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03 February 2008

Catalog your luminous debris

Ulinskigreenchair I believe that the ordinary objects and small, private rituals of daily life, sometimes poignant, sometimes so commonplace as to be overlooked, are sacred and elegant.Anthony Ulinski

The Siren song of John Locke, that urgent materialism, the call of wild need, is strong: Replace that perfectly functional if old and dented French press coffee pot with a Capresso IMPRESSA F9 Limited Edition 24k Gold Plated espresso machine, it says to us. Book long, expensive cruises that you can’t really afford so you can relax after working too hard to pay for the cruise you can’t afford so you can relax but you can’t really because you’re worried about all the overtime you’ll have to work once you get back to pay for the cruise that wasn’t relaxing. Don’t buy $1.19 Suave shampoo that works perfectly fine. Buy $22.00 organic banana luxe shampoo instead.

Ulinski_plate_with_three_pears__andWhat of the stuff of our lives?

It all falls away at the end, doesn’t it? Extraneous things, extraneous people, extraneous responsibilities and worries and to-do’s. All fall away. They all fall away. They do. But we invest so, so much in them in the process. That will be the source of regret, that will.

What of the luminous debris of our existences, our small, gloriously simple lives that we complicate at every single turn, as if complication and the layering of Ulinski_three_pears_on_blue_plateresponsibilities and airplane flights and speeches and deadlines and interviews and, and, and, will make us more important?

What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? Where debris is our title or our stuff or our impressively complicated calendar? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?

Ulinski_daffodils_in_harsh_light_2Perhaps the ordinary objects and small, private rituals of daily life are sacred and elegant. Perhaps they are the buoys that buoy us in that flood.

Or perhaps I have simply become complacent and old, preferring to stay home in my fuzzy slippers with a cup of earl grey tea with soy creamer to going out into the world, hopping on a jet plane, and winging my way to Rome to look important and sit up straight. In my three-year investigation of living as if you are dying, I have come to realize that life isn’t momentous occasions, but simple ones that we too often overlook—like the moment a child runs to get tissue after you sneeze, shouting joyously, “That’s friendship! That’s friendship!” as she hands you the tissue. “That’s friendship!”—generosity defined in the smallest of gestures, a world in which getting a tissue for someone is cause for joyous celebration and, in fact, the very definition of friendship.

Or perhaps the love of ordinary objects and the stuff of our daily lives is what Billy Collins was talking about when he wrote Consolation. My thanks to Rick for reminding me of that poem. Perhaps my urge toward the simplicity of a table with a coffee cup is embedded in another of his poems:

I Ask You

What scene would I want to be enveloped in
more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?

It gives me time to think
about all that is going on outside--
leaves gathering in corners,
lichen greening the high grey rocks,
while over the dunes the world sails on,
huge, ocean-going, history bubbling in its wake.

But beyond this table
there is nothing that I need,
not even a job that would allow me to row to work,
or a coffee-colored Aston Martin DB4
with cracked green leather seats.

No, it's all here,
the clear ovals of a glass of water,
a small crate of oranges, a book on Stalin,
not to mention the odd snarling fish
in a frame on the wall,
and the way these three candles--
each a different height--
are singing in perfect harmony.

So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt--
frog at the edge of a pond--
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches.

-Billy Collins


Ulinski_coffe_cup_and_letterIt seems fairly obvious that he is writing these poems just for me. For me to say, "enough." To say, "no, it's all here."

I recently found the paintings of Anthony Ulinski, the man quoted at the start of this essay. What does it mean to catalog the ordinary objects of our lives, as if they are works of art, as he has done? A coffee cup becomes imbued with meaning and light by being constant in our life, so too a persimmon or the touch of a hand on ours or the shape of a favorite plate on a blue checkered tablecloth, or the way the sun hits the wooden floor.

Let’s do that—create art of the quotidian, the everyday, the small, sacred objects of our lives, the things that are left when all else falls away.

37days Do it now Challenge

Ulinski3_persimmons_and_blue_chai_2 Enough. Draw the outline of a small 2”x2” square on a piece of paper or on a roll of a child’s art paper. A manageable, consistent size. Each day, draw a new square. And create something on one of these squares every day to remind you of your day—it can be a portrait of a simple object you love. It can be a record of your day, how you felt, the color of that day for you—in collage or pencil or paints. It can be a short poem or a quote or a solid block of color. It can be anything you want it to be. It's a small size; you can do this. Perhaps it is a painting of an ambrosia apple every day for two weeks until you really see it. Create one every day for a year. That’s what life is.

[paintings used with permission of the artist, Anthony Ulinski,]


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Sometimes I've thought of my sketchblog as a mapmaking project, as a cartography of everyday life, unrolling along the journey and noting the tiny landmarks en route.

Thanks for offering the phrase, "luminous debris," I love it.

I've long believed life is made more of the little moments than the attention-grabbing highlights. And that in each of those miniscule moments there are richness and ritual and communion with the divine. It's just hard to remember that sometimes, but when I do, well, that's when magic happens.

I agree to a huge extent. I've also noticed that people do what they hate a job then get stuck in it due to the treats they buy them selves for being somewhere they hate... get out of it totally stop doing the thing you hate. As a friend says 'too much of what you don't need will never be enough'

BUT ! I'd rather buy the organic carrot the free range egg and the fairtrade coffee than just the cheapest. What we do buy we should have care of who toiled to make it what impact it will have after us...

oh and can I recommend Tom Hodgkinsons' book 'How to be Free'

and also how much I love libraries... all the books without having to buy them all

I did it! It wasn't hard at all. yay!

I knew this reminded me of something from when my oldest was a preschooler - - click on "One Square Inch"

One Square Inch - where you cut out a one inch square and really notice what you see when you look at something through it. Slightly different than drawing in a two-inch square, but still about noticing.

What a wonderful essay ... your words are powerful reminders about the sacred moments of life. I've passed along "A Roar for Powerful Words" award to you over at my site.

Peace & love,

It is such a sad state of affairs to see how many people in America have taken to spelling "self esteem" with two dollar signs.

I can't claim immunity to those urges to become important by buying something expensive, but this morning I felt the pure, simple, honest joy friends bring to one when they remember his birthday. Just that gift of remembering proves that I really do exist in the hearts of others, not just in the computers of the companies with whom I have an account.

Such a simple pleasure, and yet I am still smiling.

I'll be listening for the bass candle. His solo is bound to happen soon.

Thanks, Patti!

I love Anthony Ulinski's joyous palette. Thank you!

I take pictures of my daughter virtually every day. Today, it was a picture of her and an ice cream cone. Yesterday it was a picture of her leaving the house 'with her purse' since Mommy always carries hers. The day before it was a picture of her on her sit and spin that she's finally figured out how to use. THESE are the moments worth treasuring--not just her professional glossy 2 year old pictures or her 45 trillion pictures of her birthday party (which I do have and cherish, but still). She says, "Bless you" every time I sneeze. I love it.

That's not to say I'm not materialistic. I am. I like 'stuff'. But in the end, it's all 'stuff' like you said. My favorite thing right now is my mug that I drink my tea out of. It has a silly picture of my daughter and I on it, and it's for that picture, that I love it.

But I don't need more 'stuff'.

I suppose I would have gotten much more from this post had I not immediately wanted to find out how to own one of Anthony Ulinski's gorgeous pieces of art.

beautiful post! i just wrote about it on my blog.

Simplicity is a beautiful thing. I like the 2 x 2 square challenge; it makes us stop for a moment and amidst the chaos, focus on what really mattered for the day! =)

Oh, this is a deep post that I just love. I'm coming from Creative Everyday... reminds me of the small 'moments' I posted about on my blog a couple of days ago. We've GOT to capture them!!! I may share this on my blog very soon as well!!! Ohhh, so good!

Beautiful, Patti. I recently wrote a short poem about our everyday stuff...from a little different angle. I'm sometimes surprised by the quotidian stuff I come across when I reach deep into a cupboard or drawer...

And I recently used one of my all-time favorite Patti posts to write this... ;)

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