The mundane is every quiet thing that you do that falls in line with maintaining your lifestyle. It’s those things you do every day that could easily be considered boring by some. But not to me. I have a fixation with the mundane. I look for it in all of the media I consume – film, YouTube videos, books, music. I look for the lulls in conversation, washing the dishes, lighting a gas stove, putting a plate of food before a loved one or stranger, phone nowhere in sight, boiling of the kettle, the whistle of the wind. It’s pure magic. The mundane is fascinating because we all have access to it.
There are things that we must do as humans living in this society to maintain ourselves. How does my coworker organize her computer cables? How do the mail people deliver letters – do they toss them into mail slots, place them with care, shove them in with the grocery store sale catalogs? How long do different drivers wait before flicking on their blinkers when nearing a protected right turn?
If I invite a partner into my life, I want to see how he washes the dishes. Is he thoughtful about turning off the water between lathering the dishes? Does he leave the sponge in the sink after he’s done? How much soap does he put on the sponge? And the all important – which side of the sponge does he put the soap on? Mundane tasks say a lot about a person. They express to me if someone is thoughtful or thoughtless. Now, of course there are different ways of doing things. But if the individual has no method, no rhythm, no attention to their task, then I obtain a lot of information from this.
The way people perform menial tasks reveal parts of their personality that they can either corroborate with their words, or refuse with their words. If a man is thoughtless about a simple task like washing the dishes, I can understand him to be thoughtless in other aspects of his life. If performing mundane tasks frustrates him, then I can deduce that he has not spent much time alone and in a meditative state. And those people who cannot be alone with their thoughts are the most dangerous kind.
The way people approach the mundane shows how much time they’ve spent enthralled in thoughtful practice of living, regardless of the action they are performing. So someone’s way of living the mundanity of their lives reveals their quirks, and potentially their thought patterns. I have a fondness for people who have an intentional way of performing their daily tasks. They are considerate to the details.
Think of a film in which two people sit in a cafe across from one another. The camera views them from the outside of the cafe, but the audio is clear as the glass in front of the actors. We can tell the relationship of the two people by the way that they interact with the objects on the table. Let’s take a man and a woman. The man looks down at the cloth napkin on his plate. He moves his right arm (of course the one closest to the camera) and grasps the napkin tightly before dragging it downward. He looks up to see the woman has already put her napkin on her lap.
His interaction with the prop – the napkin – speaks volumes, especially if the scene is elongated to pause at the glance he gives the woman. Based on how he’s handled the napkin, we can gather that the man may not be familiar with the protocol of cloth napkins. What should he do with it? Ah, yes he remembers going to a nice restaurant for his great aunt’s birthday and she requested he place the napkin in his lap. He should do the same here. This cafe looks nice. He hasn’t been to the cafe before? He picked it because he though the woman would like it?
There is a tremendous amount of information to be gathered from a person’s relationship with the objects around them. It could be argued that the previous passage has more to do with social mannerisms than with the mundane. But there is an intertwine between the two. For example, we would typically frown upon someone using an old t-shirt as a kitchen sponge. The mundane is not without its own rules. But the systems of variations, the way that move our hands, concentrate, hunch our backs – well, that’s the beauty of the mundane.
Life’s beauty is in the quiet details that make our daily meals, clean our homes, greet our pets and children and partners, sit to read or write or watch a show. If we look at big life events, we remember the details. Those are undeniably the morsels that keep our recollection intact. When we remember people of our pasts, we find that we zoom in on something small, maybe something irrelevant to the totality of the relationship. We remember the patterns that people form. Our memory is tied to the smell of the day we ran through a field and found some old bricks from the nearby factory, the feel of a cow’s tongue and teeth as it wrapped around the grass in your hand, the taste of warm raspberries picked right from the bushes.
Being astute and aware of our mundane experiences brings us into the wrap of the present, that terrorizing place we seek to flee from. Because if we just stayed in the present for a second longer, maybe we would think everything would lose its place and we would lose grasp over our lives. If we stayed in the present for a moment longer, we would be safe and in this modern world, that’s often an unfamiliar feeling. A frightening one even.
The mundane ties us to history, place, and spirals us in time as was always intended. It confronts us with the surety of our mortality. And so the mundane brings us into immortality. It weaves us into the narrative cycles of life. Large events happen, we are shocked. We may weep. We may seek comfort from others, neglecting to pay attention to the unbearable simplicity of the going about our day. Because that would just be too much. Wouldn’t it be too much to act as though nothing big happened? If we practiced living in the realm of the mundane and rejected our god-like egos, would we then lose something precious?
Or would our lives in simple, daily action honor the large events in an even more poignant manner? Would it be insulting, anarchical to continue living as we did the days prior when life was less wrought with those stories that are going to make history?