'In Search of the Remarkably Mundane' Article by Matt Gilbert
Guest blogger, Matt Gilbert talks about finding writing inspiration in the seemingly mundane...
The ordinary? You know it, right? You’d recognise it at once.
Ordinary is always there hanging around, doing nothing much.
Ordinary is a kind of dusty, greenish-grey. It’s a little bland, a bit lethargic, slow moving, dull.
At parties, if invited, ordinary sits unobtrusively in corners – bag of supermarket own-brand cans clutched tightly in its lap, offering little by way of conversation.
Is that fair?
If asked to define the ordinary, to explain the mundane, I’d imagine many people – myself included – would use words like ‘average’, ‘routine’, ‘anonymous’, ‘pedestrian’, ‘standard’, ‘expected’ ‘everyday’ and ‘boring’.
In an effort to make all this sound grander, you might describe the slow grind tick, tock, tick, sigh of daily existence as ‘quotidian’. Perhaps you’d locate the ordinary, by referring to it as ‘suburban’. In a vague and general sense, we could probably all agree that ordinary is, ordinarily, all of the above.
A lot of what I write about on my blog and in poems could be regarded as ordinary, even mundane. Typical subjects are shabby English city squares, side streets, local parks and woods, quiet alleys, plane trees, sparrows, woodlice, buddleia.
None of them scream excitement, but all have, at times, gifted me inspiration. That isn’t because I aim to fetishize the banal: the truth is, I find that if you give it a second glance, or second’s thought, you can sometimes find the extra in the ordinary.
As a child, the routine and the familiar were conditions I felt compelled to escape. My getaway vehicle was usually a book. Luckily for me my youthful, existential ‘Is this it?’ was answered by midnight gardens, cavemen living in small-town dumps, Moomins pursuing comets, old whistles left on beaches, travellers knocking on moonlit doors and ancient woods, bigger by far than they appeared to be on a map – if you could find them on a map. My early reading gave me a hunger for what the late writer and critic Mark Fisher termed, ‘the weird and the eerie’.
As an adult it can be harder to access such thin-places, gateways to other dimensions. But while magic portals hidden under cherry laurel hedges may have been sealed off, bright flashes of strange, interrupting the everyday, can still be found.
Rather than a mystic hole, it may be an unexpected scream from a fox, or a swift, that does it. Sudden exhilarating reminders that this world is not only here for humans.
A group of sparrows appearing out of nowhere like UFOs, before abruptly and precisely banking in mid-air, as they hand-brake turn into a hedge.
Or a grey slab of paving stone, momentarily transformed into a living stage by a stag beetle.
Even beer bottles carelessly tossed into a street corner will sometimes catch a sudden shaft of sunlight and wink like grounded green stars. The gag-stink of a freshly burnt-out scooter abandoned in a park, might grab you by the nostrils and tell a story – if not a particularly uplifting one.
Another fascinating aspect of the ordinary, is how it manages to somehow be at once overlooked and everywhere. Authors, poets, ‘edgeland’ nature writers, psychogeographers, local historians and more can’t seem to leave the everyday alone.
The best ones change it, or you, or both. For example, you may know what shadows are and have seen them, but read how Alice Oswald handles a shadow in her collection Falling Awake and they’ll never seem quite the same again.