THE JOY OF THE ORDINARY
THE JOY OF THE ORDINARY
“It never failes to amaze me how the most
ordinary day can be catapulted into the
extraordinary in the blink of an eye.”
Too often I am searching so hard for (capital letters) FULFILLMENT that I forget the enormous pleasures of everyday life. I am chasing dreams. I want to write the great American novel; I want to paint the award-winning picture (or at least just get accepted by the Nantucket Art Association); I want to accomplish something significant and meaningful, and public, and important.
But, today, I have decided that perhaps the ordinary events of our lives are as important and meaningful and significant as the giant accomplishments.The job of the poet is to make the ordinary extraordinary. Perhaps our lives are a poem in progress and our job is to find the extraordinary and the poetry in the ordinary —washing clothes, cleaning the kitchen, selling juice at ACKFresh, and even grocery shopping.
With this in mind, I will relate to you my morning trip to the Nantucket mid-island Stop and Shop. As all of you know, grocery shopping can be a dreaded task that simply must be accomplished if one is going to eat. It can, however, be a wonderful adventure that takes us into uncharted territory, challenges our perceptions, and leads us to the poetry of life. I suspect that almost everything we do—even the most mundane—has the potential to be extraordinary.
Stop and Shop Odyssey
The rosy fingers of dawn accompany Odysseus on his ten-year journey from Troy to Ithaka following the Trojan War. On the way, he has adventures and lessons to learn before he can return home a stronger and better man. While my journey to the Stop and Shop is considerably shorter than that of Odysseus, it does occur at dawn, and it is no less fraught with danger, adventure, and learning.
I leave before seven to avoid the crowds, and I wheel my cart through the aisles at a breakneck speed, tossing items in the cart with wild abandon. Starting in the far left drink aisle, my journey is predictable and easy. There are no difficult decisions to make here and no great obstacles to overcome: tonic water, two containers of sparkling water, and a twenty-four pack of regular water. Done.
On to the cracker aisle. Here it gets trickier. Although I hear the siren song of the wheat thins and triscuits calling to me, we need the gluten free crackers. As sweet and seductive as the sirens sound, I resist the temptation and instead grab two boxes of the gluten free Nut-thins and move on to the Boulder Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar potato chips.
Up one aisle and down the next—coconut milk, talipia, chicken, Asian rice noodles, tamari, and gluten free brownie mix. Coconut milk, non-butter butter, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. I whip through my list until I get to the vegetable and fruit section. At first things go well there. I grab organic lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, and limes. After just a little debate, I pick a nice mango, a pineapple, and a papaya.
Then I arrive at the potatoes, and everything changes. I am in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. I am mesmerized by the mounds of potatoes before me. They are seductive, a Calypso offering me a love affair, and I am in love. There are 5000 potato varieties world wide, and there must be at least fifteen varieties here. I can’t resist them. I pick up a fingerling potato—small, stubby, and finger shaped. I line up five of them—tiny toes against the larger foot of a Yukon Gold—and I think of the poems I could write.
I think of the poems that have already been written about potatoes.
Seamus Heaney recalls his father and his Irish roots in “Digging” when he writes, “He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep/ To scatter new potatoes that we picked,/Loving their cool hardness in our hands.”
Philip Levine also makes potatoes the stuff of poetry. He begins “The Simple Truth” with “I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,/ took them home, boiled them in their jackets, and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.”
Each potato is a poem—the Argos, white skinned and cream fleshed, carries the same name as Odysseus’s faithful dog. It is a loyal and serviceable potato that will always be faithful and true in any dish. The smooth red skin and the white flesh of the Sagre is an Irish lass, fresh and ready for love. A rough and ready pub potato, the Challenger, is the best for fish and chips. And the Chopin, round, creamy, and buttery, is reminiscent of a slow and lovely Chopin ballad—pure music in your mouth.
As I compose potato poems in my head, I suddenly realize that I need to be home to make breakfast and to go to work. Quickly, I dash to grab bacon and eggs, toss them into my basket, and race to the check-out. Two busy clerks, so I opt for the self-checkout, and I am home in ten minutes scrambling eggs and frying bacon.
So, my goal for the future is to see the drama, the poetry, and the promise in the tasks of daily living. While I will still work on all my grander and more elevated goals, I will not lose sight of the joy of the ordinary.
This is Pat Jones' first year living full time on Nantucket. After decades of teaching English at the high school and college level, she is now embarking on a new and challenging odyssey. Both retirement and Island life are new and exciting and occasionally daunting. In this column she will share what it is like to live on Nantucket year round. As a poet, a writer, and a novice visual artist, her metaphor for the journey is “Throwing Paint.”