One of the things that has become most apparent over recent months is the luxury of the ordinary. I, at least, have a renewed appreciation for the everyday and routine amid all the instability and uncertainty. When I say “ordinary” I’m not trying to say “normal” – I’m not sure what exactly counts as normal in the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. The phrase the “new normal” points to the slipperiness of normality, the way it shapeshifts over time. Human beings are adaptable creatures, often more than we realize, and any “return” to normality is always just an establishment and acceptance of some new set of norms.
The ordinary is entwined with the normal, as over time the extraordinary can become accepted as ordinary. But, the ordinary still stands usefully on its own – the “new ordinary” doesn’t have the same ring as the “new normal” and not just because it lacks alliteration. The ordinary is more enduring, more connected to our lives as embodied and relational creatures, more often shared across time and culture.
In 2012, Nils Frahm fell and broke his thumb, and, “as you can imagine, it is really bad news for a pianist when he gets diagnosed with a broken thumb.” He lost his ordinary for a while and was unable to play with his typical virtuosity (his ordinary would be most people’s extraordinary). While his thumb healed, he wrote and recorded the songs that became the album Screws (a reference to the screws that held his broken thumb in place). It’s a spare and quiet album, simple without being simplistic. There are stretches of silence, melodic phrases that circle and repeat, leaving space for reflection. Frahm’s injury slowed him down, and something beautiful resulted.
For me, it’s been an album that has strong associations with the luxurious boredom of ordinary life. Over the past year or two, I’ve often listened to it while doing the dishes at the sink, from time to time glancing out at our strip of backyard through the window. Sometimes I spot a gang of three or four sparrows, making their way in an uneven line across the grass with flutters and twitchy hops in the twilight. Or, in the winter, I catch the reflection of a soapy dish in the darkened glass, the thrum of stories and pajamas and bath-time disputes swirling in the house around me, with no thought but how to best scrub the bowl clean.