List What You Love

One: I love a single leaf falling

You dread the next hour when you will struggle yet again to get a girl to go to school. You need a way to feel better able to endure these terribly difficult mornings. 

Step One || Go to the gorge

Once you have managed to get a girl to go to school, walk four blocks to the gorge. 

Step Two || Walk above and below the road

Walk through the Welcoming Oaks, glowing gold, and then down the gravel path, past the ravine, and over to the Oak Savanna. 

Step Three || Pay attention

Breathe in the gorge. Breathe out the frustration. Listen to the leaves. Smell the river. Look at the chain link limbs of the old oak tree. Walk back home through the neighborhood and hear the wind chimes.

Step Four || Make a list

Sit down and make a list of the things you love about the gorge and your neighborhood. Write them in your notebook or type them on your computer.

Step Five || Turn it into a poem

The Get a Girl to Go to School List/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

Two: Let’s begin with bees

One day, you encounter a tiny gnome village set up on the boulevard in front of a neighbor’s house. You are delighted. Now you always look for gnomes and find them everywhere–in the stumps of dead trees, below bushes, hidden in hostas.  You want to make more room for these types of delight.

You are at the lake and overhear a kid call out jubilantly, “I just saw a fish! A Northern Pike! Right there! Right there!” Such wonderful enthusiasm. You are tired of cynicism and swallowing your joy. You want to be more like this boy. 

from Let’s Not Begin/ Maggie Smith

If I list everything I love

about the world, and if the list
is long and heavy enough,

I can lift it over and over—
repetitions, they’re called, reps—

to keep my heart on, to keep
the dirt off. Let’s begin

with bees, and the hum,
and the honey singing

on my tongue, and the child
sleeping at last, and, and, and—

Step One || Make a list

Make a list of what you love. This list can be general, including every thing you love in the world, or specific, focused on what you love about a particular place, like the Mississippi River Gorge. This list can include BIG things–a city, a poet, a philosophy, or little things–the curve of a retaining wall, the shade of blue of the water. You can write it or type it or speak it into your phone. Compose it at your desk, on your deck, by the lake, above the gorge. 

Step Two || Keep adding to the list

You can add on to one big list, watching it grow taller every day, or create a series of lists that, when combined, stretch wider and wider. Add new items as you experience joy in your encounters with them.

Do not worry that your list will become too long or unruly. As the list expands, so does your capacity to love and experience joy.

Step Three || Be excessively enthusiastic with the list

In your list—and any recitations of your list—use lots of exclamation points and Ohs or Os or even Ahs! Do this without shame or irony.

Bonus || Make joy for others

Hang some wind chimes that sing a whole tone scale. Hide some gnomes in your front yard. 

Three: A Dust of Snow

Your back hurts. It has been hurting off and on all winter. You are worried, wondering what might be wrong. Then you remember the wedge of geese flying overhead on your walk earlier today and you forget about your back. You want to find more ways to forget.

You are walking on the boulevard across from the gorge and you notice three wild turkeys in a neighbor’s yard. You watch them for a minute, standing there, unbothered by your presence, and think, “this is it, this is the thing I want to remember about today, these three wild turkeys hanging out in someone’s yard.” You want to find more things like these turkeys to notice and remember.

Dust of Snow/ Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Step One || Go outside

Walk around the neighborhood or head to the gorge.

Step Two || Pay attention

Do not listen to your headphones.

Step Three || Encounter something that delights you

Do not search for the delight. Let it find you. It might take some practice–being outside regularly and paying attention to the world– but it will find you.

Step Five || Delight in it for a while

Stand still. Stare hard. Listen up. Breathe. Absorb the details of the delight.

Step Six || Remember the delight

Write a description of the delight in your notebook or on your log so that you can remember it and rely on it later.

Step Seven || Repeat steps 1-6 every day

Practice being found by delight and remembering it. It might take weeks or months or years but it will get easier to remember joy and forget worry.

For more inspiration, see The Book of Delights/ Ross Gay.

A Few Delights, the bird edition