Ordinary Effects and #WholeMama


The crowded Starbucks.

We’re crammed together at a table of refurbished wood dark but glistening with the reflection of a hot summer morning sun. He took the lid off his coffee cup and I keep staring at the steam that swirls up in front of a backdrop of windows facing out to an impeccable suburbia. A dense forest of trees and cars that rush by in a blur – stillness and speed having a disorienting effect on me as I sit in my own clash of buzz and quiet.

The ordinary is a thing that has to be imagined and inhabited. It’s also a sensory connection. A jump. And a world of affinities and impacts that take place in the moves of intensity across things that seem solid and dead…The vagueness of the unfinished quality of the ordinary is not so much a deficiency as a resource, like a fog of immanent forces still moving even though so much has already happened and there seems to be plenty that’s set in stone. This is no utopia. Not a challenge to be achieved or an ideal to be realized, but a mode of attunement, a continuous responding to something not quite already given and yet somehow happening. 

-Ordinary Affects by Kathleen Stewart.

Rereading this book on the ordinary again and it’s fitting for numerous reasons, one of which is that it is the #wholemama theme this week. I chose ordinary as my One Word for the year in 2013:

So that’s what I’m going with for this year – 2013. Paying attention to what seems small and insignificant. Gazing at what is normally around me instead of passing it by. Being present in the mud and muck, the water, the laughter, the skies, the bite of a cold wind, the pink of a child’s nose and cheeks, the fleeting thoughts and difficult-to-describe emotions. Embracing the ordinary. Leaning into the ordinary. Growing in the ordinary. Looking out for the ordinary and how it might lead me to kneel at God’s feet, kicking softly in that bed of hay, covered in dirt and cow hairs, his blankets and swaddling loose, and the sound of gurgles and slow blinking…to kneel before God-Incarnate over and over again. It makes sense…to approach God’s very first human throne I would be led there not by a burning bush or even a choir of angels but by something as ordinary as a star and a road.

It’s strange to think that a word can continue to summon meaning and necessity.

Kathleen Stewart writes about her project: “[It is an endeavor towards] speculation, curiosity, and the concrete it tries to provoke attention to the forces that come into view as habit or shock, resonance or impact. Something throws itself together in a moment as an event and a sensation; a something both animated and inhabitable.

The ordinary is a shifting assemblage of practices and practical knowledges, a scene of both liveness and exhaustion, a dream of escape or of the simple life. Ordinary affects are the varied, surging capacities to affect and to be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergences…They’re things that happen…in impulses, sensations, expectations, daydreams, encounters, and habits of relating, in strategies and their failures, in forms of persuasion, contagion, and compulsion, in modes of attention, attachment, and agency, and in publics and social worlds of all kinds that catch people up in something that feels like something.”

Sometimes my body rebels against the ordinary. I keep thinking that I can, will, should pursue the sensational and magnificent, and the continuous trek I make to the refrigerator for juice-apples-cheese-carrots all day long seems lacking in any kind of glamour.

Is it the ordinary that my insides revolt against ... or I wonder if I fear getting lost in this banal routine?Click To Tweet

I think of Kathleen Norris and her spiritual discipline of folding laundry. And Brother Lawrence who discovered a kind of peculiar gratification in washing dishes. At least a few times a day I almost touch on it, too, my hands plunged into the soapy water and the rhythm of scrubbing and rinsing and organizing. A baptism over and over. The steady hush of towels and tiny t shirts and shorts increasing in stacks all around me. But, it’s those socks that wrench me out of whatever tranquility. I can never find all the socks.


The ordinary is the stuff of our lives – it doesn’t arouse feelings of momentousness and relevance. The conversations around me about kitchen renovations and the distance between the refrigerator and island that make me feel like I might lie down in the drive-thru here at the Starbucks … it is everyday life. It simply is. And when I go back home to the continuous push-and-pull of children needing something and everything … same thing – it simply is what it is. And the ever present choice in front of me is to either try to escape it with meaningless pursuits of attention from the wider world or I can bear down and clutch that reality in my fingers as though it is a dandelion blowing away in the wind.

Because it is.

It’s not to say that escape periodically isn’t ok – we need a respite – a break – a change in scenery. But all these moments can be occasions to make meaning. To make beauty and art. To make music. To see and receive more.

The Christmas Spirit is that hope
which tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful
and announces in the face of any Herod the world can produce
and all the inn doors slammed in our faces
and all the dark nights of our souls
that with God all things are still possible,
that even now unto us
a Child is born!

I want to experience that hope, that tenacity, that radical possibility in the midst of the ordinary this year, and to share that experience with others.

Part of #WholeMama this week as hosted by Esther Emery. Lovely conversations!

Whole Mama

7 thoughts on “Ordinary Effects and #WholeMama

  • July 28, 2015 at 8:18 am

    Insightful and with moments of poignant humor. I’m with Norris on the folding laundry thing, and totally with you on the missing sock aspect. 🙂

    • July 28, 2015 at 8:25 am

      Right? Those freaking socks!!! The bane of my existence. So great to chat with you last night at #wholemama.

      • July 28, 2015 at 8:57 am

        Yes, it was! I keep praying Esther will host a retreat one day where we can all talk in person and write together. Good to connect with you.

  • July 28, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    “Sometimes my body rebels against the ordinary. I keep thinking that I can, will, should pursue the sensational and magnificent, and the continuous trek I make to the refrigerator for juice-apples-cheese-carrots all day long seems lacking in any kind of glamour. Is it the ordinary that my insides revolt against … or I wonder if I fear getting lost in this banal routine?”

    Loved this post, but especially this part. I feel like we idolize and value people who do “the extraordinary” to such an extent that it undoes the value inherent in the simple, everyday, constant continuous ways we love each other and live.

  • July 30, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    “The ordinary is the stuff of our lives” – ain’t that the truth, Mihee! I feel like I’m finally (finally) beginning to understand how truth this actually is.

    • July 30, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      Oh girl I love it.

  • July 31, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    “The ordinary is the stuff of our lives…” That is so very true. And the “stuff of our lives” are all the parts that make us who we are – the mundane and the exciting. When we embrace it all I think we are living the life we were meant to live. When we find contentment where we are in the ordinary of life, I think it gives us a base to work from, to reach out toward our dreams and take steps to pursue them. Blessings to you! Have a great weekend. I’m visiting from #wholemama!

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