Many people express variations of this thought when they learn that I teach life story writing. I cringe when I hear this, because I don’t consider any life ordinary or uninteresting, and that statement carries overtones of longing and discontent. These are the very people who could benefit the most from the power of personal exploration offered by memoir writing.
Whether you think your own life is dull and ordinary or not, you may benefit from some of the thoughts I share with these people.
Appreciate the ordinary.
The all-time best-selling flavor of ice cream is plain vanilla. We savor it plain for its simple, soothing richness. We also use it to dress up and accentuate other flavors. Can you imagine eating chocolate chip mint ice cream on cranberry crisp? Vanilla goes with everything. And how about the “little black dress” that can be accessorized six ways to Sunday and worn anywhere? Remember how soothing it is to return to your “plain old house” after a frazzling day.
Document the ordinary.
That which seems ordinary to you today may seem extraordinary and amazing to generations down the road. Just as I wonder how women a couple of centuries ago could keep their families fed without today’s ranges, refrigerators, plastic wrap and year-round produce supply, people a century from now may wonder how I managed without conveniences they will take for granted and I can’t imagine.
Dig a little deeper.
Legions of people with outwardly ordinary lives have rich and colorful inner ones. This inner life may take the form of fantasy, for example, planning exotic trips they never take, always having the perfect come-back on the tips of their tongues, and so forth. It may take the form of personal ritual, for example, brewing a cup of tea in Spode china each morning, or a special cigar on Saturday evenings.
Change your perspective.
One day I watched my tiny granddaughter explore a wooden bowl full of small rocks gathered from the banks of the Columbia River many years ago. A stranger may wonder why I keep this drab bowl of rocks around. Sarah didn’t notice they were ordinary. She found them fascinating. She banged them together. She tasted them, and gnawed on them to sooth her teething gums. Then she pondered the difference in their appearance when they’re wet. She poured them out and put them back in. She arranged them in circles. She fingered their smoothness. Infected by her enthusiasm, I stacked a few flat ones into a Zen rock pile that she delighted in knocking down.
The ordinary gains beauty when viewed through fresh eyes.
Perhaps those who consider their lives ordinary are crying out for reassurance and affirmation of their worth. What better way to get that assurance and affirmation than to write about your life and share it with others? As you do, you’ll create a legacy of personal history and give future generations the benefit of your experience and the gift of your perspective.