Several days ago, I was on the telephone with a friend of mine. We were talking about his daughter, who had caught some sort of cold. She had been coughing for several days. He needed to get cough medicine. We discussed cough medicine. At some point I said something like, this is a scintillating topic, isn’t it?
But later in that conversation I said, you know why we talk about such ordinary things, sometimes? Because our lives aren’t ordinary.
I am writing this sitting on a bus to New York City. I think I’m somewhere in Connecticut? I was up late last night packing, because I’d had a lot to do yesterday: it was, for me, the last day of the semester. This morning I got on a bus at 9:00, slept for a while on the bus, and then started working. Thank goodness for Wifi.
I’m going to New York this weekend to see my father and his wife, who are in New York because he was presenting research at a conference in North Carolina and decided to visit New York as well to see two of his daughters – my sister Johanna and me. The last time I saw him was for Johanna’s graduation from a design program at Columbia, and he was headed to Cairo the next day for another conference. This summer I will be visiting them in Debrecen, partly so I can drop off their granddaughter before I go to London. I’m going to London to see friends, but mostly to research the Mad Scientist’s Daughter novel.
I feel as though I’m living an extraordinary life. I know, some people are race car drivers. Some climb Mount Everest. Some cure rare diseases. But I get to travel, to create art. To meet and interact with some extraordinary people. And I feel incredibly privileged to be doing these things. But it can also be a tiring life, and so I find that I hold on to ordinary things. My favorite things are quite ordinary.
A hot bath, for example.
Or a bed with comfortable pillows.
Or a castle.
Just kidding about the castle. (But if anyone wants to give me a castle, I’ll take it, of course. I’ll just make sure that it has a good bathtub and hot, hot water. And a bed piled high with pillows.)
I’ll be in New York in about an hour. Once there, I’ll find myself a good cup of coffee, which is another one of those ordinary things. I love living an extraordinary life, but there’s a comfort in the ordinary that nothing else can give. In Christmas trees, and a cat curled in an armchair, and your favorite book. Even in cough medicine. (After all, where would we be without cough medicine?)
And my friend? About an hour ago, he sent me a text: “This is the largest funeral I have ever been to. Over 500 people. Standing room only and all in Haitian French.”
So I think he gets it.