Our kitchen at work is full of mugs – lots of them – all different colors, designs, sizes, and some of varying shapes. Scanning these mugs looking for one to pick, I felt a little, well…tired. I felt tired of each of them competing for my attention. Then I saw this plain old mug and reached for it thinking there was some gaudy graphic on the other side. As I inspected it, I was surprised at the brief moment of joy and elation that I felt that there wasn’t anything on the other side. There wasn’t anything on the handle and no markings on the bottom either.
I don’t think I have ever seen a mug like this in my life. Even diner mugs have a yellowed meerschaum like quality to them and some kind of branded mark on the bottom of a restaurant supply house somewhere. Those mugs tend to look thick and squat with chubby little handles. They are worn, fatigued, and almost feel sad – but even they have a mild visual uniqueness. People know diner mugs when they see them.
This plain old mug really is innocuous and beautifully devoid of any added superfluous detail – it is JUST a mug. A plain mug, a simple vessel…and the joy I felt over this struck me as odd and intensely fascinating. For a moment it actually gave me a sense of relief and happiness, this simple mug!
Everything seems to be competing harder and harder – whatever is the brightest, loudest, most colorful seems to gets the attention first. I fall for it too, with music, beer, dress ties – but then I wonder what the value of that attention is, and what it means. When the mug is alive with color, what importance is what goes inside of it? When the exterior is sheen and painterly, what value does the deep blackness with soft brown edges of the coffee matter? Which is more important, or are they equally as important?
I don’t think I can answer that, but what I do know is in this mug, the coffee is the star. The mug itself fell away and all that was there was the color, flavor and smell of the delicious coffee inside it. It may be just me that thinks this is interesting, but I wonder what that means for our buildings, our homes, our cars, our lives.
Then again, it could just be a cup of coffee in a plain old mug.