Sunday, May 31, 2009

Out of Habit

"What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?

To question the habitual. But that’s just it, we’re habituated to it. We don’t question it, it doesn’t question us, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem, we live it without thinking, as if it carried within it neither question nor answers, as if it weren’t the bearer of any information. This is no longer even conditioning, it’s anaesthesia. We sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep. But where is our life? Where is our body? Where is our space?

How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are." -G. Perec

I don't take pictures of people, or vacations, holidays, or unofficial gatherings. I'm not very good with the "big picture" - the scope of an event, slowing instead to putter among the moments, the way the window frame glows when the sun comes up, the flop of a book fallen from the couch to the floor, the clean lines of folded laundry. I am more interested in the the ornament than the tree; the uneven brick over the expansive building. I'm thinking of this because I sometimes worry I confuse my love of the parts of things with a love for the whole of them. I'm thinking about this now, specifically, because tomorrow will begin the last week of my first year of grad school.

In my most doubtful moments of being here, knee deep in bouts of sadness and confusion of this decision I made, that move, this work and dedication, I can often be found saying that I confused my love of literature with a desire to make literature my profession. Off and on, I believe this statement. I muse about how the passion over the movement of a line of poetry, the experience of simultaneous chills and ease over a passage of text is not necessarily the same as an ambition for academic publishing, conferences, and tenure tracks. Off and on, I believe these distinctions.

Some days, even with my acknowledgement of the beauty of balance, it's nice simply to indulge in what Perec called the "infra-ordinary" - some days it's nice to champion the habitual parts of the day, the way morning smells, a scent particular to its city, the graffiti flower on the building next door that looks cheery even in its destruction, the small spoon I use only for yogurt, the mug with the crack running down its side that always makes me picture a map of the Mississippi River and, ultimately, spell out the state's name as I was taught in grade school: M-I-crooked letter, crooked letter -I -crooked letter, crooked letter - I -humpback, humpback -I. I took the camera round with me on our travels around our city this weekend and captured the most basic, most lovely parts of my everyday. The poppies outside our door like a hundred tiny suns, the street corner I stand on each day heading in or out, the darkness of the floor speckled with bits of fallen paper like constellations, the view of the sky just out our back steps.

I'm not sure I'm ready to find a way for the large and the small to balance for me in school just yet; I'm not ready for the compromise. I admit they can and often do for many, many people, and I admit that if I tried I would most likely be able to find and practice that same balance. I also admit that my constant questioning of the life I'm leading slows me down, makes it harder, asks of me constant observation in the search for an answer (oh, what would we do if there really was one answer?). As difficult as these aspects might be, I know their value, too; I stand behind Socrates and his thoughts on a life unexamined. There are times when it feels positively necessary to stand at the doorway to the expanse of the future and look instead at the tiny cracks in the wooden frame, to lag behind to search for four leaf clovers in the patches of green, to be giddy over each new morning with the small silver spoon and a cup of strawberry yogurt. For a little while longer, at least, I think I'll remain unabashedly in love with the way Mrs. Dalloway makes my heart thump through each line, each lengthy line simultaneously lumpy and smooth, rich with descriptions that feel both blissfully intrinsic and utterly exotic. I think for a little while, I'll continue to resist what should be done to mend the gap between my vision of a life in literature and the more practical processes, not because I think they cannot co-exist, but because for a while, I think I'd like to love my habits the way they are, and see maybe, if that isn't enough.


Kasey said...

I liked your portrayal of your "comfort zone" or "happy place" being in the small familiar things that fill up your life. I can relate to craving the comforts of the familiar, at the same time seeing the need for something more in your life. I think you constructed this tug-of-war nicely.

Caitlin said...

I never have anything profound to say when I read your blog. I think I'm just leaving footprints amongst the words.

Kirsten said...

You should try selling some of your pictures on etsy. They're always unique and thought provoking.

Meghan said...

This post. Ah. I could just dive in and swim around in this post. I did, a little bit, as best I could while nursing my new boy.

I like what Caitlin had to say up there. I agree.

your friend said...

i am so behind. i miss the internet. i love this post.