side street, past a yellow house where an elderly woman could often be found reclining, apparently sound asleep, in a lounge chair in her front flowerbed. That same bed was a tangle of spring delights: snowdrops and scilla, hellebores and lilac, tiny white lilies of the valley. I made a point to stop by often, every spring, even when my daily orbit changed slightly, even when I hadn’t seen the woman for months.

That house has been under construction for a while now: workmen in boots and overalls have been gutting and sawing, replacing windows and repainting. The front flowerbed is a sandy mess, and I was afraid they’d dug up all the bulbs that have come back, reliably, every spring for so long. Or that they’d simply get buried under construction refuse and wait until next year to emerge.

crocuses march 2019

Yesterday, I slipped out of the house early, heading to Darwin’s for the first time in a while. I turned down that side street on my way from the T station. And there they were, poking up out of the gravel and rocks: snowdrops. And crocuses. And green spears that aren’t quite identifiable yet, but will be.

I suppose I should have known. As Anne Shirley says, “That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.” And more snowdrops. But it’s a relief and a joy to see them, all the same.

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red geranium flower close up

Delight, according to poet Ross Gay, is underrated: its very existence, the multiplicity of delights present in the world, the noticing and celebrating of said delights. (For what it’s worth, I agree with him.)

Between his 42nd and 43rd birthdays, Gay decided to capture as many delights as possible, and spin them out into a series of “essayettes.” The result, The Book of Delights, is a kaleidoscopic collection of joy–an accumulation of blessings that, piled up, create a larger enchantment.

I interviewed Ross via email for Shelf Awareness after reading The Book of Delights – the paragraph above is the first part of my review. His answers to my questions, not surprisingly, were a delight, so I wanted to share them with you. (And I highly recommend the book itself, which came out last week.)

KNG: Tell us about the inspiration for The Book of Delights.

RG: I was–this is not a joke–walking back to the castle I was staying in for the month of June in Umbria, at an artists’ residency. I was delighted, and acknowledged it. I was like, “Oh, this is really delightful!” It might have been the wildflowers at my feet swooning with bees, or the fig trees (unripe) everywhere, or the way Erykah Badu singing in your headphones usually makes things more delightful. Or the castle, I guess.

But I think catching myself in delight that day made me think it would be interesting and challenging and fun to do every day for a year. It was close to my birthday, so that was an easy form: birthday to birthday. And, too, the fact that I am always hungry, like deeply hungry, for writing about and thinking about and theorizing about and singing about that which I love.

How did you decide which delights to capture and expound upon? (You note that stacking delights is itself a delight, but at the same time, you cant write about them all!)

Today, outside my window, is what looks like a weird kind of poppy shrub–a cardinal just flipped by, and there goes her fella–which amazes and delights me, you know, because it’s January and, thank god, very cold outside, much too cold for a poppybush to be growing, whatever a poppybush is.

Then I realized I’d chucked a couple clementine peels out of the car when I was coming home from the store, and the way they landed behind the bald shrub, and from this distance, makes it look as though they are flowers on the tree, as though they are a poppybush, which they are. And one of those cardinals is so bright, looking right into this window from across the street, that he looks like a red light bulb. I mean, I don’t know. There is, along with all else, so much to delight upon, the way I see it.

I remember trying to write about things that really delighted me, but they just kind of spun out as essayettes and didn’t go anywhere. So probably I needed the delight to take me somewhere, which could mean associative wandering, or musical wandering, or digging really hard on a thing. But I guess the delights needed to offer a certain amount of puzzlement in addition to delight. They often had to make me ask why a thing delights me, which often took me far from delight–often took me nowhere I would have anticipated.

You talk about delight, and the noticing of it, as a muscle that can be strengthened, or a radar that grows more sensitive over time. Tell us about about the process of finding more delight as you went along.

I think I was prepared for a kind of scarcity of delight. To need to be scouring my life for delight to write these essayettes. And then, as I turned it on, it was like this is what Im doing, attending to my delight.

I found, with that attention, that I am often kind of delighted. And often delighted by things I didn’t realize delighted me. And that is a gift–to be like, “Oh, shoot, I love that jade plant that my student gave to me and I have spent all these years never realizing how much I love it!” Or, “I love that candy because it reminds me of my father, who could be so ridiculously sweet to us.” To do that again and again. But it took me giving myself the task of attending to and articulating the experience of delight to myself to realize that. Because, the truth is, my inclination has been kind of melancholic plus.

Delight, or at least the public celebration of it, has often been denied to black people in the U.S. Can you talk about writing a book of black delight. Daily as air?”

I think there’s a very clear desire (and industry) by some to crush the experience, or to imagine the experience, of black people into, simply, suffering and pain. Like if it isn’t pain, it isn’t black. If it isn’t about pain or reacting to or resisting pain, it isn’t black. Something like that. That’s bullsh*t, and it’s poisonous, all around. (Black pain as a salable product, a good, that’s familiar, huh?)

I’m interested in the full, weird, complex, surprising, tender humanity of my life, our lives. Which includes delight. (And I recommend Kevin Quashie’s book The Sovereignty of Quiet.)

Theres a perception that delight, joy or playfulness arent serious, or that celebrating them forces people to ignore the harsher realities of life. But your collection draws together the dark and the light, and takes joy and pleasure seriously. Were you consciously trying to strike that balance or was it more organic?

It’s a mistake to imagine that what is brutal or awful is the only thing worth talking about. Primarily because the brutal and the awful and the harsh are not the only thing.

I mean, what is the world in which the only thing worth talking about or thinking about or meditating on or studying, the only thing worthy of our fullest attention, is that which sucks? What are the results of thinking and counseling that joy–which, in my opinion, comes from the realization that we are utterly interdependent, we are utterly connected (part of that connection being that we all die)–is not worth studying? F*ck that.

I want to study the zillion ways we care for each other so that I can get better at caring. I want to study the ways we collaborate, the ways we interdepend, whether we acknowledge it or not, which we damn well better do.

Do you have advice for readers who may be inspired to start their own delight-noticing projects, or write about their delights?

I’m not that good for advice, but I will say there was something useful to me about dailiness, about making writing these delights a practice. I also think having a little time constraint was useful for me; it helped me to think in a looser, non-precious way. I loved writing them by hand, too–that helps me to think more bodily, which I think is more delightful, frankly. And then you can have these notebooks full of meditations on things that have delighted you–how lucky!

I originally conducted this interview and reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness, where both pieces appeared last week. 

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Saturday evening girls club book Christmas tree

I started the new year in a serious reading slump – nothing on my stacks looked or sounded good. Fortunately, these books helped pull me out of it. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Saturday Evening Girls Club, Jane Healey
I grabbed this one at the library and flew through it in a day. An enjoyable, well-told story of four young women who belong to the titular club in early 20th-century Boston. I loved the North End setting, the details about culture and traditions in Russian Jewish and Italian families, and the fierce friendship of the four main characters.

The Age of Light, Whitney Scharer
I’m sort of sick of these woman-behind-the-famous-man stories. But Scharer tells this one well: it’s the story of Lee Miller, Vogue model and muse to Man Ray who became a writer and photographer in her own right. Starting in the 1960s, Scharer flashes back to Miller’s time in Paris with Man, and her later work as a war photographer. I wanted more of the latter, but this is still an evocative novel. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 5).

The Book of Delights, Ross Gay
Delight, Gay insists, is worth celebrating, and he does – to the tune of several dozen small essays, written over the course of a year. So many quirky, everyday moments and blessings, which also draw in race, family, work, memories, gardening and all of life. Aptly, the book is itself a delight. Wonderful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 12).

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton
This twisty mystery is exactly as billed: Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day, with a dash of Twin Peaks. Aiden Bishop wakes up every morning in the body of a different host at Blackheath, a crumbling, spooky English estate. He has eight days (and hosts) to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, which keeps happening every night. Meanwhile, he’s trying to help a mysterious woman named Anna and not lose his mind completely. Jaclyn and I agree: this one is BONKERS, but a lot of fun.

On Turpentine Lane, Elinor Lipman
I like Lipman’s sharp, funny romantic comedies, and this one was highly entertaining. Faith Frankel buys a house whose previous owner may or may not have killed her husbands (!) in it. Meanwhile, her fiancé is walking across America (why?), her father is having a midlife artistic and personal crisis, and her handsome coworker needs a place to crash. Witty and amusing.

The Rain in Portugal, Billy Collins
I’ve loved Collins’ work since I was a student, and (belatedly) picked up his latest collection at Trident. Whimsical, sometimes wistful, often funny. He has a gift for observing the ordinary. Not my favorite of his, but it has some wonderful lines.

Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos
This novel is one of my very favorites, and I savored it over a series of cold nights. I love everything about it: Cornelia’s warm, rambling narrative voice; her insight and empathy; and her deep mutual bond with Clare, 11 years old and in desperate need of love. Nourishing and lyrical and so well done.

The Tiny Journalist: Poems, Naomi Shihab Nye
Shihab Nye writes powerful, sharp-eyed poems about our common humanity. The titular poem, and several more, refer to Janna Jihad, a young Palestinian girl who films her daily life under Israeli occupation. Shihab Nye (a Palestinian-American) explores the connections between Janna’s work, her late father (a journalist), her own creative work, and the ways in which all people deserve to live safe, healthy lives. I find poetry tough to write about, but Shihab Nye is always worth reading. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 9).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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paperwhites flowers window

“My paperwhites are making me unreasonably happy,” I texted a friend last week.

Years ago, I learned from Tara’s blog that you can “force” paperwhite bulbs in the winter. As in: stick them in a (tall) vase with pebbles and plenty of water, put them in a sunny spot, and watch them grow. I tried it for the first time the following year, and was utterly delighted at the results: tall green shoots with delicate white flowers, which perfumed my dining room with their odd, sweet scent.

I haven’t grown paperwhites in a couple of years, but I picked up a handful of bulbs at our local garden center in November, and started two in my tallest vases right before Christmas. Since we were away for the holiday, I was afraid I’d miss the blooms, but – as you can see – they’re in full glorious flower.

paperwhite narcissus flowers

Every morning I walk into the kitchen and marvel at two things: the sunrise out the east-facing windows (new every morning, seriously) and the paperwhites on the low table next to the fridge, blooming away.

Winter in the Northeast is a long haul: it’s only mid-January and I know we won’t even see crocuses for a while yet. I’ve learned to appreciate the sharp white beauty of winter and also to grit my teeth through the tough parts. But meanwhile, I’m completely delighted by the fresh green growth in my kitchen – both the paperwhites and the leggy geraniums I’m tending.

paperwhites flowers window night

This is my eighth (!) winter in Boston, and I’ve come to appreciate the need for rest and fallow time, in the natural world and in my own life. But the paperwhites are a reminder that not all growth has to wait for spring. With a little sunlight and water, there’s room to dwell – as Emily D. has it – in possibility.

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