Aspiring to Ordinary

I grew up under a strange and rather painful contradiction. Those who loved me told me I was special, that I had greatness in me. My peers told me I was garbage, that I was beneath them. As a result, I spent a lot of energy just trying to pass as ordinary, hoping that my latent greatness would get its chance to shine later on.

I guess I’m still doing that, except now it’s with the awareness that there’s a lot less “later on” left, and coming to terms with the possibility that the greatness is really more like “just-okay-ness.”

Devin Kelly writes:

Think of how young you were when you first thought you had to be the hero of your own story. I must have been barely older than a baby. My father called me maverick. It made me feel like a rebel. I wanted to be a star. I had to win at all costs. And yet: when was the last time anyone ever told a man to be ordinary? Think of the difference that would make, to begin to dismantle our need to be heroes, to finish things, to consider ourselves defined by accomplishment…

While no one is encouraged explicitly to be ordinary, it’s pretty obviously and vigorously implied. But I do not think we are ever encouraged to be extra-ordinary. We are told to excel, to achieve, to be great. Great, but not different. Be the same as everyone else, but be better at it.

What if you’re decidedly extraordinary, as in un-ordinary, but not quite great? Oddness can be forgiven if it comes with a superpower. You can be weird, sub-ordinary, if you truly excel at something. But not if you’re “just okay” at a few things.

Those of us who are weird and just-okay at things can be envious of the ordinary. Astounding no one, but not disappointing anyone either.

No one should feel pressured to be ordinary. But nor should anyone feel like a failure for not being great. What we should encourage in others, and aspire to for ourselves, is to be at peace with who we already are, and utterly free to discover what we might be.

We may discover more ordinariness. We may discover greatness. We may discover flaws and deficits. But whatever we find, we should be free to feel we are enough.

160,000

There were more than 160,000 new coronavirus cases today in the United States. In the span of 24 hours, a number of people equal to the population of Alexandria, Virginia were revealed to be infected. Yesterday, they hadn’t been counted yet. These cases, all 160,000-plus, are new today.

Tomorrow, there will probably be just as many new cases, if not more. These will all be from people who already have it, whether they know it or not, but will be counted anew tomorrow. We don’t know how it will compare to today, but it’s a safe bet that it’ll be another Alexandria, more or less. In one day.

What the hell is going on? What are people doing? I know there are more than enough deniers and reckless people who simply don’t care to keep this disease spreading. I get that people are being idiots and refusing to take basic precautions, having close indoor gatherings even when they know they shouldn’t. But 160,000 new cases in just one day?

Are people just getting together and hocking mucous-globs into each other’s mouths? Are people going around in public licking doorknobs and other people’s faces? Is there an explosion of meetings where thousands of people get together for casual, serial French kissing with arbitrary partners?

I get that we in the United States are screwing up this pandemic, I really do. But how can it be this bad?

And at what point does it become inevitable that we’re all going to get it? Are we already there?

commonplace book

alan jacobs on the commonplace book:

Commonplace books became widely used in the early modern period, largely because literate people were discombobulated by the flood of information that the printing press had unleashed on them. (One 17th-century writer wailed, “We have reason to fear that the multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as barbarous as that of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.”) Some of these were just scrapbooks, the predecessors of today’s Everything Buckets, as Alex Payne has called them — applications like Evernote or DEVONthink — and would be places to store recipes, notes from sermons, remedies for common maladies … you know, everything.

But the other kind of commonplace book was different. Its goal was to gather a collection of the wisest statements, usually of the ancients, for future meditation. And here the key thing was to write the words in your own hand — by this means, by laboriously and carefully copying out the insights of people smarter than you, you could absorb and internalize their wisdom. Call it osmosis-by-handwriting. (Some people would copy out whole books by their favorite writers in the hopes of achieving some kind of voodoo transference of power.)

and elsewhere he says:

I think I can hazard this claim: Keeping a commonplace book is easy, but using one? Not so much. I started my first one when I was a teenager, and day after day I wedged open books under a foot of my ancient Smith-Corona manual typewriter and banged out the day’s words of wisdom. I had somewhat different ideas then of what counted as wisdom. The mainstays of that era—Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan were perhaps the dominant figures—haven’t made any appearances in my online world. But even then I suspected something that I now know to be true: The task of adding new lines and sentences and paragraphs to one’s collection can become an ever tempting substitute for reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting what’s already there. And wisdom that is not frequently revisited is wisdom wasted.

who knew?

joel l. daniels, a book about things i will tell my daughter:

make the choice to be a better you, and live in that truth, you are that truth. you are the love you need, the water you need, the nourishment you need, the things you have desired, have wanted and wished and dreamed and prayed and asked for, have prayed god’s hands apart for, all reside within. i beg you to dig deeper, dig harder, dig longer for the answer that lies right at the tip of you. a million and one fireflies circling your light-beams, who knew? who knew the arches in your feet, the disproportionate parts of your self, the dips, the dents, the density of your skin, the weight of it, the volume and mass of your skin, could be the thing. you are the thing, merely a mirror you are, a magnetic reflection, a beacon bouncing back what is needed to be brought forward.

Loki is onto something here

I come with glad tidings, of a world made free. … [Free from] Freedom. Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that, in your heart, you will know peace.

Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

– the avengers (2012)

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ministering to my own sores

Seneca, to Lucilius:

I have withdrawn not only from men, but from affairs, especially from my own affairs; I am working for later generations, writing down some ideas that may be of assistance to them. There are certain wholesome counsels, which may be compared to prescriptions of useful drugs; these I am putting into writing; for I have found them helpful in ministering to my own sores, which, if not wholly cured, have at any rate ceased to spread.