On Curating Delight

Lately, I think a lot about writing – think being the operative word. In truth, I think about a great many things every day because I am someone who lives very much in her head. I live in my head, and I haven’t left the house except for medical necessity and very occasional visits to the closed library where I will one day work again for about ten weeks. Time for thinking, and over-thinking) abounds and action is…sporadic. There is apparently a limit to time spent in self-reflection, and I’m pretty sure this is me staring at it, albeit skeptically.

So far, 2020 has been a century of unmooring for me. This may be as close as we’ll come to a true globally universal experience in my life time as we retreat to our homes and forgo haircuts and summer travel plans in an effort to “flatten the curve” (I swear, just like the phrase “hunker down” in a busy hurricane season, there are phrases related to Corona virus that will make me twitch for at least the next twenty years.). I know that in the scheme of things, my family is very, very fortunate (privileged). I know this, but I don’t always feel it. Many days the divorce between my head and my gut is as real as if I were bisected at the ribs (which after losing my breasts in February, is also sometimes how I feel physically, if I’m being very honest.) (I’d apologize for all these parentheticals, but I’ve decided to hell with convention, I love a parenthetical and will use them as often as I choose).

Anyway, all of this to say, the world is stumbling along, often not very gracefully, and I am stumbling along with it, also with varying degrees of grace. My cynicism is high; my opinion of American humanity is very low, and watching any sort of news stokes my judgemental interior rage furnace.

I’m a stew of negativity when I allow myself to emote unchecked.

I won’t invalidate my negative feelings (such a culturally conditioned turn of phrase – feelings are feelings, neither good nor bad in themselves) because I am constantly writing over my inner fundamentalist soundtrack which says “feelings are liars” and learning to embrace the idea that “feelings are messengers and tools” which is a much more accurate and healthy understanding of the relationship between my head and my gut. No, my feelings don’t always perceive reality accurately (as when my oncology practice triggers my religious PTSD), but they are always trying to communicate something important, and we’ll make more progress if we work together to understand what my feelings are saying rather than shoving them in the closet. I’m learning to be whole-hearted when I grow up.

However, I also don’t want to wallow in my negative feelings for too long, to stew in my own bitter juices. I need balance in a season where balance is difficult to find.

Recently, I’ve been reading Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. Believe me when I say it lives up to the title. This morning, I was reading The Book of Delights as I was sitting outside, with my dog and my coffee in the cool morning air, pausing frequently to admire my morning glories as they opened and positioned themselves to take full advantage of the sun when it finally rose above the trees, and I thought to myself, This is the stuff. This is the balance. This moment is the exact antidote I’m seeking. I closed my eyes to let it soak fully in.

If I’m honest, there have been many moments like this over the last few months: stopping on my morning walk to simply stand and smell the honeysuckle, days punctuated with unexpected, yelling conversations with friends and neighbors as we walk the neighborhood streets endlessly, the perfect birthday dinner with books and birdbaths, birdfeeders and windchimes. There is a carolina wren nesting in our nasturtiums, and the eno stand is in the perfect position for both reading and cloud watching. Delight abounds.

The problem, I am noticing, is one of volume. The things which make me stew and fume are so very loud and in my face all the time, and when they aren’t, I am prone to go obsessively seeking more news, desperate for something new and not terrible, which only serves to make things worse because new and not terrible isn’t what the media is peddling lately. These delightful balancing moments are so much softer, unassuming and easy to miss. Even when I don’t miss them they are easily forgotten, buried under the weight of all that mainstream noise.

Perhaps this is the trick of reality, like an optical illusion, our experience changes depending on how we focus. My morning glories don’t change the facts of Corona or cancer, but they do bring beauty and delight into the picture if I choose to focus on them. I want to do this, to soften my focus, lower the volume and find a way not to deny the strident, terrible things but to bring them into their proper perspective, and to invite my emotions into a more palatable alignment.

I have a life which truly is filled with delights, but too often I miss them either by skimming through the present moment to get to the next one (after all, it may be better than the one which came before), or by narrowing my focus so that only the loudest and most obnoxious portions of it are visible. The antidote is simple: curate a more delightful life- experience.

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