Do you ever have those days, weeks, months, indeterminate but not-quite ended periods of time, where it seems like nothing is going right? I seem to be in the midst of one of those right now. As if things couldn’t get any worse, I have spent the last few weeks pondering a few ideas, only to find that I have nothing to write about either! Nothing going right, nothing to write; the over-analytical aspect of my personality is jumping for joy at all these poetics and wordplays which are surely hiding some hidden sign or meaning, if only I could decipher it. And then I settled for a topic both wonderfully obvious and alarmingly difficult to pin down: nothing, nothing at all.
In trying to establish exactly what this ‘nothing’, which currently consumes my perspective of my daily experience, actually is, I turned to the theory of the everyday. This theory concerns itself with what happens when we try to comprehend our rather incomprehensible daily routines as anything more than what they actually are; mere habit that we do without really thinking about it. Clean teeth after breakfast. Walk to class using the same, efficient route. Empty a dishwasher. Remove contacts before bed. In turning our thoughts to why we do these things, and in particular why we have developed to do them in a certain way which then becomes so ingrained that it doesn’t occur to you to do it differently, we find ourselves wondering how one habit has somehow become one of the defining factors of a lifetime of everyday experience, why our routines consume us beyond awareness, and wonder if we are somehow trapped beyond saving in our dependancy on routine. Although a postmodernist, and therefore recent theoretical approach, I would argue that we have been considering this phenomenon for a very long time indeed.
‘For the gods keep hidden from men the means of life. Else you would easily do work enough in a day to supply you for a full year even without working; soon would you put away your rudder over the smoke, and the fields worked by ox and sturdy mule would run to waste. But Zeus in the anger of his heart hid it, because Prometheus the crafty deceived him; therefore he planned sorrow and mischief against men.’
This quote is from Hesiod’s Works and Days, written around 700BC and believed to be one of the earliest examples of didactic poetry, in which advice or a sort of lesson is presented through poetry. So Zeus created our need for routine, to work each day, in order to cause us sorrow and mischief! Sounds about right to me.
Somewhat paradoxically, my main complaint at the moment is in fact my lack of routine and my focus on the nothing-ness. In searching for a job, dealing with health issues where I’ve somehow ended up with medical appointments spread across multiple cities and just generally trying to rebuild a routine after withdrawing from my studies (oh, how I miss timetables!), I’ve allowed myself to slip into a grumpy sort of mood, framed with uncertainty (and you needn’t know much about frames to know that one with any uncertainty just won’t sit right on a mantelpiece, no matter how hard you try to rearrange). Not to worry, though. If there’s one thing this blog has taught me, it’s that all you need to do is think a little more about your perspective on things. Which is where the theory of the everyday makes its triumphant return to the page.
In their book ‘Escape Attempts‘, Stanley Cohen and Laurie Taylor state;
‘Such bleakness, such awareness of predictability, may slowly lift us from our state of boredom, lead us back into interaction, into life. For our very reflection upon the determinacy of life, pushes us back into an area of freedom’. (p. 52)
And therein, I suppose, lies the problem. My perceived lack of routine leaves me with nothing to push against to create that ‘area of freedom’ in which I might hope to have more control over nothing going right. It also, however, grants me the ultimate freedom. History seems to have proven that humans will develop a routine, whether knowingly or not. I am trying to remake mine after a few setbacks. So I still retain an element of control and spontaneity concerning that. What will my new routine be? Who knows? Most likely, I won’t even know until it’s already happened without me realising. But that is the necessity of our perception of nothing-ness, of boring routine, of awful, unimaginative habit. They are the things which bring us together whilst also providing us with a way to claim our identity through ownership of those habits. They may be dull and uninteresting, but they are yours. And no matter what stage of creating or living your everyday life you may be at, no matter what you actually do when you think of yourself as doing ‘nothing at all’, you always have the option to push against that and shake it all up again. And that’s not nothing, is it? It’s not nothing at all.
Published: Oct 2, 1992