Patternity: Finding Beauty in the Banal

it seemed to her that the place had always this transcendant other quality, that there was always this dimension of unwitting, anarchic wonder – a lovely and mindless alternative universe. She had seen it as a child, she remembered, but … now it was newly remarkable, a source not of curiosity but of amazement.”

– Lucy, the protagonist in Penelope Lively’s Cleopatra’s Sister, speaking of the inner city where she lives.

There is a kind of mundane beauty around us that we seldom notice. They are the patterns that exist in our inner cities. They’re never far from us. We wear them, walk on them, live in them and even eat and drink them.

They show up on the lunch table, as raindrops clinging on a window, bubbles formed on a glass of beer, the network pattern of meshed wire, the cable spray of a bridge, graffiti on the subway tunnel and the pavements that a million of us trampled upon each day.

Indeed, the shirt or dress you are wearing may have patterns similar to or inspired by some of those mundane patterns. The list is endless.

But why pay attention to the banal? Partly because we are creatures that like to see at patterns. You could say our brain is hardwired for this. In times past, being able to tell whether the pattern of swaying long grasses signal a meal or a predator was close by was crucial to the survival of our species. In essence, not much as changed, though ‘moderns’ now find it more useful to read the body languages of our colleagues, our bosses, our spouse for signals to act appropriately. And like our tribal ancestors who scribbled on cave walls, we still enjoy a good picture or an enchanting sculpture.

That of course, is not the whole story. Look closer and you will see that urban patterns are not all grit and eyesore. They can be a source of poetic beauty, epiphany and delight. They can even calm our frayed nerves in these time-stretched, media-saturated times. Quiet observations of patterns in our midst can help us find clarity amid the overload, and be mindful that everything is interconnected.

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