When I spend such a vast amount of time reading – losing track even of how many hours pass with my nose in a virtual book – of course I see connections. Most often these are thematic connections that crochet together, however loosely, disparate books and ideas from different parts of the world.
Sometimes though there are just coincidental mentions that seem strange – for instance, choosing randomly to read a Philip Roth (Goodbye Columbus) in which he mentions egg rolls, only to be followed immediately by a Joan Didion (Play It as It Lays), which also mentions egg rolls.
It has no significance. But why is that the one connection… and the one thing I remember? (I do recall my last trip to Iceland when my dear Jane brought over egg rolls and had somehow ordered two orders of them rather than just two egg rolls, and it was actually the best thing about the meal – they were quite good!)
Overdosing on reading, I took a little break Friday evening to watch a “triple feature” of Jaime Rosales’s understated, slice-of-life, ultra-realistic films (on MUBI, of course). And what do they show other than the tedium and brevity of life, punctuated as it is by bits of bad news, manipulative people and occasional dramatic events that upend our lives and sometimes disturb our very souls. And yet the backdrop remains the same: the humdrum, the mundane and the mediocre. And this is a place where the small, almost imperceptible happinesses reside: where a character meets a waitress who comments on how cute her baby son is, where a character can enjoy how much light comes into her flat, where characters at dinner can comment at length on how simple and good the meal turned out, where a character can move little by little past the individual and collective tragedies. We don’t get to see this “striving for normal life” much, certainly not in mainstream films, and certainly not in films that exceed two hours in length (as Solitary Fragments/La Soledad was) or which are essentially without dialogue (Bullet in the Head/Tiro en la Cabeza).
The films were there for me to watch at exactly the right time. After reading an article about the desire for a mediocre life, which unexpectedly struck chords with many of my friends, and thinking about how the simplicity and calm of an average and non-dramatic life is exceptionally fulfilling, the normal and mediocre nature of life as portrayed in these films was illustrative and almost life-affirming. And the things in life that often give us the most are the things that are the most unassuming, the least glamorous. These things, as a 2016 University of Otago study concluded, are small, daily creative pursuits that foster feelings of “flourishing” and make us want to do more. For me, it has often been baking (everyone knows that once I start, it’s hard to stop because I feel productive joy from this simple act and giving the results to others); for others, it is long-distance running; for others, like my mother, it’s knitting. Things that don’t necessarily require excessive resources or expensive equipment, exciting or exotic locations or anything particularly demanding.
Especially after being hit Friday evening with a brief wave of deep sadness and a feeling of loss that sprang up seemingly from nowhere to choke me as I waited in a long, endless Friday evening line at the store.
By the end of the night the feeling had completely washed away, soothed by returning to reading (The Things They Carried and I Do Not Come to You By Chance) and some always-restorative words from a fellow, in his words, “misanthropic mugwump”.