Yesterday I had an idea for a short essay about school. I scratched a note on a post-it and went back to teaching. At lunch, I took fifteen minutes to knock out a rough 850-word draft, then began editing and revising down toward 600. Halfway through, I was called to a meeting which lasted an hour. Back from that, I picked up where I had left off and made it through to the end. I read it through again and posted 560 words to the world.
No big deal. I write like this all the time. It's the most ordinary of things.
Last night, I was at a party where one of the hosts played electric guitar in a four-piece band. They played a tight instrumental rendition of Steely Dan's "Peg" which I love. I watched him as the song wound toward the solo and wondered how he would handle something Becker and Fagen tried with dozens of guitar players. He hit the first note and moved into a solo that nodded at the recorded version but which he made his own.
I love watching musicians perform and studied him. It seemed extraordinary to me, as musical performance often does, but when we talked about it, he shrugged like he had just written a short essay and posted it to his blog. No big deal. He does this all the time.
Earlier that day I tweeted that "I can't be the only one who has this feeling that anything I'm able to do can't possibly be extraordinary." I was thinking then about my writing. I could have written it of my friend's work with the guitar. So many things are extraordinary until we do them.
One thing that remains extraordinary for me is the prose poem. I wrote one this week, February Fifth, and it surprises me. It began with a line in my head and the approaching anniversary of my dad's unexpected death. "It always snows on the fifth of February even when it doesn't." That stuck with me for a day before I typed it and let the other words come through me. I revised the hell out of it and posted it, waiting for reactions. There weren't many.
My wife says that it's tough to know what to say about poetry. At first this wasn't enough for me. Then I thought of my friend Chris's photography.
Chris began as a nature/landscape photographer. (Actually, he began as a fertilized egg, but I'll skip ahead.) He has moved on to fine art photography. He'll forgive me for saying that he produces fewer pretty pictures and iconic shots of obvious majesty. He's onto something far less ordinary, a world in which he largely has to decide what is good because fewer people can follow him there. A shot of pine needles on snow confuses many because it is extraordinary.
I say that word in exploded fashion: extra ordinary. Out of and beyond the ordinary.
There is something to be said for going beyond what we are used to, for reaching toward the extraordinary. There is a lot to be said too for the things that we have made ordinary: my friend on guitar, Chris creating photographs, me writing essays. Taking on the extraordinary and coming to feel them as natural doesn't diminish them, but it does leave me wanting to reach beyond. I love writing essays such as this and enjoy the comfort with which I can compose and polish them. I also love reaching for something more even when I don't yet know what it is.
I came into this not knowing what I wanted to say. I come to the end not knowing much more of what it's all about, but feeling sure that this is the way to go, the ideas to ponder. I'm creating something. What it is, I don't know. And that, in and of itself, feels extraordinary.