Utopia is Delightful

by Ross Gay

What does utopia mean to you?

I guess I think of Utopia as that which we are dreaming of together, mutually, always in negotiation and collaboration, always in discussion and under review, which probably, my Utopia anyway, is largely about how we imagine and establish practices and structures of care, which also have to do so often with studying the practices and structures of care we have been given by who came before us. Which you might find, among other places, on a pick-up basketball court or a community garden or a library or just walking down the street. But also coming up with some new or new-seeming practices and structures that might be of use to us and to who, if we’re lucky, comes after us.

Why is cultivating delight important in building “Utopia” (read: a world for collective liberation)?

Noticing, articulating and studying what you love allows you also to foment or incite that you love. It also gives you the opportunity to share what you love, and sharing, in my Utopia anyway, is mostly what we do.

Some might say that recognizing and fostering delight IS applying Utopia — how do we make this a daily practice?

Pay attention, I guess. Also, doing it in community, with other people, that helps and is fun! I.e. When the pear tree is laden, or someone is passing in their car blasting Luther Vandross, you let them know, and maybe you swoon together about it, or dance, and if you can reach what the other can’t you grab a pear for them.

How do your community garden as well as your practice of capturing delights coincide with the idea of Utopia?

Not capturing, something else. Noting, acknowledging, celebrating. Cultivating, how you said. The Bloomington Community Orchard is a project made by a bunch of people who most didn’t know each other for the benefit of people we didn’t know and couldn’t imagine (those people included ourselves in the future, which is here!). That seems a Utopian endeavor.

What is something you do to ground yourself when things seem to be problematic, or undelightful?

When are things not problematic or undelightful? I think I try to attend to what I love. We cannot get out of the shitstorm, but it does seem to me we might tolerate it better, or even change the conditions of the storm, if we are studying and in this way (your good word again!) cultivating what we love. I feel certain of this.

What does it mean to study joy?

Hmm, well I think it means to study the light that emanates from us when we help each other carry our sorrows. Which I think happens in all kinds of ways, but I think if it’s joy though the emanation comes from our holding each other through sorrow, it is also holding each other with and toward love.

What does delight feel like in our bodies? In our spirits?

I imagine different for everyone! It makes me feel many things, among them less afraid of dying I think.

Ross Gay

Ross Gay is the author of four books of poetry: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His first collection of essays, The Book of Delights, was released in 2019 and was a New York Times bestseller. His new collection of essays, Inciting Joy, is now available through Algonquin.