Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Small things that irritate

From Stephen Delaney

Small things that irritate: a pebble in one's shoe, the tree-root you trip over (again) in the front yard, a flicker of condescension in a friend's smile. The seemingly insignificant intersects with one's own path, forcing itself into view. In fiction, the small thing presses on the character's consciousness, becomes as real as anything else. It threatens and agitates.

Small things aren't always unfriendly. They are often in league with the poor, the working class, the economically and socially powerless. Children notice them because they haven't yet learned not to notice them. Small things can trigger the imagination, lending them special powers. They can provide means of escape, of discovery, of gaining prestige in the eyes of other children. They offer themselves as (relatively) safe companions. In his story "The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket," Yasunari Kawabata conveys a child's values through both repetition and detail:

"Oh! It's not a grasshopper. It's a bell cricket." The girl's eyes shone as she looked at the small brown insect.
"It's a bell cricket! It's a bell cricket!" The children echoed in an envious chorus.
"It's a bell cricket. It's a bell cricket."

People also turn to small things in times of stress or grief. Because of their scale, small things seem detached from our world and its problems. In fact, for those confronting serious illness or death-their lives reeling-small things can be a source of spiritual hope. In this case, a "small" thing can be a gesture, a word or a sign. It's small in relation to the universe but still deserving of loving attention.

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