On Mastering the Mundane

My room is quiet.

You wouldn’t think so, living in the city, but it’s true. With the exception of the occasional rumble of the local train, coursing the rails from Harlem to Downtown Manhattan, every dust particle floating through the air hangs on the absence of sound (can you hear Simon and Garfunkel playing softly in the recesses of your mind right now, because I surely cannot). There are tombs noisier than this.
Johannes_Vermeer_-_Het_melkmeisje_-_Google_Art_Project

The only things I can hear right now are my fingers clicking away at the keys and the internal voice in my head, reading the words being formed and cast up on the screen.

Then my roommates arrive from their prospective locations, and the closing of doors and clicking of heels brings about the sense that the world I inhabit is, in fact, occupied by other people.

One of them throws open the door to his room, tosses a pile of his laundry into the washer, and shuts in his clothes with a slam. Another is speaking quickly, in their typical manner, constant and methodical. To whom, I cannot know from here, and I do not feel like walking upstairs to meet another stranger with which I will only exchange cordialities and no actual substance.

This week was the first week of my new year, and as with every new beginning, it doesn’t always start out with an incredible bang. Revelations aren’t creeping around every corner, waiting to be discovered, but I’m doing my best to pay closer attention to the world. I routinely catch myself lost in thought about this or that; ideas setup tents in my head, camping out for weeks.

One minute, I’ll be sitting on the subway, and the next, I’ll find myself succumbed to an interesting facial construction of someone sitting across from me. Their image in my mind might register as someone else, and at once, I’m aghast at how similar they appear to someone I knew from somewhere else. The comparison might even take me down another avenue entirely, and I might, for a second be transported to another time and place.

Although living in New York City is unquestionably exciting, with its cranked up pace and filled up space, it is isolating—not in the sense that you are separated from the world but that you feel completely separated from human interaction. Millions of people surround you, but the tendency is to forget that they are alive and believe yourself to be completely alone.

Those who only know my life through my instagram might make the mistake of thinking that my experience in New York is free of the monotonous, wishing they could remove themselves from their own geographical location, finding truth and grace and importance simply because they’ve moved their bodies from one area to another.

In just the same way that a lover, a friend, or a family member cannot fully eliminate your anxieties and insecurities, inhabiting a new setting can do no better job of alleviating the aches and pangs of the heart.

So what CAN quench the great, gaping desire of our soul?

That’s a question I can’t answer, but a friend of mine has an interesting response.

One of my favorite books is ‘In Search of Lost Time’ by Marcel Proust (I realize by even mentioning this book, I run the risk of sounding like a pretentious dick). While there are literal volumes worth of material to discuss in regards to this work, the thing that I want to mention is the detail to which Proust brings to even the most mundane day-to-day occurrences. One might find the same elevation of the mundane in the paintings by the 17th century painter, Johannes Vermeer, and even so, Proust loved Vermeer for his elevation of the everyday (see ‘The Milkmaid’ above). Proust believed that instead of high social standing or love, it was art that brought the most satisfaction in life, and there is some degree with which I accept his theory.

Proust understood that living life as an artist is in many ways an attempt to see the world in the same way a child views it, with wonder and constant expectation of something beautiful and new. Even the most trivial details to an adult can seem great and whimsical to a child.

This is my desire: to live life in such a way where the boring is new again; to be a master of the mundane. Maybe in doing so, we will regain something that we’ve lost.

Our life is not the collected highlights but instead the sum of our experiences.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 2)

And perhaps it’s time we stop counting the seconds from here to there and start living between the numbers.

As always, thank you for reading. You can reach me at michial.miller.author@gmail.com.

Hope you have a great week!

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