On the Trivial

I am always squinting, a habit learned from before I wore glasses that has carried over, watered by excessively sunny days and a distaste for sunglasses. Squinting does not make objects come into focus, at least not in my case. Instead, I have found it a useful way to pay attention to the everyday life of detritus: the awkward moment, the mispunctuated sentence, the unmet glance, the unregistered indignation, casual indifference, casual cruelty, most or all of these not in the register of a shout or glare, instead, a flicker, a barely-there-wince. Not the whisper with its tales to tell, not even gossip as it stirs around and circulates power. Often, I notice or try to notice or I am caught by the little, the short, the almost-wasn’t-there. I do not seek to imbue these little snatches with significance. Often, I feel like a duppy in a rice silo.

It is a strange sensation to be pecking for lost grains in a Kenya where so much (too much) seems to be at stake. Many of the conversations I have been privy to (mostly as an eavesdropper) talk about life and death, starvation and violence, the state and civil society, the constitution and state commissions. There are ongoing fights and struggles and battles and death-matches (civil and un-civil) all somehow intent on preventing the next PEV, an event that, paradoxically, is understood to be inevitable. Let me pause to note that the metaphors we use to describe our actions suggest that we are already deeply inside the figurative logic of violence—what we claim to hope to prevent leaked through a long time ago. But this is not that post.

I have been wondering what it means to pay attention, distracted and sustained, to the trivial—sometimes the trivialized—but more often the trivial. Stray threads on discarded fabrics, the slight shifts in tone as the fridge hums, the taste of dust, patterns of water stains, the length of mosquito wings, the texture of grit. To accumulate detritus without seeking to give it shape. Sometime to be in it, simply.

Sometimes in the midst of yet another conversation about building apartments and buying land and saving (orphans, wetlands, wildlife, tradition, culture, women, queers), I find myself lost, bewildered, not sure how to respond to urgencies, wanting to talk about the caress of mosquito wings. Or sometimes, many times, trying to be in the silence of the trivial.