Shoehorn

We’re obsessed with multitasking, multifunctioning, multimedia, multi-everything. Our smartphones, TVs, computers and tablets are voraciously encyclopedic Swiss army light sabers of function and distraction — they’re flashlights, arcades, cameras, wallets, web surfers, address books, organizers, communicators. This is the age of the great dematerialization, in which fewer pieces of technology take on more and more uses. Software is whorfing all our hardware, the virtual is overtaking the real. Shoehorn

I’m totally down. But sometimes don’t you feel like physical reality is getting a bit too mushily digitized, that our slow withdrawal from the pleasing distinctions of categorical reality — the world of simple things with singular functions — might be making you, on some animal, perhaps phantasmal, level, queasy and vitiated?

Totally, me too! Thus this brass shoehorn. I bought it a few years ago at an antique store. It does only one thing — a lethally terrible idea by today’s standards. But: I take such pleasure in its stubborn, monolithically limited functionality; this shoehorn is whole and complete, and seems comfortably immanent in its single purpose. And it puts itself to its absurdly specific task so well (and proudly, too —  I mean, brass? As though a shoehorn of plastic could somehow wear out!), achieving in its few seconds of perfect use each day, I like to think, some mute Aristotelian communion with virtue — doing the right thing, at the right time, and doing it exceedingly well. Andrew Kiraly

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Chicken

My chickens

This weekend, I got a treat that is rare for people who have spouses and kids: a day with the house all to myself. I spent it as one should, in my opinion, unwinding the ball of stress accumulated through weeks of nonstop industriousness by doing nothing of consequence. I went for a swim, ate chips straight out of the bag, lay on the couch reading The New Yorker, watched a movie I knew my husband wouldn’t like. And the climax of this lounge-fest? A half-hour spent sitting on my back patio in a rocking chair sipping a cold beer and watching my small flock of chickens peck and scratch on the small strip of grass that serves as our back yard. In the three years my husband and I have had our four egg-layers, I’ve come to savor this activity as my favorite form of meditation. The chickens’ instinctual single-mindedness drowns out the chatter about work and relationships and finances that echoes constantly on the edges of my mind. Peck, peck, peck; moonwalk kick, moonwalk kick, moonwalk kick. What are they eating, I wonder? Do they see some bugs too small for my eyes to pick out? Peck, peck, peck; kick, kick, kick. Why this square foot of earth and not the one next to it? The twin Leghorns chase the Rhode Island Red, my favorite, away from a choice spot where she’s digging. Red, in turn, chases the Barred Plymouth Rock, Matilda, away from the crabgrass patch she’s nibbling. That’s the pecking order — nothing to get upset about; just nature. If only all politics were so simple. Heidi Kyser

 

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Aug 23, 2004

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