Cilantro. There are two camps. The one that loves it. The other that hates it. Same goes for the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. People either are ardent fans or fierce critics of his six volume autobiographical novels titled My Struggle.
I'm a Knausgaard-groupie. And last night when I heard him interviewed on NPR about his latest book, a short collection of essays, Autumn, it struck me why: he honors the ordinary. In his new collection, each chapter is part essay part meditation on humble, everyday objects such as apples, wasps, jellyfish and toilet bowls. "I wanted an equality so there would be no ... pre-judgement. And to pay as much attention to the toilet bowl as to my daughter's face. It is like: Everything exists, everything is there, and it is a way of challenging our gaze of the world — not in a very deep or philosophical way, but just a little bit."
We draw attention to the ordinary often in writing practice. Take one of Natalie Goldberg's go-to writing prompts: what's in front of me. I find myself describing the grain of the wood of the desk I'm writing, the jar of honey, the tea bag.
What happens when we focus on commonplace objects in writing?
"I feel normally kind of numb almost in the world and not very curious about things. I do the same things everyday. But true writing and true reading, that's the only way I can open the world up. That's what I'm trying to do. Opening all things up, what they really are, what they could mean."
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg writes: "Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else...Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are live on the earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter."
Here's the Knausgaard interview: