That title sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Usually, when I think of tasks that are mundane, I think “mind-numbing” or “creativity killers.” But lately, two things have made me reconsider that line of thinking. Painting my basement and Ann Hedreen’s book, Her Beautiful Brain.
I know the connection sounds random, but it isn’t. In Ann’s stunning memoir she writes generously, and heartbreakingly, about the loss of her mother. Yet, she writes about this loss by telling us the story of her mother’s life and describing the mundane (doing laundry in the basement) as well as the triumphant (earning a degree after raising eight kids). It is in those descriptions of the mundane that, for me, the larger sense of loss comes through so poignantly. Her mother does the mundane with energy and it fuels her passion to move forward. Ann finds this to be true in her own life as well.
Two of the passages that stood out to me both address that concept of magic in the mundane:”
When I was a little girl, Mom belted out “Tonight” and “I Feel Pretty” while she did the laundry, which was often. Mom had never been to New York in her life. But the songs lifted her out of our dank, laundry-filled basement and onto the fire escapes of Manhattan, where romance and hope blossomed briefly[…] There is passion waiting on the fire escape and in the back of the dress shop and on the rooftops and at the dance in the gym. If you are stuck, for now, with the laundry, or with a step stool in your living room, then let your imagination take you there.”
“There was something about all the physical work and play of solo motherhood that unlatched my creative mind. When you’re building a tower of blocks with a one-year old and knocking it down, over and over again, your mind can go places[…] Here I was spending hours per day pushing a stroller, mixing playdough, finger painting, side-walk chalking, reading picture books, turning dish towels into capes and scarves into princess costumes—and sure, part of me missed ripping new stories off the AP teletype but another part of my brain was stirring and stretching and coming out of hibernation.”
I’m also no stranger to laundry and block building, and Ann’s words spoke straight to my heart. Sometimes, when I do the mundane task I don’t want to do, I suddenly have the transcendent idea I’ve been craving. Sometimes, sitting at a really great desk, and having a lot of time to think and ponder just makes me go blank. Has that ever happened to you? Is there something to this?
This past week, I have spent a lot of time in my own basement, painting the laundry room (as well as a few other rooms.) I wanted to delegate this task, but the painter who did the upstairs couldn’t do it, and all the other quotes would have landed us in credit debt all over again. After dragging my heels, I realized I had to roll up my sleeves and do it myself if I wanted it to happen. My lovely husband got into the trenches with me, but I still spent a lot of time down there all on my own. And, surprisingly, I’ve had some of my best ideas come to me this week.
Perhaps it was the paint fumes, or the inspiring podcasts I listened to while painting, but I think it might also be the magic in the mundane.
I hope this week brings you a little magic, too.