The beauty of the ordinary

string shelves lined with books in a living room with a little boy in front of them

A few days ago, someone who doesn’t know me very well asked me about this blog and what I write about. I was surprised at the question, which popped up at the school gates, because I am still uncomfortable with the idea of people knowing I even have a blog. My first instinct was suspicious. I wanted to enquire: How do you know I have a blog? But instead I simply said: I write about my everyday. I tell stories of the ordinary things in my life, incidental things that might only be small but are still somehow special to me. (Or something similar to that).

She looked me in the eye, and held my gaze steady. I smiled; her expression was entirely expressionless. As if it might offer clarity, then I simply said: I write about life. She raised an eyebrow. I felt delusional.

I knew what she was thinking for at times there’s a voice in my head that thinks it too. What about my life could be interesting enough to write about? What about my very ordinary day-to-day could be worth sharing? Why, when you have a chance to write and readers who read you, would you not write about the extraordinary? Surely the extraordinary is more interesting than your ordinary? And if you have nothing extraordinary in your life of which to write, then why not imagine it, make it up, write fiction, instead?

I also know better than to listen to that voice.

Here’s what I tell it, that voice that tells me I have nothing of consequence to write about, although I did not tell it to the person to whom I was talking at the time: I think the ordinary is underrated and the extraordinary far too overrated. The extraordinary might be juicy. It might be big, explosive, noisy, dramatic. It might hold our interest for a moment or two, for the length of a celebrity autobiography or a catchy headline. But extraordinary isn’t always real. It isn’t always meaningful. Extraordinary won’t last. It might, on a good day, be magical and mesmerising but it’s there and then it isn’t. It’s gone again before you know it. A click of the finger. Over, again.

But the ordinary. Oh, but the ordinary. It’s always there. It’s the touch of a hand in a small of a back. It’s the familiar smell of a baby’s neck. It’s a glance, shared across a train carriage. The familiarity of routine, the mere comfort of it. Or else it’s those words that break your heart, the tears that come from nowhere. It’s loss. It’s loneliness. It’s everything.

It’s in the ordinary that most of us live, and if I can’t find meaning in my most ordinary of everydays then, well, that leaves me feeling desperately sad. It is the ordinary that I know I’ll miss the most when it’s no longer there. The sound of his key in the door. The smell of a jumper. Little fingers, running through my hair. Evenings curled up on the sofa, a bowl of satay upon my lap; a hand to hold.

Beats of hearts.

*

Sometimes someone else’s ordinary does something to you. Makes you catch a breath or else the hairs on your arm stand up or your eyes grow damp or tears spill and you don’t quite know why. It’s empathy, but it’s more than that. It’s stretches deeper. It’s ordinary but majestic because it is real.

It threads us together. It reminds us we’re not the only ones.

Ordinary puts an arm around you. Catches your eye. Looks straight deep at you when you speak, and listens. Really listens. It doesn’t just sit there, playing with its phone, waiting for someone better to come along.

And so.

You might think your life is entirely ordinary. You might think you are just a stay-at-home mother, or have a boring lawyer job - nothing of any extraordinary substance, you might say. To you, I say: to hell with extraordinary. Ordinary makes the world go round. Ordinary, damn it, is extraordinary.

So I’ll tell the ordinary stories of my ordinary everyday as an ordinary woman. Because they matter to me. Because they might matter to someone else too.

I urge you too to tell your stories (indeed; I ask this of you in Postcards Home) because I need your ordinary.

We all do.

Will you join me?

Postcards Home is my online summer writing course on writing your first-person memories and in it, I write more about the beauty and the strength of writing about your ordinary. It’s designed to inspire you to want to write, to fall in love with writing, and to do it in a small, simple ways that aren’t overwhelming.

The next round of Postcards Home begins on Monday, July 1st, 2019.

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