Monday, March 7, 2016

What Sparks Joy

I recently read Marie Kondo's The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, which encourages the reader to be brave and declutter. I have been trying, off and on again for a long time, to do just this, but I suspect that I have been doing it wrong.

She suggests one declutter by category (not by room as I have previously tried). Place everything in a category -- books, for example -- on the floor (or several floors in my case) and pick up each item, one by one. Ask yourself, "Does it spark joy?" If yes, it's a keeper; if no, toss.

There are only a few books on my shelves that spark joy every time I see them or touch them or re-read them. The most joyful of all is this one: Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. (In fact, I have written about the book and the writer more than once in this blog: here, here, and here, for example.) As can be clearly seen in these photographs, I have had the book a long time (it was given to me by my grandmother in 1974, a few months after its publication), and I have read it many times.

Just yesterday I read a New York Times Magazine piece featuring Annie Dillard and three newly published essays. The writer's opening fills me with joy, the photograph of Dillard laughing fills me with joy, and Dillard's writing fills and re-fills me with joy -- new words, old words, familiar words, always surprises and elegant thought.

For me, she is the living embodiment of natural wonder and soaring intellect. I will let the author of the article speak for me:

"Dillard began publishing books in 1974. Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, a small collection of poems, was followed immediately by Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a long nonfictional account of her experience embedding, Thoreaustyle, for a year of close observation of the titular waterway in Virginia. Pilgrim won the Pulitzer Prize and unleashed upon the world Dillard’s radical style: prose right on the border of poetry, dense with dazzling effects — strong metaphors, heavy rhythms, bold verbs, sudden parables, outlandish facts harvested from the darkest corners of the library. From the start, this has been Dillard's mission: to crowbar surprise, sentence by sentence, into all the tiny gaps of our ordinary experience. 'Water turtles smooth as beans were gliding down the current in a series of easy, weightless push­offs as men bound on the moon,' she writes in Pilgrim. A pile of burned books 'flaked in my hand like pieces of pie.' In Dillard's writing, strange things are constantly becoming familiar, and vice versa. 'Like mushrooms and engines, they didn’t have hands,' she writes of nuns.) Above all, Dillard refuses to fall into traditional expository rhythms, to calm down, to be normal, to proceed with caution. She feels driven, always, to summon revelations out of nothing — to 'call for fireworks, with only a ballpoint pen.'"

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