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A friend of mine is a bartender, and I hadn’t seen him for a while, until last week. It’s fun to watch him bring over two decades of experience to bear on the opening of a bottle of beer or the making of a margarita. Traffic wears a groove into things, and repeated motion turns effort into function. Function, when effortless, which is to say when, through repetition, it becomes a pure expression of effort, can be beautiful. If you’ve ever watched a field being mowed by hand, with a scythe, you know what I mean.
We don’t have, I don’t think, many opportunities these days simply to watch simple things done well. Virtuosity is left to the virtuosi: Favre connecting, Bill T. Jones a-leaping, Perlman Baching—all impressive, but an impressiveness that leaches the layman of any sense of approachable, and therefore agreeable, mastery on a mortal scale.
Odd, then, that in reading the introduction last night to the 1983 edition of V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, I didn’t register a sense of the Olympian pressing down upon the quotidian. Odd, of course, given all we’ve lately (not to say long) heard about Naipaul’s self-regard. Naipaul discusses the writing of that novel in a very humble way, not falsely humble, but very much a matter of building a wall, finely and slowly. A process worth hearing about: a force becoming a form.
More from Wyatt Mason:
Estimated acres of forest Henry David Thoreau burned down in 1844 trying to cook fish he had caught for dinner:
The bombardier beetle, which can fire liquid at its enemies from its rear end at up to 300 squirts per second, was being scrutinized in the hope of building a better airplane engine.
London Fire Brigade investigators blamed a building fire in South London on a bird that carried a lit cigarette to its rooftop nest. “Smokers,” said neighborhood baker Richard Scroggs. “What can you say?”
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”