"When we talk about 'things,' we most often mean them as concepts or abstractions in our minds, rather than as, well, things — toasters or wind or combine harvesters. As with happiness, things become things of ours. 'How are things?' you ask a friend. 'I dunno,' she replies, 'things are weird,' or 'A strange thing happened on the way home,' or 'The thing I like most about you is that you're so thoughtful to ask!'
"There's no doubt that thoughts are things as much as thorns and thoroughfares, but isn't it striking that a word that we'd first associate with matter so quickly becomes one of matters, of affairs, incidents, penchants, circumstances, activities, and notions. Human ones, at that, and ours, individuated. All the ways we live and think in our own heads, in worlds that revolve around us and our little lives, our series of nights on Earth.
"And yet those lives are surrounded by stuff of all stripes, all the stuff ironoia [the fear of things] demands we resist rather than commune with: Smithfield half hams and cheeseburger-flavored Pringles and Old Spice deodorant, ceramic tabletops and heathered sweaters and quilted metals, cities and meadows and kudzu, evening and chipmunks and silence. . . .
"Pier Pasolini helps us take that openness further, beyond our heads and into the world. 'The first image of my life,' he writes, 'is a white, transparent blind, which hangs — without moving, I believe — from a window which looks out on to a somewhat sad and dark lane.' But as a creator more acclimated to generous spectatorship, thanks to cinema, ordinary things need not remain subordinate for Pasolini. Instead, just the opposite — they are more likely to be sublime. He continues, 'That blind terrifies me and fills me with anguish: not as something threatening and unpleasant but as something cosmic.'
"Something cosmic. Even window blinds. Even cheeseburger-flavored Pringles. To stave off ironoia, we need not resist the crass material world nor transform it into artisanal affectation. A gentler touch is needed, a more careful physical therapy: to spend time with things, to visit with them, to give them a chance to be exactly what they are. To shut up for a minute and allow the universe to hum without recourse, without appeal to moralism or nihilism, without trying to take it as a petting zoo or a Death Star, without always caging it in Instagrams or problematizing it in think pieces or strip mining it to fuel the ovens of our own contentment.
"We could all benefit by being reared by the blind. Living with things requires that we become continuously blind to them, that we exercise the ability to see them fresh, familiar or not, by refusing to allow them to collapse into servants or obstacles. Blindness, fun, play, limit, constraint — all these are synonyms for humility. There between earnestness and cynicism, in the chasm where ironoia throbs, we can also find solace if we are willing to pause long enough to stop scolding things for failing to yield us comfort. This is the pleasure of limits, the fun of play. Not doing what we want, but doing what we can with what is given."