In praise of the prosaic

Girl Fixing Bike

Girl Fixing Bike circa 1950s. Photo: Via Flickr feed of BasiliskSam.

I feel a bit sheepish coming in to blog for the day. I’m the first one to harp on infrequent so-called “bloggers” as not the real thing. To blog is to be prolific. Anything else is an occasional essayist and, if you’re choosing the Internet as your venue for it, you’re not even an essayist. Maybe just a venter.

This is the kind of stuff marketing for the web will make you say. And it’s true, but it feels more painful when it’s applied to me.

I can blame it on the fact that I’m a ghostwriter and, after cranking out other people’s blogs all week, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write mine.

But here I am. Blogging. Or essaying. Or maybe just venting. Though what I wish to do is praise.

The truth is that I would write more of my own stuff if I wanted to. I’m a firm believer that we find time for what we really want and what we neglect…well, maybe we didn’t want it so much after all. At least during the neglected time.

So here’s another of my vows, possibly hollow: To blog more often.

Maybe if I only promise once a week for now I can keep that up.

Grow tomatoes, chop tomatoes

What I have been doing with time not spent on web or ghostwriting work for clients is simply inhabit the world of domestic life. And I love it.

I don’t know all the motivations behind any given person’s blogging but surely one is to attempt to make an impression upon one’s world — or The World if you’ve got a bolder take on your possible sphere of influence. (Then it’s best to not look at your Google Analytics.)

Yet when I went to a museum the other day — the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Colonial Williamsburg — I found myself wondering about the reality of leaving a lasting impression on the world, whether as a writer, an artist, or a housewife.

Don’t get me wrong — I love art and artists.

I’m easily swayed into whatever muse an artist says informs the intent of their work and, external result notwithstanding, I can appreciate that species of artist for whom the process and aim are critical to an encounter with the ultimate object. But I do wonder what happens when the museum placard or Art Forum article isn’t there to explain it for us.

I wonder what remains.

Everyday I write the book

In the DeWitt Wallace much of the work was the everyday, where archeology meets art. The beauty — ornate or plain — of a wash basin, a leg of stockings, a snuff box.

Did the furniture maker seek to make an impression on his world making a high boy? Probably. But I wonder if he did so any more fully than just to hope to secure more work, and see his furnishings in use in the area households he served. Yet there his work is, 200 years later, as potent today as it was then and, if not on the museum shelf could still be used for its original purpose. There’d be no complex context to explain. A dresser is a dresser.

Where am I going with this?

I’m not a big either/or person, though somewhere in the body of my written work I’m sure something contradicts that. But I do find that the things that so often endure through the ages are simply these plain, prosaic elements of everyday life that everyone can relate to and understand without an interlocutor.

Painting and sculpture may be the exception here but then I may have just disproved my original point. Yet, perhaps it is worth quibbling over whether Michelangelo’s David and Duchamp’s Fountain will be read the same a millennium hence, at least in the context of the original intent of the two pieces.

And I’m a big Duchamp fan, so it’s not that.

You know, Shakespeare has endured. Only about one in a billion off off Broadway plays will. What is it about one and not the other? Shakespeare is clearly not prosaic, nor was Michelangelo’s work.

And again, I wouldn’t choose to elevate the tomato over enduring art in some ultimately conjoined sense or as necessary juxtapositions. Each has a place.

But still I wonder what endures? Is it just chance? Or is there something about the ordinary that has a more universal meaning, purpose, voice?

Anyway, what I like about the prosaic in my own life is ability. The ability to function with the basic assortment of life skills — gardening (or farming), food preservation and cooking, sewing, weaving, and basic carpentry — has the surprising effect in its uneventful, prosaic meter of making me feel useful.

The times we live in would suggest I should use the word “empowered” there since culturally we’re so far from domestic usefulness that gaining even the ability to boil water for rice is a purported act of great radicalism. But the word “empowered” irks me. I see its point, but I don’t want it.

I just want to be able. That’s good enough for me.

–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List

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About Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren has no intention of ending up the Scarlett O'Hara of the 21st century, dizzy and confused as neo-Rome burns. Instead, the Staunton, Virginia based writer, designer and high-heeled survivalist writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog and edits Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil and the coming life of sweaty labor and, hopefully, nicer manners.


  1. Great blog, essay, vent or whatever-it-is, Lindsay! Do you know Shannon Hayes’ terrific book, _Radical Homemakers_? It’s fabulous….and feminist. She asserts that “homemaking” was, prior to industrial culture, what *everybody* did: men, women and children. She traces the history of involvement in our domestic lives…until industrialization alienated most modern persons from such domestication. Her book is a call to return to Radical Homemaking through homesteading, reskilling and all of the “Foxfire” arts. We are going back to the future! =)

    • That sounds great Sherry, I’d love to read it. When I saw how much work was put in to the simplest of items there’s also the sense the art joins with the everday, no distinction necessary. I know we still need those intentionally artistic moments — seeing a play that provokes our deep reflection or bursting laughter, reading a sublime poem, being overawed by the detail and mastery in a painting as well as its possible message — but at the same time when all that is around us is degraded it is nice to bring everyday art home. We’re that starved for substance.

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