On Banality

How are you doing with banality? What? You know, your daily encounter with your ordinary banal self. You want to write a truly good poem, bake a great red velvet cake, create a subtle layer on your encaustic painting and it just doesn’t work out: the poem is clunky, the cake falls, the wax cracks. And there you are, face to face with yourself and your ho hum-ness. Do you despair, give up, throw away your pens, your paints, turn on the tele? Or do you take it in stride, go for a walk and get on with getting on? I hope the latter.

I have been trying to finish a particular poem I wrote five years ago. At the time I was inspired and I see the inspiration of the poem and I see also, that it doesn’t quite work yet. I have tried forcing the ending out of impatience. I have tried chucking the entire poem into the “I am a lousy poet” file. But I keep returning to it because something in it is alive and I want to be true to that spirit. Today, looking at this poem, I feel what the poem is asking for and am “suddenly” able to write it and to give the poem the ending it needs. Another writer might not have taken five years to discover what their poem needed, but I did. That’s just how it works sometimes.

One of our greatest challenges as artists, as human beings, is always going to be facing our banality. (Jane Hirshfield has written about this concisely in her marvelous book, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, but I can’t find the reference right now.) Despite moments of startling clarity, insight and depth, I never get over the pain of encountering my limitations, my profound dullness. But I have learned to just keep plugging along. Sometimes I need to lower my standards (thank you, William Stafford for that one); sometimes I need to raise them. Most of the time I need to show up (Woody Allen–”80% of life is showing up.”) — showing up over and over again. And every now and again, I have to throw something new in the works and see what happens to lift myself out of the horizontal, out of flatness. I remember the writer, Grace Paley telling one of her workshop participants, that whenever she (Grace) got stuck in writing a story, she would just drop someone horrible in the story and see what happened (thank you, Grace Paley).

Well, that’s what was on my mind this morning. Time to run some errands, look at some art (it’s Open Studios here in Santa Cruz), and come home to try and finish that other poem I stalled out on.

Be brave and keep showing up. Bye for Now.

Speaking of Poetry — Coming Up

I will be reading, Nov. 17, as part of the “Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts” series the third Wednesday of every month held at the Santa Cruz Art League, 7-9 pm. For more info check out these two websites: http://www.sparringwithbeatnikghosts.com &   http://www.scal.org