Write About the "Ordinary," in Detail
My left shoelace had snapped just before lunch. At some earlier point in the morning, my left shoe had become untied, and as I had sat at my desk working on a memo, my foot had sensed its potential freedom and slipped out of the sauna of black cordovan to soothe itself with rhythmic movements over an area of wall-to-wall carpeting under my desk, which, unlike the tamped-down areas of public traffic, was still almost as soft and fibrous as it had been when first installed. Only under the desks and the little-used conference rooms was the pile still plush enough to hold the beautiful Ms and Vs the night crew left as strokes of their vacuum cleaner's wands made swaths of dustless tufting lean in directions that alternately absorbed and reflected the light. The nearly universal carpeting of offices must have come about in my lifetime, judging from black-and-white movies and Hopper paintings: since the pervasion of carpeting, all you hear when people walk by are their own noises - the flap of their raincoats, the jingle of their change, the squeak of their shoes, the efficient little sniffs they make to signal to us and to themselves that they are busy and walking somewhere for a very good reason, as well as the almost sonic whoosh of receptionists' staggering and misguided perfumes, and the covert choking and showing of tongues and placing of braceleted hands to windpipes that more tastefully scented secretaries exchange in their wake. One or two individuals in every office (Dave in mine), who have special pounding styles of walking, may still manage to get their footfalls heard; but in general now we all glide at work: a major improvement, as anyone knows who has visited those areas of offices that are still for various reasons linoleum-squared - cafeterias, mail-rooms, computer rooms. Linoleum was bearable back when incandescent light was there to counteract it with a softening glow, but the combination of fluorescence and linoleum, which must have been widespread for several years as the two trends overlapped, is not good.
As I had worked, then, my foot had, without any sanctions from my conscious wil, slipped from the untied shoe and sought out the texture of the carpeting; although now, as I reconstruct the moment, I realize that a more specialized desire was at work as well: when you slide a socked foot over a carpeted surface, the fibers of sock and carpet mesh and lock, so that though you think you are enjoying the texture of the carpeting, you are really enjoying the slippage of the inner surface of the sock against the underside of your foot, something you normally get to experience only in the morning when you first pull the sock on.
- Nickolson Baker, The Mezzanine. Beginning pages of Chapter Two.
For a few minutes I think there is a fan in the room. Somehow my hearing dissociates, or maybe a current of wind suggests a fan behind me coming from the back wall when all along it is the fan of my computer keeping the machine cool on this 86 degree Fahrenheit day. The surface of the cup of water next to me rocks back and forth with the movement of my fingers as I type, a small wave forms in the cup, but not so much to disturb the water's ability to reflect the sunlight coming through the window, to reflect the clouds that are forming at 4:52 PM. I've taken my bracelet off and set it beside the cup, both because it was too hot to keep wearing it and because I'm home for the day with no need to keep it on, an ornament I mostly wear in the outer world. The large turquoise stone of my bracelet adds color to the otherwise monotonous formica tabletop, white like the papers strewn across it (except for a blue napkin and a yellow post it). I reach for the water, hold the cup in both hands and drink slowly and deeply and I can see my reflection in the rapidly disappearing water, the reflective surface increases as the angle of the cup approaches 90 degrees. Suddenly I breathe deeply and am aware of water, wind (breath) and fire (the blazing sun). I copied a quote by William Stafford onto one of the pieces of paper, now torn and wrinkled, it reads, "The field of writing will never be crowded, not because people can't write, but because they don't think they can." Now I've effectively saved the quote and I discard the paper into the blue waste basket. It lands, hitting the side as it falls and making a sound so distinct I pick it up and let it fall a second time, the sound a kind of swoosh that ceases abruptly. Now I breathe even more deeply than before, not that I was thinking why beforehand, but now I know I was breathing that way both to stave off late afternoon drowsiness and to gather more energy to keep on writing. In a way there is and there isn't much chi in this room. There isn't because the room is mostly bare of decoration, or else haphazard and akimbo of the few things that are in here: a bunch of U-Haul boxes, a desk, lamp, empty red bookcase and Tibetan rug with a green dragon on it. When a room isn't arranged the chi suffers. On the other hand the two windows are wide open and through one of them sunlight is streaming in, so there is plenty of chi. This room, bare of adornment and mostly empty has been a good one to write in. It has a large desk and a comfortable chair, an office chair that swivels and reclines and has netting for its back to reduce perspiration; in all ways it is ergonomically correct. I drink more water and hear the sound of swalling it, also a kind of swoosh that gradually fades as my throat clears.
- Bill Scheffel
WE RISE ON SUNBEAMS AND FALL IN THE NIGHT
Dawn's orb orange-raw shining over palisades
bare crowded branches bush up from marshes -
New Jersey with my father riding automobile
highway to Newark Airport - Empire State's
spire, horned buildingtops, Manhattan
rising as in W.C. Williams' eyes between wire trestles -
trucks sixwheeled steady rolling overpass
beside New York - I am here
tiny under sun rising in vast white sky,
staring thru skeleton new buildings,
with pen in hand awake...
December 11, 1974
In two lines, this man with a magnifying glass expresses an important psychological law. He situates us at a sensitive point of objectivity, at the moment when we have to accept unnoticed detail, and dominate it. The magnifying glass in this experience conditions an entry into the world. Here the man with the magnifying glass is not an old man still trying to read his newspaper, in spite of eyes that are weary of looking. The man with the magnifying glass takes the world as though it were quite new to him. If he were to tell us of the discoveries he has made, he would furnish us with documents of pure phenomenology, in which discovery of the world, or entry into the world, would be more than just a worn-out word, more than a word that has become tarnished through over-frequent philosophical use. A philosopher often describes his “entry into the world,” his “being in the world,” using a familiar object as symbol. He will describe his ink-bottle phenomenologically, and a paltry thing becomes the janitor of the wide world.
The man with the magnifying glass—quite simply—bars the every-day world. He is a fresh eye before a new object. The botanist’s magnifying glass is youth recaptured. It gives him back the enlarging gaze of a child. With this glass in his hand, he returns to the garden,
oü les enjants regardent grandl
(where children see enlarged)
Thus the minuscule, a narrow gate, opens up an entire world. The details of a thing can be the sign of a new world which, like all worlds, contains the attributes of greatness.
Miniature is one of the refuges of greatness.
- Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space.
If I admit existence at all, it is on condition of complete acceptance of it, inasmuch as everything is involved by it; besides, however feeble my powers may be, since they are obviously directed towards the pursuits of rhetoric and literature, I see no reason why I should not begin arbitrarily by showing that apropos of even the simplest things one can evolve endless and elaborate diatribes entirely composed of new and unforeseen statements. In other words, no matter what the subject, not only has all not been said, but practically everything still remains to be said.
- Francis Ponge, from Introduction to the Pebble.