These fleeting sketches are all republished by kind permission of the Editor of the DAILY NEWS, in which paper they appeared. They amount to no more than a sort of sporadic diary—a diary recording one day in twenty which happened to stick in the fancy—the only kind of diary the author has ever been able to keep. Even that diary he could only keep by keeping it in public, for bread and cheese. But trivial as are the topics they are not utterly without a connecting thread of motive. As the reader’s eye strays, with hearty relief, from these pages, it probably alights on something, a bed-post or a lamp-post, a window blind or a wall. It is a thousand to one that the reader is looking at something that he has never seen: that is, never realised. He could not write an essay on such a post or wall: he does not know what the post or wall mean. He could not even write the synopsis of an essay; as “The Bed-Post; Its Significance—Security Essential to Idea of Sleep—Night Felt as Infinite—Need of Monumental Architecture,” and so on. He could not sketch in outline his theoretic attitude towards window-blinds, even in the form of a summary. “The Window-Blind—Its Analogy to the Curtain and Veil—Is Modesty Natural?—Worship of and Avoidance of the Sun, etc., etc.” None of us think enough of these things on which the eye rests. But don’t let us let the eye rest. Why should the eye be so lazy? Let us exercise the eye until it learns to see startling facts that run across the landscape as plain as a painted fence. Let us be ocular athletes. Let us learn to write essays on a stray cat or a coloured cloud.
– G. K. Chesterton, preface to Tremendous Trifles
For some reason my mind just drifted to this clever little introduction to Chesterton’s book of essays, Tremendous Trifles. The book is remarkably brilliant even by his standards; you can read the entire thing for free by clicking here. This particular paragraph bears the same theme as the poem I posted last week. There are incredible things all around us, but after we’ve looked at them a few thousand times we stop noticing how wonderful they are. I have a bed and windows in my home. I’m willing to bet you do too. Most people who have lived on this planet have never owned a bed or a window, nor even had the pleasure of sleeping in one or looking through the other. So if we need to think something about those basic home objects, we could start by being thankful for their existence.
But we shouldn’t end there, but instead continue to figure out the reason for those objects. Let’s take the curtain, for instance. Windows in our homes generally have curtains, while most windows in public buildings do not. This is because we, in the America of the 21st century, believe that homes are private, and therefore not public. This feeling is not universal. In many primitive cultures homes simply had an opening with no cover of any sort. Hence anyone could look into your home at any time of the day or night; the concept of privacy did not exist.
This does not mean that we modern-day Americans have a particularly strong attachment to privacy. No one familiar with Facebook would think that. In the electronic age we put details of our lives out there where anyone can see them. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the chosen operating system for most of us is none other than Windows, named after the precise home feature that allows outsiders to peer in. Perhaps somebody should write the Curtains Operating System, with focus on privacy controls.