The one about Romanticism and finding greatness in the ordinary

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Do you, dear reader of these daily ramblings, consider yourself a Romantic?

No, I’m not talking about relationship stuff. I’m talking about the historical stuff. Because you see, Romanticism, as it was originally conceived (intercourse pun not intended), was all about inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual. You could even argue it was the building block on top of which we now have post-modernism, which has that terrible vice of saying “yeah but ain’t it all relative?”.

Anyway. Back to the question.

Under the classic definition, do you consider yourself a Romantic?

I think I do (I can’t know for sure because it depends on the days, but I try). And I wonder if, for these strange times, Romanticism is an idea worth revisiting for a little bit, because indeed there are many things in the modern state of things that require a little bit of imagination – and a focus on the people.

I am not an avid New York Times reader, but every now and then other sources of mine curate some of their finest articles. This came to my attention a while ago, around the idea of embracing everyday delights:

“The Romantic poets and philosophers extend this vision of good-enoughness to embrace what they would call “the ordinary” or “the everyday.” This does not refer to the everyday annoyances or anxieties we experience, but the fact that within what is most ordinary, most basic and most familiar, we might find a delight unimaginable if we find meaning only in greatness.”

What a lovely thing to aspire to: the ordinary.

Yes, I know it sounds contradictory and perhaps even a bit pedantic, but bear with me here. We are going through a time where many of the developments that matter are, quite frankly, enormous. The backdrop to our own reality right now is comprised of big things. Survival. Economic calamity. An epidemic of loneliness. Unprecedented state intervention. All of this is huge. And – news flash – mostly outside of our control.

As an answer to it, we can choose to think equally big – and many can thrive on it, especially the most acute of journalists out there, whose mind is primed to constantly critique and forevermore push for change and accountability. The bigger, the better. And that’s their role, and you gotta respect them for that (though, personally, I don’t follow a huge amount of journalists on Twitter for this very reason – but, as with anything, there are some noble exceptions).

As for the rest of us? Part of the answer might be to think… small. Really small. Really ordinary. Really everyday. Really… pedestrian, almost. By the way, I’ve always loved how “pedestrian” is a derogatory term in the UK, meaning “lacking in inspiration” or “dull”, as if walking were not an act of pure inspiration as opposed to depending on a sort of machine for all our transportation needs. But once again, I digress.

The point is that, by finding these delights in the everyday, by being a little bit more classically Romantic, we might find the sources of strength we so desperately need right now. So what might those delights be? I can share a few that have been working for me:

  • Doing yoga or weights every morning, and physically feeling my shoulders crack at the slightest first stretches of the day. It’s like poetry for the ears (some of you may also call this “music”).

  • Coffee with milk, plus toast with ham, cheese, butter and a bit of jam (just a tiny bit). There is something about this combination that feels like warm, fuzzy home.

  • Doing the dishes every morning. It’s like I’m cleansing my kitchen’s soul for the day. And, by association, my own.

  • Blankets. Blankets. Blankets. Seriously, cats and dogs, I so get it.

  • Thick sharpies and blank sheets of paper. This is how I do my best thinking, because a thick pen somehow primes me to avoid getting muddled with the details, and get to the point through simple words. Utterly obligatory.

  • My neighbour’s cat which, every day without fault, goes out of the close for an adventure, and then returns sometime later in the day from said adventure. While doing a quick walk yesterday, I even saw him coming out of another house, which suggests to me he has been living a double life for years. He’s black but has this little white bit of fur on his chest, so we call him “chesty”. He’s the best.

  • During our respective workdays, me and my fiancée do a morning kiss, a lunch kiss, and an afternoon kiss, “for strength”. It’s silly. I couldn’t live without it.

  • I’ve never had so many spontaneous conversations since moving to London. Seriously, the notion that “can I call you in 10 minutes and let’s chat for an hour?” is NOT a London thing, because usually we need to book each other’s diaries 3 bloody months in advance. Except now it is. And I love it. (I hope all our bad diary habits don’t transition to Zoom calls, which somehow feels inevitable.)

You get the point. It’s about reframing our focus a little bit.

Going for the small things everyday.

Versus the big things someday.

Of course, I deeply hope that the big things do come someday (and no day is too soon), in the guise of a vaccine or at least a more robust understanding of how to counter – or live with – this bastardly thing. And I have no doubt that, even when that comes, many things just won’t be the same. The need to adapt to a post-lockdown scenario will be as powerful as the need to adapt to the lockdown itself.

But, right now, so much of it is outside of my control, that all that’s left is that little classically Romantic notion, the pedestrian, itsy-bitsy thing called “the ordinary”.

Which ordinary little delights are capturing your imagination these days?

Hit reply and let me know. I’m becoming a collector of these things.

Stay safe – and sane. 😘


PS: For more daily(ish) words, follow me on Twitter @robistyping.

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