Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Queen of the Mundane

So I opened my e-mail a few days ago to find a rejection notice of a maternal-type essay I wrote and sent in to a parenting journal. The essay talked about the stresses of being a modern mother of three extra-demanding children and was pretty much typical Adriana Bliss stuff, you know?

The notice said, “We liked your story but felt it did not move beyond the mundane enough to be right for us.”


The word, “mundane,” was familiar to me – an online critic once applied that particular criticism to a couple of my photographs I’d put up at a forum for review. The description incited some argument because of course the critic was like 20 years old and living in New York City and couldn’t be further disconnected from the L.A. suburbs or from a non-working, aging mother. The two perspectives were grossly skewed. The proponents of my shots argued that there was nothing mundane about my point of view, that there was beauty and excellent form and there was uniqueness to what I expressed. Perhaps. Certainly, I thought later, when the child has free access to clubs and plenty of time to compose artistic, black and white fluff…well, shots of “backyard flowers” would certainly seem...


Am I mundane? Have I become a lonely old woman who frets about mold growing on bread in an overheated bread box? Am I ordinary, speaking in ordinary tones, speaking of the mundane in a voice that doesn’t, cannot, go beyond unfixable limitations?

I’m reminded of a quote by Dale at the blog, Mole, that I was a little horrified by last month (brought to my attention by the inimitable Diana at Diaphanous):

I feel diminished and ordinary, though. This was what I have been protecting myself against, all these years -- against this sense of myself as just a person like any other person, subject to the same discontents, laboring under the same conditions. And that's exhausting too. I hadn't realized just how heavily I leaned on a sense that I had something special about me, something in reserve that would dazzle people if they only knew -- how much I depended on that.

The statement Dale wrote, beautiful and haunting, horrified me because it rang so true. Since I was a child I labored under the idea that I was someone unique and special and…brilliant (yes, yes, the term had been applied to me in college by beloved professors, a term I hung on to and so badly wanted to believe)…a person who would accomplish great things. As I struggled with failed goals, I kept putting new ones in front of me, different ones, each one seeming just as impossible to attain as the last, each goal getting less and less spectacular until one morning I woke up and my goals consisted of getting out of bed, making a fried egg, and showering.

“If I can do those three things, the day should work out fairly well.”

Happiness continues to elude me – depression comes and goes – hopes ebb and flow. I sigh often and droop about the house, an ordinary house in the middle of an ordinary suburb somewhere southeast of Los Angeles. Time is catching up and in some circles I am beyond hope to do much more than mother and teach a couple of classes on the side.

What if that is all I was ever meant to do? How does one let go of the extraordinary illusions? Do I try to be the "best darn mother this side of the Mississippi?"

How ordinary, how mundane, that at this midlife I wonder these things.

This morning I sat in traffic on the way into Studio City to meet my dearest friend, Lori, for a breakfast at Jinky’s Cafe. A pick-up truck drove past me, a display case full of Mexican sweet bread in the bed. The pinks, the yellows, the browns…the bread to accompany cafĂ© con leche on a chilly spring morning. How funny to see the bread there in the center lane, the imagined scent making its way into my car.

So ordinary, the bread.


8763 Wonderland said...

Hey, A. I have all sorts of anti-depressants over here, plenty of Depakote and Seroquel for you and Dale! But you cannot have any of my Abilify.

Other than that, the only other words I can summon up for your post are ...

... fuck.

Adriana Bliss said...

While I can't speak for Dale, I think I could do with some happy meds, RJ!

Lordy, I think your word sums up the sentiment pretty well, LOL.

Fromage de Merde said...

Viva el ordinay!

Oh, and Viva el Fuck too!

David N. Scott said...

Hey, there's nothing wrong with being settled and ordinary. Someone who says different is some interesting person who's burned out and wishes for ordinariness. ;)

Diana said...

You know that I've been thinking a lot about this issue lately, and I'm becoming convinced that the drive that some of us feel to write comes from that, that urgent feeling that while it may seem like I am ordinary and like my life is ordinary, there's something special and amazing and wonderful about me and it and I want you to see this! (The implication being that if you, as a reader, can see that then you can now see the amazing in your own self and life and I as a writer have done my job.)

I've seen this point illustrated by well-read people who can cite authors who spent their entire careers dealing with ordinary life. I am not well-read enough to do this, but I am encouraged to know that they're there.

Ok, so now that you've had a few days to process the rejection email, can you take a fresh look at your essay and try to see why the journal thought it was mundane? Can you try to find the germ of wonderful and amazing that prompted you to write the essay and evaluate whether or not you managed to convey it? (If you think you did, then maybe it's one of those cases where this journal couldn't see it but another one will.) Is it possible that a rewrite would make that thing you wanted to show pop out more?

Just some thoughts. For what it's worth, I lovelovelove your "ordinary" writing. I think you have such a knack for really capturing the complexity that's always present.

Dale said...


Oh, the urge to write comes from all kinds of things, I think. The compulsion to write, for me, comes of wanting to be brilliant. (Yes, my beloved professors did me that disservice too. And I in turn did it to my students, hoping that recognizing their brilliance would somehow guarantee my brilliance. Ay.)

But I don't write much that's any good out of that compulsion. When I write something good it's either from having something to say I really want people to hear, or it's simply jeu d'esprit, an overflow of high spirits.

I do think nowadays that "mundane" is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Right here, right now, what we've got in our hands, the Papa John's pizza and the flowers in the back yard. If they don't do it, nothing will.

(Thank you for such kind words, Adriana! I can't imagine applying the word "mundane" to what you write, actually, it's far too vivid and closely observed. So I would dismiss your unworthy editor with Brecht's words: "Unhappy the land that needs heroes!".)

Lori said...

Hi bud---

I'm so glad you dug Jinky's! I do miss that place. It's so laughably LA...but you can't beat the food & the coffee.

As for 'mundane'...such a mean-sounding word, isn't it? Well...while your piece may have been about something that many parents deal with, it was beautifully written. I think those people you sent it to just have their heads up their a**es.

Adriana Bliss said...

LOL, Patrick!

David, that sounds pretty accurate if you ask me!

Diana, thank you so much for that. In the end, the problem is quite ordinary...the essay didn't fit the journal. That's why I have my I can write whatever I damn well please, mundane or not, eh? LOL

Dale, you're very welcome...and thank you for such wonderful input here. More thoughtful contemplation of the "ordinary." :)

I loved Jinky's! But maybe I loved it more because you were there. Thank you, Lori, for your theory...LOL! You're the best, you know. :)