I’ve been reading Ross Gay’s “The Book of Delights” which is truly delightful, while at the same time awakening to a lot of shit… well, for instance, the racism of our society, which is, to say the least, the opposite of delightful, which is part of why I love this book because Ross can handle paradox, can investigate it in a surprisingly nuanced and gentle way which allows time or is it space? like an unexpected garden space, an orchard in the city with free fruit for the taking (which he actually volunteers to work in in Bloomington, Indiana). This is for the reader an invitation, especially if the reader is white and fully or semi- asleep to the state of the nation regarding the nation’s racism, the gentlest of invitations to take in the meaning of Ross’s words to the point they might actually meet up in a slightly explosive moment with the Rumplestiltskin-like reader’s unconscious waking up from a very long snooze, and noticing, ah yes, the snooze alarm has been going off for the last umpteen decades.
Ross is patient… and the delights he writes about are the delights any one of us on the most mundane of days might encounter, if we were given the poets’ eyes to notice, heart to care, and mind with which to contemplate. Still, some of the delights will be experienced differently depending on your gender, ancestry, epigenetics, or skin color.
For instance, I was reading essay #87 on Loitering. I’ve never thought much about the concept of loitering, but in three short pages he says pretty much the important stuff there is to say about it, which is quite a lot. (also everyone knows the story about how it’s equally illegal for both the the poor and the rich man to sleep (ie loiter) under the bridge). The way Ross writes makes me think not only “hey, that’s interesting”, but also “hey, this has something to do with me”… or doesn’t, in my experience, because I’m white, but definitely still has something to do with me because now I’m understanding something I didn’t understand before about racism and white skin privilege, which (duh, I know) turn out to be two sides of the same coin, and there I am smack dab in the center of that coin, heads AND tails with him, no matter which way the flip goes. Which in this case, is some kind of slightly weird delight, unhappy to awaken (more) to my racist unconscious and delighted to awaken for all the things being awake might add to my life and the life of others — more understanding, more compassion, less confusion, etc.
My parents, climbing out of poverty, were hard working. You could say my Dad was a workaholic and I don’t know where the fuck my Mom got all her energy to work hard all day (typing 130-plus words a minute and handling the entire business side of things while my Dad took pictures…) then come home to deal with making dinner and then cleaning up (with me as her assistant and fhA-in-training — future housewife of America, standing on a chair next to her to reach the sink, drying the dishes she’d washed), while my Dad and brother got to go into the TV room and start watching whatever was on… The Hit Parade or The Jackie Gleason Show, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, etc. Because a man’s work day ended before dinner, while a woman’s never did. No wonder I opted out of being an fhA; you didn’t have to be a genius to see the Valium-induced coma that could lead to. Although it didn’t with Mom; she was some kind of super-hero, Lois Lane to her Clark Kent/Superman. I kid you not. She was and kind of still is a true believer in the patriarchal myth. Trump’s presidency has put a bit of an ugly dent in patriarchy for her, but she had a pretty good run with it, you know, like for 97 years.
What I’m trying to say is that despite the fact my parents were Jewish, they had this serious Protestant work ethic… which I’ve always understood to mean that if you don’t want to be poor and feel guilty about your life, you work hard, really hard. Coming of age into the anti-war movement, the hippie thing, marijuana, birth control pills, and cheap rent in 1967 San Francisco, well, in my case, it was hard not to forego the Protestant work ethic.. So I pretty much did.
Fast forward 50 years, I’m reading Ross Gay on Loitering. He reports Webster’s definition of it… “to stand or wait around idly without apparent purpose” and “to travel indolently with frequent pauses.” Then he goes on to describe how the word “loitering” is more likely to be applied to a person with “darker… skin”. Remember the Starbucks’ worker who called the police on two black men who were waiting for a friend in Starbucks, accusing them of loitering? Yeah, that. and sadly, etc. etc.
As a 71 year old woman, I have my own situation. Not that I’m comparing it. Just saying what it is. I can feel my body starting to slow down. It takes me longer than it used to to get anything done. To move from one room to another. It can look a lot like loitering. Part of this is the fault of social media.. Ok, not social media’s fault. My fault I’m kind of addicted. So yes, I dawdle, and among other synonyms for loitering Ross mentions, I totally resonate with lingering, lollygagging, meandering, dillydallying, and a few others. When I was in my 40s, I was up by 5:30 to meditate for a half hour, feed myself, shower, dress, THEN wake up my teenage daughter, feed her, pack her lunch and drive her the opposite direction to school before I drove back across town to SF General to start my work day by 8:30. Now I can barely get my own self out of my house by 11am. Part of it is age, for sure, because every one says they slow down as they age; personally I’ve had a front row seat to witness this gradual slowing down in my Mom who’s turning 99 in four days.
Mom at 23 and Mom at 98 and 3/4.
For me, it’s part aging and part loitering. I rarely give my self permission to loiter. Not that I don’t. I do. But without permission. With whatever is the Jewish version of Protestant-work-ethic guilt. I’d like to experiment loitering with self-permission. After all, we’re human beings, not human doings. I appreciate how Ross reminds me of this non-Protestant-work-ethic fact in his gentle way, as if he, with his vivid and explicit holding of paradox, were directly dismantling Patriarchy itself, word by precise and precious word and inviting us all, wholeheartedly, to join in. I find myself savoring his invitation, and responding, “Why yes, kind contemplator of delights (and sorrows), I’d love to!”
ps… here’s a separate but very related article that came my way on Facebook yesterday, posted by the dear and amazing person/writer/mother/friend, Joj the First. It’s so easy to judge others for “laziness” or loitering, or whatever. This article “Laziness Does Not Exist” by Devon Price brilliantly shines the light on our rush-to-judgements.