fredclaymeyer

Ordinariness

In Posts on June 22, 2011 at 11:01 am

In my adulthood, I have been consistently surprised by the ordinariness of authentic things. Few of the events which I would put in a premature autobiography caused me much excitement at the time, and the truly great and truly terrible people I’ve met have seemed much less unusual than I would have predicted. It’s like the part in Star Wars where Luke can’t be bothered with Yoda because he is searching for a “great Jedi master.” (The cliché “eerie calm” also seems relevant as an example of this kind of strange mundaneness—even disasters often fail to be as cinematic as we expect.)

I think this mismatch between reality and expectation is due in part to how others communicate their own experiences. Communication implies content, something that seems worth imparting; the spaces between the content are often written off as “unremarkable.” So a friend relating a life-changing music concert would likely compress a full day’s experience, with bathroom trips and hundreds of other banal details, into a single burst of ecstasy—and might even overstate the ecstasy, since the nuances of just how ecstatic one was or wasn’t would tend to make a story drag. This intrinsic bias is hugely heightened in most media, which are under relentless competitive pressure to grab our attention: C-SPAN can show two minutes of an empty Senate chamber, but nobody with market share to capture would dare try. The result is a shadow world not only of gunfights and orgies, but of only the interesting parts of gunfights and orgies. We rarely even watch the stakeout, or the part where everyone takes off their shoes.

Then comes the real world, which is disconcertingly different from the ways in which we describe it. In my case, I have had to train myself to recognize authentic things despite their blandness—and, sadly, a number of those things have passed me by because I was expecting something more spectacular. If any of this sounds familiar, I’d be interested to hear about it.

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