overcoming small paranoias (issue 3)

This is The Ordinary, my attempt to notice the unexpected joy, value, and rigor of ordinary things. New subscribers, welcome!

What you can expect from me (almost) every Friday morning:

  1. A very ordinary quote

  2. A roundup of very ordinary reads

  3. A brief and very ordinary note

  4. A very ordinary visual

- Ammar


An Ordinary Quote:

(On the paradox of desire) “A man can hope for satisfaction and fulfillment only in what he does not yet possess; he cannot find pleasure in something of which he has already had too much.”

Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Carl Jung

Some Ordinary Reads:

“Simple Made Easy” (talk - transcript here): Rich Hickey’s classic talk on what we mean when we talk about “simple”. There’s a fair amount of technical jargon in there but you’ll be fine. Rough paraphrase: “Simplicity is a choice. We have a culture of complexity. Avoid tools that generate complex outputs. Simple != easy. Look for complexity and avoid it.”

“Treating the Prodrome” (essay): On mental health and making sense of a complex, uncertain world: “If a friend stepped on my foot, I would think nothing of it. If she did it twice, I might be a little concerned. If she did it fifty times, I would have to reevaluate my belief that she was my friend. Each piece of evidence chips away at my comfortable normal belief that people don’t deliberately step on my feet – and eventually, I shift.”

“The Biology of Desire” (book): Neuroscientist (and former addict) Marc Lewis claims that addiction is a process of learning that the body does in response to changes in an environment. It results from “the motivated repetition of the same thoughts and behaviors until they become habitual.” Addiction stems from how we desire things.

An Ordinary Note:

My day is a sequence of screens to look at and interact with: phone, laptop, train schedule, clock, television. In screen land, there’s a right and wrong way to act. String together the right incantations and the screen does exactly what you want it to do. One wrong move and you’re toast.

Everything a screen, a mirror. My reflection off storefront windows, off parked cars, off street lamps, off Instagram stories. Are you a mirror, too? How do I interface with you? Primp and script. It’s become a reflex, I barely notice that I’m doing it until I’ve already done it.

Am I doing this right? How do I look? I look awful, don’t I? I’m a mess, and everyone else sees it. I can’t find my place. What am I supposed to do? I can’t find my place. Where am I supposed to be? What do you all want from me?

Small paranoias emerge— shh, what was that? Your ass too big, your silhouette unshapely, your posture slouched, your work too raw, your gaze held a bit too long, your laugh too forced, your “life plan” in disarray, your spontaneity, your insanity, too distinct, too unique, your desire to open your heart too bizarre, too strange, too overwhelming.

The small paranoias build up and up. I fight against them by noticing the atmosphere.

The atmosphere tells us about our place. No need to find a place, only to notice it. Painter Paul Klee called it the “medial” space. It is the in-between, in between you and the world. It is very spacious and very improvised.

The plant by the window, the percolator whistling on the stovetop, they aren’t alone, because when I see them, I am with them in the scene. There is no agenda, it’s just them being them and me being me, together. I don’t really need to do anything but notice myself and them.

This is hard to explain because it is so ordinary. Lately, scientists have been calling it the “state of flow”, but I think there’s more to it than a momentary mystical tingle. Wassily Kandinsky tried to put it to words when he wrote: “I feel deeply being a part of the environment, I feel it and it gives me confidence in myself without effort.”

You can experience this for yourself.

Which objects, which people, which activities and circumstances take you to that in-between medial space? Where you feel like you have so much more room to exist?

An Ordinary Visual:

A lot of what I’m writing you’ll find more precise descriptions of in the works of Hara, Morrison, and Fukasawa. Here’s a grab from Fukasawa’s “Design is the Integrity of Things”: