My only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me,
to give the mundane its beautiful due. –John Updike
I wake at 7. It’s an accident, so I lay in bed until 8. I selfishly take all of the sleep I can these days, with most of my nights extending into the following day. It’s actually cold today, Texas cold, so I savor the warmth of my blue chevron comforter, the one I bought full-price at Target last spring.
My alarm clock no longer works, so I’ve started using my phone as an alarm. Checking the time means checking the texts I received, generally from Pacific Standard Time, in the middle of the Central time zone’s night. This morning I woke to a friend’s announcement that he’ll be a groomsman again, and an alert from Baylor regarding safety. Good morning to me.
There had been a shooting about a block from my apartment. By shooting, I mean someone shot into the air four times at 5 am. No one was injured; no one was awake, except for this lone gunman, on a residential street, in the wee morning hours of Wednesday. They have a suspect, but his description matches half of the world: male, black, wearing a hoodie. No one seems that worried, but everyone seems a little worried. I didn’t even wake when it happened.
When my alarm actually goes off, I stir from my half-slumber, a minor dream that has now faded into the murkiness of the early morning. I was explaining something to a friend, something important, but as I come back to full consciousness, the incident fades into disused memory. I’ll remember it later, when that friend says something that reminds me of the dream event. I’ll puzzle over it and wonder why it seems familiar.
I’m no longer in the habit of jumping out of bed and getting ready for the day. That was old Sara, 9-5 Sara, but today I only allow myself a few minutes of the morning internet routine: Gmail, Baylor email, Facebook, Twitter.
The world hasn’t been sleeping while I have been; things have been changing, sometimes slightly, sometimes more. I see a friend’s diagnosis: epilepsy, and everyone is relieved, not because the diagnosis is good but because it’s a diagnosis. Another picture of a baby, just born. She has the same dazed expression all newborns do, but her parents consider her the most perfect image of a human constructed. As they should. Because she is.
Notes on the weather, jokes about academia, the death of an old rock-and-roller. These things enter into my brain before I get out of bed. I’m regaining consciousness of myself and my world, I’m getting reacquainted with the world of the living after spending some time away from it. It’s my morning routine, a ritual of sorts. I need it to feel connected.
I roll out of bed, stick my feet on the floor, and pull myself into an upright position. I’m a grown woman, but I hate the cool wave of air that comes into my cozy bedroom when I open the door to the living room. I have become one of those people who turns on the hot water as soon as she gets out of bed, because the rumble of its boiling means a sweet caffeine rush is not far behind. I then grab a banana to get me through the hunger pangs of the morning.
Finding the book I’ve been avoiding for days, I grab it and go back to bed. Leaning against the pillows, I start reading the novel due to be discussed in a few days. I make notes, trying to anticipate the questions that will be asked, rapid-fire, surrounded by a sympathetic jury of my peers. Unsurprisingly, I can’t anticipate them, which makes the experience an academic adrenaline rush, like running with the bulls or swimming with the sharks, if the bulls and sharks are kindly professors who hold my wobbling GPA in their literary hands.
At 9:15, I remember the boiled water, which has now cooled. If I only have to boil the water twice per morning, I’m on my game. While the water boils again, I step into the bathroom for my morning cleansing. This morning, my shower is of average length, as I’m not avoiding work or rushing for time. I sing a chorus or two of whatever terrible popular song I can think of, and hop out of the shower.
Proper clothing is confusing these days in Texas. It’s hot, and then cold, and everywhere in between. I study the weather app, frowning, and decide to go informal, due to not having class. I wear the wool socks my grandmother knit for me a few Christmases ago. They’ll be tucked into short boots; at least my feet will be warm outside…and warm inside, which is just as tricky, thanks to the fickle nature of Texan heating/cooling systems.
And now it’s 10, and damp hair aside, I’m dressed for the day. I go back to my internet ritual, back and forth through the sites, before setting them aside to read further in the novel. I take a break to do the dishes, to write an email, to put away my clothes from the day before. I take many breaks.
I have a phone date at 11 that is short but sweet. I hear the sweet Western tones of my friends, sans drawls, and I feel at home. All of the news is relayed: growth of children, new businesses open downtown, the workday dramas, friends’ new purchases. I feel caught up, wistfully, as I interject wishes for closeness despite the distance. I’m grateful for this time, even while it makes me sad. Those feelings in tandem seem to be the pain and purpose of life.
At noon I eat my lunch, whatever I can scrounge up from my barren cabinets, due to both poverty and lack of cooking desire. Chips and salsa often make an appearance, especially if I’m frantically eating my avocados that all have decided to ripen together. I eat in comfortable silence, often with a HGTV television show playing in the background, drinking my morning tea.
And this is mundane, but this is life. Outside my door, people are taking children to school, walking to class, driving to work. They are checking emails, voicemails, the mailbox. They are hoping for news, good news or any news. This is life.
We disparage the repetition. We constantly wish for new experiences and things to jolt us out of our daily existence, which can seem terribly dull and cyclical. And we can miss that all of these mundane tasks together are what give shape to our life narratives. They are what keep us upright and moving forward, so when the earth-shattering or unbelievable happens (and it will), we will have a foundation from which to move forward into it, or through it, or over it.
All of this writing, this is all about the mundane, but I find it so necessary. I’m not Updike, obviously, but I take his life’s calling to be my own. I am determined to give the mundane its beautiful due because it is beautiful and we need to remember that. We are not wasting time; we are not losing life. We are living it.
And my internet regimen, and my socks from my grandmother, and the shots fired down the street are all part of this. Even the avocados hold significance. This is my life.
Let’s celebrate the mundane together. Give it its due, its beautiful due. Because this is what we have, and we might as well revel in it.