I learned a new word the other day: “quotidian”. Virginia Woolf cared very much about the quotidian details of the life of women. In To the Lighthouse it is Mrs.Ramsay’s rush of thoughts, unfiltered and disorganised as she put socks on her son’s feet, that we are privy to. In Jacob’s Room we travel through the details of his room at the end – the arrangement of his shoes, for instance. Michael Cunningham writes that she conveyed “The quotidian pleasure of simply being present in the world on an ordinary Tuesday in June. That’s one of the reasons we who love her, love her as ardently as we do.”

Today Nigel showed me a photo of a piece of artwork hanging on the wall of a pub/gallery in Bangkok. It is black-and-white drawing of a seated woman – perfectly-coiffed hair, painted face, perfectly-shaped eyebrows. Her hands are laid, almost clutching, on her pregnant belly. Her face is large, and disproportionately so. Sprouting from the top of her head is a row of trees. Her wide eyes are looking into the distance, vulnerable, glazed over a little, and streaming with tears. Scrawled wildly at random in the blank space surrounding her figure are her thoughts – “I am tired and want to rest. Oh! My baby. Oh! My son. Oh! My daughter.”

How do we understand this drawing? Do we place her in wider context of any particular community? Is she a feminist symbol? A woman, carrying the weight of the world in her tummy and on her head, trapped into her assigned role, and in despair despite her apparent comfortable wealth? Or do we wonder – who is this woman? What is she thinking? Why is she dressed in such a proper outfit? Is she from another time, where what was casual wear is costume to us today? What time is it? Why did she put on her makeup – is she on the verge of doing something important? Going for a party she doesn’t want to attend? Suicide?

In Germany: Memories of a Nation, there is a chapter that talks about the millions of women – the Trümmerfrauen – who set about rebuilding a largely destroyed Germany after WW2. There is an accompanying photo of 8 young women surrounded by rubble. Each face is suspended in a half smile, absorbed in various states of conversation, looking like a scene in just another day at the office. No one can say what they were talking about. Personal stories slipping between the cracks of time. All one can do, reading this one book, is to stare into the frozen faces of these women and wonder – what did they talk about, what did they do everyday, when and how long do they take to style their hair amidst all that is happening around them?

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