What the pandemic taught us about the magic of monotony
By Amelia Wallworth
Last Tuesday, I took advantage of Cineplex’s discount ticket night and saw Moonage Daydream, Brett Morgen’s new film on David Bowie. Bringing together concert footage, interview audio, and — of course — Bowie’s timeless music, Morgen created a breathtakingly immersive audio-visual experience. In a particularly memorable scene, an interviewer asked Bowie if his bedazzled high heels were “men’s shoes, or women’s shoes, or bisexual shoes,” to which he responded, “They’re shoe shoes, silly.” Bowie’s laconic, tongue-in-cheek reply reflected his energetic and unconventional approach to life, a central theme of the film. This theme was aptly cultivated through multiple voiceovers in which Bowie explained his need to constantly challenge his own creative capacities — when he became comfortable with one style, he would quickly switch to a new one. But Bowie’s carpe diem philosophy is perhaps best captured in his quote, “The greatest mistake civilization has ever made was to embrace order rather than chaos.”
I can’t help but feel that my life is a bit lethargic in comparison. If Bowie is the king of chaos, I am the subject of order. I love the ordinary; it’s my guilty pleasure. My friends and I frequent the same bar we’ve been going to since first year. After a long day, I like to get the same takeout order from the same restaurant. When I make a new playlist every month, I always end up adding old favourites.
Fair enough, you might be thinking. We are creatures of habit, after all. But my affair with the ordinary goes beyond that. I covet an ordinary life; one where I live in the same place, spend time with the same people, and — for the most part — do a lot of the same things every day. While this is the life that most of us will lead (and, I dare say, enjoy), it nonetheless sounds terrifyingly dreary. Our mortality reminds us that we have a finite amount of time to live life to the fullest; a feat we believe is defined by adventurous and exciting moments, certainly not by the monotony of the everyday. As such, we treat the ordinary as second-rate, believing that it is actively preventing us from becoming the bold people we so desperately want to be.
For a long time, I loathed the perceived dullness of my daily routine. I thought that the only “valuable” experiences were the big ones, so I focused all of my excitement on them. Christmas, and travel, and the first day of summer took center-stage while everything else faded into the background. I let my desire for authentic experiences cloud my perception of the ordinary ones, and in doing so, missed out on a lot of beautiful moments.
But I think it is time that we stop running away from what cannot be escaped, and finally face the ordinary.
My perspective started to shift during the pandemic. Everything we associate with adventure — concerts, travel, parties — was virtually nonexistent for two and a half years. So, we adapted. We learned to find meaning in the ordinary, and the things we once considered trivial became the things that brought us the most excitement. Cooking became a way to try new things in a time when doing so was virtually impossible. At home-workouts allowed us to move our bodies, something we often rarely proritze in our busy lives. Movie and games nights were a chance to bond with siblings and learn more about our parents. Through experiences like these the pandemic taught us that when the ordinary is all you have, it quickly becomes extraordinary.
As we come out of the pandemic with these experiences not too far in the rearview, it is safe to say that many of us are, nevertheless, still opposed to the ordinary. While this sentiment will likely never disappear, I do believe that the pandemic has at least shifted our perception. It has taught us that “ordinary” is not static; what seems ordinary one day can quickly become extraordinary the next. Think back to when we emerged from our first lockdown. Remember how it felt to hug our friends for the first time, to watch a movie in a cinema, even to ride the TTC again. In those moments, the things we usually consider as ordinary were nothing short of magic.
The ordinary is a fact of life, but the way we look at it is up to us. We should have new experiences and look forward to big moments, but we cannot let them be the only things that define us. And we certainly should not shame ourselves for doing — and enjoying — ordinary things.
As Moonage Daydream concludes, David Bowie leaves his audience with one final thought, saying “All people, no matter who they are, they all wish they appreciated life more.” Why don’t we start with appreciating the ordinary?