Wednesday, April 14, 2010

oh, the little things.

Why is it that we take such pleasure in the little things of life? I don't know about anyone else, but the little, everyday things and events are almost always the things that I pay the most attention to and find myself caring the most about. For example, when I was young the "Easter Bunny" (a.k.a. my Mom and Dad) would hide my brother mine and my brother Tommy's Easter basket somewhere in the house with clues to find them. The clues would take us around the house until we ultimately found that basket filled with chocolate, jelly beans and usually something special like a movie or a CD. Unfortunately, as we got older the Easter bunny got a little, well, lazy for lack of a better word. Until this year, my brother and I woke up on Easter morning to find those two index cards taped to the mantle of our fireplace saying, "Happy Easter! This year's hunt is not going to be easy... " That morning, it was that small gesture that truly made me smile so wide. After all, they are just pieces of paper with clues written on it leading to a basket with just some candy. But the fact that my parents went through the trouble of bringing back a piece of my childhood that was so exciting meant the world to me and really showed me that its the little things that really count.
When I was reading I'm a Stranger Here Myself and Principles of Uncertainty, I couldn't help but notice the authors Bryson and Kalman focusing on the little things as well and having a strong attention to detail. In general terms, Bryson's columns are focused on small things within our daily lives that we often overlook, and by bringing them up and writing about them, I found myself laughing out loud. His column may not focus on a hidden Easter basket, but they never ceased to make me smile because of how small yet true all of his situations are. More specifically, Bryson has certain aspects of his book that I relate to my experience of searching for and finding my hidden Easter basket at 20 years old. A perfect example from Bryson's book comes on page 129 in the column titled "On losing a Son". Bryson writes (on playing baseball outside with his 7 year old son):
"There was a kind of beauty about the experience so elemental and wonderful I cannot tell you - the way the evening sun fell across the lawn, the earnest eagerness of his young stance, the fact that we were doing this most quintessentially dad-and-son thing, the supreme contentment of just being together..." (129-130)
For Bryson and his son, it was the small act of just throwing around a baseball, that when paid attention to, becomes something that you hold so close to your heart. Any small daily act can become so much more when you simply give it your attention. While this example from Bryson's book was very sentimental, other examples are not as sentimental but just hilarious, like in the column "Number, Please". In this column, Bryson writes about being on hold while trying to talk to someone with the U.S. Social Security Administration. We have all been on hold while trying to speak to some sort of company or governmental office and heard the corny music playing. Well, Bryson pays close attention to that music and mocks it by writing, "There I was all poised to have a recorded voice tell me: 'All our agents are busy, so please hold while we play you some irritating music interrupted at fifteen-second intervals by a recorded voice telling you all our agents are busy so please hold ... ' " (73) We all know this music and this type of recording, but do we pay attention to it every time we hear it? Does it make us laugh listening to it the way it does when we read what Bryson writes about it? Most likely, no. That is because Bryson is paying close attention to the little things and either making us laugh about them, in this situation, or casting a greater light on what is important in life, like in the example with his son.

While the structure of Bryson's book and Principles of Uncertainty are extremely different, I believe they are ultimately both pay a close attention to detail. The vivid drawings and illustrations of Kalman's book are of everyday objects and people. I will be honest, I really found myself getting "lost" in this book... not in a sense that I couldn't put it down and just wanted to know what happened next, but more literally lost saying to myself, "Wait, What did that mean?" But the attention to detail really stood out to me; the beautiful drawings, the funny pictures of people walking with a short comment to go with it. Kalman really took the time to appreciate the total social situation. She touched on everything from tall buildings to pink beds from New York to Paris, never letting one thing in her life pass without a thought and an appreciation.

This brings me to my conclusion after reading these two books. We may laugh when we read about someone who writes about the things we encounter and do on a daily basis that make us seem ridiculous and crazy, but in reality, paying attention to those details of our daily lives are what cast light on the bigger picture. Bryson found it in the example given earlier where he was playing baseball with his son. He took the time to realize that that game of catch was going to mean so much more to him than just tossing a baseball. It was going to be a memory, a way of appreciating the time he has with his son before he goes off to college, gets a job, gets married and starts his own life. Kalman found it by writing a book about her experiences by writing in a stream-of-consciousness and providing photos, paintings and deep phrases. Both of these authors realizes how important the everyday is to who they are. We define ourselves by what we encounter and what we do each and everyday, so it is important for us to pay attention to the things that surround us and the things we partake in. Never will I let my parents loving gesture of hiding my Easter basket go unnoticed. I will always realize that those fun parts of my life are what make it worth living.

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