Extraordinary ordinary

Stuck in the house, I have tried to follow a common writing exercise — attempting to ‘re-see’ and then to describe ordinary objects.

‘Make the ordinary extraordinary’ – it’s become something of a cliché, hasn’t it? But now circumstances has remanded us in our homes (around a third of the world’s population, or 2.6 billion people – we’ve all seen the stats), this task may become a mental necessity.

I have alighted upon a jug. Bought in a cut-price china shop, it’s been sitting unused on the shelf. Opalescent, belly rounded with a motherly tenderness. No. That sounds like a piece of anthropomorphized crockery from Beauty & the Beast. Perhaps drop the personification. The jug is female, but so much for trying to wear poet’s eyes… My attention slips and I am simply reminded that I bought it with Easter Sunday dinner in mind, for cream or custard, lots of family round the table.

The literary critic Viktor Shklovsky proposed that literature, and art forms more widely, has the ability to make us see ordinary things differently. Or, at least, more intensely, re-awakening the sense of it that over-familiarity has dulled. He wrote:

After we see an object several times, we begin to recognise it… We know about it, but we do not see it… Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make the stone stony.”

Shklovsky cites practitioner of literary realism Lev Tolstoy as a master in making “the familiar seem strange,” able to make the reader experience interaction with everyday items as if for the first time. I have read very little of Tolstoy’s work. For me the abilities of Virginia Wolf and Katherine Mansfield to engage us with ordinary objects, give them vigour and lustre, make them covetable, is supreme. annie-spratt-PM4Vu1B0gxk-unsplash

Look at this from Mansfield’s story ‘A Cup of Tea’, protagonist Rosemary buying flowers, how we see the blooms in a new way:

“Yes, I’ll have all the roses in the jar. No, no lilac. I hate lilac. It’s got no shape.” The attendant bowed and put the lilac out of sight, as though this was only too true; lilac was dreadfully shapeless. “Give me those stumpy little tulips. Those red and white ones.” And she was followed to the car by a thin shop-girl staggering under an immense white paper armful that looked like a baby in long clothes….

It’s not only literature, of course, but all art forms, painting, photography, drama, that can capture the ordinary in new and meaningful ways, to make use think again.

It may be harder than it looks, but a good mental exercise. The writer and broadcaster Sarah Dunant was on the radio this morning, proposing that “in a crisis like the one we’re going through… Imagination is going to be an exceedingly powerful inner muscle,” one we will need to exercise in order to keep it flexible and toned.

We are all wondering, too, with what fresh eyes we will see the ‘ordinary’ world when we step back into it.

Viktor Shklovsky ‘Art as Device’ (1917)
Katherine Mansfield, ‘A Cup of Tea’ in The Dove’s Nest and Other Stories (1923)
Sarah Dunant, ‘Fighting infection with imagination’ on BBC Radio 4, 29 March 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000gn77

Suju on Pixabay
Annie Spratt on Unsplash

25 thoughts on “Extraordinary ordinary

    1. Thank you for dropping in to read.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I think it’s true that the artist continually sees with fresh eyes. Sounds like a great practice for maintaining and/or cultivating that freshness of vision. Perhaps we really will emerge from this time of crisis with the creation of new forms. Insightful post!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I since found this quote from Proust, tr from À la recherche du temps perdu – “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Think that sums it up well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘Make the odinary extraordinary’. When you share your thoughts of writing exercises I never fail to learn something from reading your blogs, honestly I’m an uneducated heathen when it comes to creative writing. I read opalescent, belly rounded with a motherly tenderness, quickly glanced up at the pictured jug and I don’t know about you but I think it’s genius!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Way too kind! Thanks for dropping by. Hope the reading is going well! I haven’t had nearly as much time as I though to settle in with a book. Possibly plenty of time to come though!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Indeed… when we have no choice but to live in the moment…it definitely increases our attention to life’s every detail…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A profound observation. We say so much about being more mindful of our surroundings – well here’s where we may get a chance. If we can remain thankful for our health…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed…well said..Amen…

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Beautiful. I love this so much. I’ve been treating gratitude with “fresh eyes” lately. That we have each extraordinary day and before it was only ordinary… what a lovely way to respond to this new world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, if we can remain healthy and thankful, there is no reason not to seek some opportunity. Some days we may fail, but there is then the next day.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved this piece – often the extraordinary is hidden in the views of aberrant eyes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent point. And ‘abberant’ – you are ever the wordsmith!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your kind words. Coming from you means a lot

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Jacqui Murray Mar 30, 2020 — 7:12 pm

    What an exercise!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It reminds me of a job interview years ago – I was given an egg whisk and asked to describe it as if to an alien. I didn’t get the job!


  7. “I hate lilac”. That is good. Pulls lilac up to the status of an arch-enemy.
    Lilac is my Nemesis she whispered…
    Definitely. I said. For lack of another meaningless adverb.
    Beware of adverbs. They are MY Nemesis. What did you say your name was?
    I like that. Lilly stands for… Elizabeth?
    I feared the worst. Couldn’t help myself though.
    What does it stand for?
    (Thanks for the inspiration, Lilly, as in Libre…)
    Stay safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Utterly ridiculous. Surely everyone knows that it is the begonia which is the archenemy of all. It is also as a favour that I’m ignoring the carnation.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I stand corrected. To Hell with Begonias. And Hortensias. TBH, I’ve never been able to tell one form the other. Some kind of weird impairment. I’m sure they have a scientific name for for that. The Boris-Johson syndrome May(be)? (I’m beginning to miss Theresa. At least she tried hard… 😉✌️😂💃🏻

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah! New game: if Boris Johnson were a flower, which one would be be? Not a shrinking violet for sure, nothing shade-loving that hides its lights under a bushel. My vote is for bindweed, it creeps, trumpets loudly, and is hard to get rid of.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Bindweed? Had to look it up. A “liseron”. Nay. Still too pretty a flower… A nettle? 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Frances Elaina Apr 4, 2020 — 12:17 am

    Wonderfully thought provoking post! Will have to give this writing exercise a try. 🙂 There is some comfort in being surrounded by all of our ordinary things. With so many unknowns and questions about how the situation will progress, going down memory lane with some random item allows us to be reminded of simpler times.

    Liked by 1 person

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