“Daily life is always extraordinary when rendered precisely.” –Bonnie Friedman

I love teaching students to observe their ordinary world and make meaning from it. Our final class essay involves noticing something that creates mystery, wonder, awe, even worship, in our regular routines. It’s a way to stop and think, to puzzle over something, to wonder.

I’ve read essays about coats, hair, purses, and jellyfish. I’ve read about surfboards, tattoos, avocados, and cooking. Each observation must move through a series of questions to arrive at some kind of epiphany regarding this object or activity. Maybe it’s gazing wistfully at olive oil sent from Italy or shedding a tear over a rusting playground swing set. Students ask what ordinary objects symbolize to them if they truly stop and consider them. We read the essay to observe their mind at work, to see them grappling with ideas, to witness the invitation to epiphany.

Why do I love this thing? Why does this thing always enter into my daily rituals? What happens if I lose this thing? What does it remind me of? Why does it create nostalgia? What is nostalgia? Is everything, really, about nostalgia–about the longing for some lost thing?

We wonder. We gaze. We make meaning.

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