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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"suddenly thrill you"

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Do you know who said it, what's written on the page in my journal? No. Stop, don't you dare Google it. I know you might have Googled, if so, then you already knew before I added his signature below.

If you don't know, what would you guess is her or his profession? Did you think it was a visual artist? Think about that while I tell you what I've been doing.

In the evening after supper I am reading my way through a collection of short stories I picked up on the free book table in the hall at work, starting with Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown and ending with Louise Erdrich's The Red Convertible. Close together this week I read Nikolai Gogol's The Overcoat and Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener - both tales about scribes early in the 19th century who live poor and plain, the first in Russia and the second in America. Can there be anything more mundane and boring than copying text scrupulously and painstakingly by hand, all day, every day, six days a week? Then having to read it through with another copyist to be certain there are no errors? The writing they copy would most likely be tedious "legalize" too. Next time you curse your computer, think about the alternative. Well, my friend Inge might prefer it.

But put these ordinary characters Akakievich and Bartleby, whose lives are as achingly banal as anyone can imagine, into the hand held pens of Gogol and Melville, and their circumstances become rich alleyways you can't resist following around the next corner.

Unless you're Paris Hilton, life is pretty mundane most of the time, with blips of interest, joy, surprise or disappointment now and then. Writing, photographing, drawing, painting, exploring, teaching, counseling, parenting, cooking, designing, cleaning, laundering, organizing -- or whatever way of knowing you bring to the world -- you can be blown away by the essence of something inside your ordinary routine once in a while. I dare you.

Ok, who said it: "You need to let little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you." If you know, please let others guess first. Is there anything more ordinary than a Campbell's soup can?
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Answer:


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51 comments:

shicat said...

Hi Ruth, Everyday life, the small things, I guess that's why I enjoy Anne Tyler's books so much. She combines rich characters with everyday circumstances and weaves wonderful stories.
The quote reminds me of a not so clear memory.Let's see, I was watching a documentary on monks? They talked about their reclusive lives and how they found comfort and relevance in their everyday routines,both domestic and otherwise.

The photo looks like a sculpture,don't you think?
Have a peaceful day.

Peter said...

I cheated a bit and found (thanks Google) who wrote the phrase, but of course I will not say anything...

Anyhow, it's so true! I will try to think about it next time I'm ironing my shirts! :-)

amuse me said...

We must be thinking alike today - my article is about stopping and watching some horses I pass by on a regular basis but never truly enjoy watching. :)

Susan said...

My mother used to say "Take pride in a job well done", which I suppose is a variation on your quote. She couldn't abide not giving your best effort, even if that was scrubbing the toilet. And even though I hated it when I was a teenager, I've embraced that theory as an adult. If you're going to take the time to do something, why not do it to the best of your ability?

When I do a Spring cleaning, I keep going back to the areas I've finished to admire the fruits of my labor. It is a little thrilling, even though I know it won't last.

That sounds like a fascinating collection of short stories...is there a theme? I haven't read either of the ones you mentioned, although I knew of them. Putting them on my future reading list.

*jean* said...

ooo i have absolutely NO idea!!! i'll be back to see who it is! i do adore louise erdrich though, she is my all time favorite author..

Delphyne said...

This reminds me of the student of enlightenment who asks the teacher what comes before enlightenment. "Chop wood, carry water." The the student asks what happens after enlightenment. "Chop wood, carry water."

The ordinary often soothes me - the rhythm of the sound of veges being chopped, the repetitive motion of vacuum cleaning and dusting, the warm water when doing dishes.

Found you blog yesterday and am enjoying it.

caroldiane said...

I don't know and I will google because I just have to know the answer to the puzzle now! But it does remind me of a mantra that I have adopted for my life - "let go and breathe". My daughter has this tattooed on her wrists - it is what I used to say to her as a child. In honour of my new grandbaby, I will be creating it in calligraphy (yes, I would have been one of those scribes...) to have inked on my wrists.
ps - the photo of you in the pashmina? I had EXACTLY the same one which I gave away to a new friend earlier this month - it just looked perfect on her...)

Jeanie said...

I'm going to guess Melville, but it's just a guess!

I have to say my life is seldom mundane and almost always interesting -- and on the moments its not, I'm almost a little relieved for the peace of it all! There is too much everywhere around us not to kick into joy every day -- even the bad ones.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Well, I don't know who said it...and I won't peek... but I heartily agree. I find boatloads of inspiration in those little boring things!

Loring Wirbel said...

Actually, tiny, random events can be a primary source of joy, because usually expectations for BIG JOY are dashed, while the little sapphire bullets of pure love that life throws you are the best jellybeans in the batch.

CottageGirl said...

I have no clue who said that, but I like your thinking! Take pride in setting the table, fixing the hem, ironing the tablecloth, pulling the weed. It is all in the way you look at things, isn't it?
Yes, Ruth ... Make lemonade in a glass half full!

ds said...

I don't know, but reading your post, I have a guess (two, actually). The little things. Yes, indeedy. I've written out the quote. So glad you are enjoying those short stories!

julie king said...

i really love the quote and doing this comes quite easily to me. i can be so easily delighted by a little toad hopping on the sidewalk or the way the sun glints off the mirror in my bathroom. it's really all about choices and how we choose to see the world around us.

i have no idea who authored the quote but i'm looking forward to finding out.

Oliag said...

ok...I have to admit that I immediately looked up the quote...I am very poor at delaying gratification which I understand means I will have a lessened chance at success in life...good thing that I am in complete agreement with the speaker and easily find the little things thrilling:)

I've got to get back to doing some reading...
xoxo

Gwei Mui said...

Fab posting, and I actually knew the quote! It's made remember to actively take timeout. I'm watching the refuse collectors, as I type, doing their job, its an urban ballet.

Elizabeth said...

Not sure who the author is
but I find great delight in very smal details.
Loved Bartleby.

Excellent 17th cent hymn says

"The trivial round, the common task
May furnish all I need to ask"

Barry said...

We took our grandchildren to the McMichael Gallery on the weekend and gave them pencils and paper to try drawing the pictures they saw on the walls.

My youngest grandson Griffin, 5, labored over his drawing for the longest time and finally brought it proudly over for us to see.

He had drawn a picture of the EXIT sign over the door.

A budding Andy Wharhol?

Renee said...

I was wrong I thought maybe Einstein.

I love your blog and the piece on the blue boys is so adorable.

Love Renee xoxo

dutchbaby said...

I think Warhol found the secret of life.

We have a favorite toast in my book club: "Life doesn't get any better than this!" So often, the best things in life are right under your nose!

Ginnie said...

It would be worth remembering this every day of our lives, Ruth! :)

ds said...

HA! Boy was I wrong. Was the soup can line there yesterday? Probably wouldn't have made any difference. Oh, well. I was wrong on my own post too & didn't realize till tonight. Bother. Attention to detail.
Got any more of that lemonade? :S

photowannabe said...

Didn't have a clue but I really agree with the statement. Love your pictures and the way you make me think sometimes.

Ruth said...

Cathy, oh I don't know Anne Tyler (not surprising, we're talking about me). This really wasn't a good riddle, there weren't any clues, and it could have been anyone in any walk of life. Monks would say something like this.

I was surprised to find the leaves and little twig arranged just like that, as if they had been placed to look like they belong together.

Thank you for coming.

Ruth said...

Peter, I like the smell and feel of the heat/steam while ironing, maybe you do too.

Ruth said...

M, bravo. :)

Ruth said...

Susie, I need to remember that satisfaction after cleaning, and clean more. :|

The book of short stories is a text for the classroom, and it has commentary by other famous authors, which makes it even more interesting. It's called The Story and Its Writer, edited by Ann Charters; it's here at amazon. She chose the stories for this collection based on her experience teaching the stories that were most effective in the classroom.

I am so bad at finishing novels, this has been a good thing for me, giving a sense of completion and closure.

Ruth said...

Hi, Jean. I only heard about Erdrich lately. Nothing but praise.

Ruth said...

Delpyne, thank you for coming to synch and liking it. I guess anyone who comes back here probably has the same sensibilities I do, which are reflected in this post.

I am finding that the longer I focus on living in the moment and being aware of the essence of the things around me, I am aware of more and deeper joy.

Ruth said...

Caroldiane, your mantra - I need that. I can't tell you how many times I find that I have stopped breathing. Well you know, not literally, but I'm just holding my breath in.

That's cool about the shawl! I love mine. I wonder if yours had a few sequins and metallic beads? The photo is from a poetry reading, and afterwards my poetry mentor, Diane Wakoski, quickly congratulated me on the reading but then went full on into praise of the shawl. She said under the spotlight it shimmered and glowed, and she was utterly mesmerized. ;-)

Ruth said...

Jeanie, the riddle was not very good, because I really didn't offer any clues.

I get what you're saying about how busy you are, with interesting stimuli. And I agree, in your shoes I would want some peace too. I so treasure my quiet times.

Ruth said...

Pamela, if that's true (and I can tell it is from your gorgeous blog), then you must make a very good decorator.

Ruth said...

Nice, Loring. And what flavor are those sapphire bullets? No matter, I can taste 'em.

Ruth said...

Yes, CottageGirl, it is all in the mind. Sometimes I get to work after my 30 minute drive and I realize I didn't even look at the countryside. I was thinking about something ahead in my day. I always feel disappointed when I realize I've done that.

Ruth said...

DS, oh, too bad about your guesses. I really should have offered a clue. No, I added the soup can line after posting the signature.

I went back to your post - - what was wrong?? (Don't be so hard on yourself.)

Ruth said...

Julie, it does not surprise me that you live this way. You are a sensitive artist.

Ruth said...

Oliag, it is clear from your blog and comments that you appreciate the ordinary things around you, and find their essence beautiful.

I had been wanting to read, had several novels in a pile, read a little here and there. The short stories was an "aha" one day, and now I enjoy the reading and closure in one sitting.

Ruth said...

That's cool, Gwei Mui!

Your image of the refuse collectors as urban ballet is beautiful. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Oh hello, Elizabeth. The lines from the hymn - when it comes from within, there is acceptance and even joy. It increases with practice, I find.

Ruth said...

Barry - I'm loving it!

EXIT was the first word our daughter read at age 2. She had learned it on Sesame Street.

Ruth said...

Renee, it could have been anyone. I didn't leave any clues, it wasn't a very good riddle. But it's a good line, and I'm glad you like my blog.

Big hugs, Renee.

Judy said...

Too bizzare! I was just at a Warhol showing Friday night in Kansas City. I say some soup cans amoung other things!

I did sit down and read part of his diary they had on a table... I felt this was like him blogging almost every day. He did right up until his unexpected death.

Ruth said...

Hi, Dutchbaby, I know you understand. Your beautiful blog is a testament.

Ruth said...

Boots, you are one who does not forget it. In fact, I maybe learned it first from you!

I just now am thinking of "Edith Learns a Lesson" - that wonderful book you gave me . . .

Ruth said...

Sue, sometimes I get annoyed with myself because I think too much.

shoreacres said...

I very, very rarely whoop with laughter, but I did here:

Can there be anything more mundane and boring than copying text scrupulously and painstakingly by hand, all day, every day, six days a week...?"

Substitute "sanding", ask the question again and you'll see immediately the reason for my amusement ;-)

And today, this struck me:

Unless you're Paris Hilton, life is pretty mundane most of the time..

I'd revise that, too. I suspect there are many out there running in Paris' circles who experience their lives as remarkably flat, predictable and banal - even if not admitting it publicly.

I remember as vividly as if it happened five minutes ago the moment I turned to a colleague who'd asked about something and said, "I want to be ordinary!"

It took a while, but I've made it ;-)

Nancy said...

Warhol, really??? Somehow I just always think of him with the Studio 52 crowd. Who knew he was so deep and soulful? Never judge a book by your preconcieved ideas of it's cover!

rauf said...

oh ! money is joy Ruth, no philosopher would say that. Not in the same words but all philosophers uniformly convince the poorthat they are fine without money, money is not everything. Simply because rich is a minority. Those who dream to be rich forms the majority, so, naturally frustrated because the same hard work time dedication does not produce result. They have God to comfort them, words of philosophers and a dream of life in paradise.

A majority of dreamers is a threat to the rich. So they created God and sponsored the philosophers. The poor kept dreaming
Very smart indeed !

Ruth said...

Linda, the sanding adds on hard physical labor to the boring monotonous work. I marvel at you.

I thought about what you wrote before you wrote it about Paris Hilton too. I wanted to think of someone who lives the "high life" full of parties and comings and goings. I think you're right. I suppose almost anyone I chose could have a mundane existence, no matter how titillating it might seem to someone else (not that I find hers desirable one whit).

Ruth said...

Nancy, and how.

Ruth said...

rauf, I can always trust you to find a different point of view. Just turn the piece a little to the right, and the light finds a subtle truth unseen before.

But maybe Warhol really did find ways to make ordinary things remarkable. Artists can see what others can't.

That's why you're an artist.

Claudia said...

This put a huge smile on my face.