Quotidian. Don’t you love that word?
Continuing with my (admittedly random) posts on what struck me and stuck with me, from my participation in the NonFiction Now conference at the University of Iowa earlier this month…
Finding older, classic essays is now a whole lot easier (students and faculty alike know the frustration of hunting down an 1895 essay). Check out Quotidiana, where more than 260 essays that are in the public domain are housed, and at your fingertips, at no charge.
The site is the brainchild and passion of Patrick Madden, an assistant English professor at Brigham Young University, and excellent essay writer himself. You can search for essays alphabetically, from Joseph Addison to Zitkala-Sa, chronologically, from Seneca through Edith Stein. And who knows what you’ll find in between – thanks to Madden’s panel, “The Infinite Suggestiveness of Common Things,” I spent an hour that evening back at my hotel reading the humor essays of A.A. Milne (yes, of Pooh Bear fame; who knew he spent 10 years penning personal humor essays for British mags about the quotidian aspects of his own life?).
Also included on the site are interviews with contemporary essayists and editors. What a find for MFA students, faculty, and others interested in the essay, to locate and enjoy the classics that often are only to be found in out-of-print, obscure, or expensive anthologies and texts.
Madden’s panel reminded writers – as Patricia Hampl did in her keynote address – of the trove of creative writing unleashed when one ponders the ordinary and ruminates on the otherwise routine; how the not-so-quotidian aspect of an everyday object, conversation, and place, can shape a story. Hampl described how a single, chipped teacup could unlock for the memoirist a torrent of memories, sensations, and feelings. Madden and his panel-mates, Michael Danko, Shannon Lakanen, Desirae Matherly, and David Lazar, reflected on creatively written essays resulting from the mundane, including – pointing to Milne again here – an outsized annoyance resulting from the cleaning lady’s repeatedly returning a single piece of bric-a-brac to the shelf upside down after dusting.
So go dust off something everyday, commonplace, ordinary, garden variety, routine, familiar, day-to-day, accustomed, run-of-the-mill, prosaic, unremarkable, old hat, humdrum, plain, pedestrian, or unexceptional – and see what happens on the page.