today, tomorrow, and the day after that

Andrea Chu writes about slice of life, everyday routines, and other kinds of stories.


There’s a strange appeal to the slice of life genre: it’s seemingly mundane, but manages to evoke deep emotional resonance. When asked, most people might say slice of life media, in the form of lifestyle vlogs, Koreeda films, anime about regular high schoolers, or K-dramas centred on a seaside town community, feel healing or calming, that life is much too tiring. But if the superhero epics dominating the box office are anything to go by, it seems more would prefer to watch someone save the world with their friends than watch them cook and eat breakfast for forty minutes. In the way that memories are often retroactively imbued with conflict and resolution, following main characters and supporting cast, where narratives are strung together to justify why things happen the way they do, it seems we’re more inclined to read experiences in terms of dramatic rise and fall—where we might even get to fantasise ourselves as the hero. In The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin asks what a history written from the point of view of the bag, not the spear, might look like. A story about an everyday that has and will always be there when the adventure is all said and done, about the clothes that need washing and the meals that need preparing, about not specifically conflict or harmony but of these as intertwining in a continuous process, an everyday that might seem stagnant day-to-day but is always in movement. Would that be a slice of life?

My daily life seems to revolve around the same few places—the feeling of everydayness comes from the stability that is created through consistency, that there are necessarily things that remain constant. I might frequent the same coffee shop, walk through the same park to get to work, or shop for groceries at the same place around the block, despite the fact that when a friend I haven’t seen in a few months asks how I’ve been, I’m able to conjure a few experiences worth mentioning that deviate from this norm. Within this routine, there’s familiarity and comfort, but there’s also tedium—it's easy to become so complacent in it, you become careless. The mundane tasks that pervade everyday life also assume a kind of stasis—maintenance work, by definition, intends to maintain, it’s a productivity that labours in order to remain the same. 

Despite that daunting Sisyphean reality, there is still satisfaction of completion within the individual tasks at hand, and while it’s forever, maybe there’s something poignant about that—without any real destination, you have no choice but to value the journey. After all, in the face of guaranteed uncertainty, there is some comfort in knowing that some things do remain the same. It’s labour, but it’s also a contract, a promise—that as long as there’s still books to be shelved, and invoices to be filed, today, and tomorrow, and the next day, or something like that; we might be able to still be here together, today, tomorrow, and the day after that, or something like that. In doing these tasks to maintain an everyday, it ends up being these seemingly trivial things that cultivate the glue that holds the meanings and relationships that bind us.

Perhaps the appeal then, is not specifically in wanting to re-experience the kinds of mundane tasks that consume my daily life, but being able to take an observer position on someone else’s everyday allows me to climb out from under my complacency to feel the contours of what is meaningful to me. Yuriko Saito argues it’s possible to experience the aesthetic texture of our own everydayness as such, but to feel the ordinary without transforming it into the extraordinary requires recognition of the ways we move through life on autopilot. This attunement demands attention, and you’re right—to expect even more attention (in this economy!) is unrealistic. So I end up looking for it in other places, by taking a break, waiting for slice of life to give me what I think I want.

But when I watch a slice of life, I'm looking for more than just a slice of someone’s life. I want the characters to make something of their everyday in ways I haven’t, to be able to attend to their everyday that isn’t just about robotically trying to play catch up to a life that is passing them by. There is a hope that routines will transcend mere repetition, that they give rise to something more, that each day doesn’t just dissolve into habit but becomes the foundation upon which change can occur. No doubt transformative character development transpiring as a result of significant conflict and change feels the most satisfying, but I think there’s still room for another kind of story.

A slice of life depicts an aspirational version of an everyday, where emotional investments are reciprocated, relationships are not frictionless but conflicts strengthen rather than weaken bonds, and attachments to objects and places feel meaningful. Where a loaf of bread is baked in order to be shared; where sharing doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

What can we learn from the desires that slice of life authors write into an everyday? While crucial, attention and care still fall short of moving us to action. It is by wanting something more from the situation one is presented with, and envisioning an alternative that we begin to attempt to make changes to forge that as reality.



Andrea Chu is AAA's Assistant Editor. 



Andrea CHU, 朱熙晴

Fri, 5 Apr 2024

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