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(Extra)ordinary Lives

In response to last week’s Stories For the Infinite Future, an email arrived from a reader, who is not a blogger, saying that she can’t imagine what stories she could tell because her life has been so ordinary.

Let's say this all together now: No lives are ordinary.

Even if you “only” got married, raised children and tended the backyard garden, you have stories to tell. You especially have stories your children, grandchildren and beyond will care about. Everyone wants to know who and where they came from and what those people were like, how they lived, what they did. That’s why so many adoptees seek out their birth parents and why genealogy is popular: We all struggle to know ourselves and a large part of doing that is in knowing our family pasts.

Consider celebrities. The public can’t get enough of Biography on the A&E channel, profiles on the E! channel, mini-biographies such as the “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and the celebrity biographies in book form that are published each year.

Before they were celebrities, all these people were “ordinary” too, and every book, profile and interview begins with a rendition of birthplace, family and education with attendant personal anecdotes and stories. In fact, I would argue that what we want to know most about celebrities is their ordinariness; how they are like us.

When I was producing interviews for The Barbara Walters Specials, the most frequent question I got from people I knew about the stars we worked with was, “What is Sean Connery (or Katharine Hepburn or Cher, etc.) really like?”

What those people wanted to know was what a big-time movie star does with herself when she’s not making movies. That’s what the best entertainment profiles deliver - a peek into the celebrity’s private life...

...and it is also what your descendants will want to know about you. You are part of them; your blood flows in their veins; your genes will inform their appearance, behavior, perhaps even their interests and passions.

The smallest things can make interesting stories. There is a photo of my grandmother from about a hundred years ago, and I surely wish I knew how she did her hair like that because I’d like to do that with mine. And how did she and other women, I wonder, survive hot summer days in corsets and long, heavy dresses up to their necks with a petticoat or two underneath and no air conditioning while cooking on a wood stove? If she'd written down her stories (or kept a blog), I might know.

Your stories also become a record of life in general – modern to us now – that will, a generation or two hence, contain curiosities and puzzlements. Do you have a photo of your grandchild on Christmas day plugged into his new iPod, ignoring the festivities around him? Believe me, his grandchild, who will listen to music in some way we can’t imagine, will want to know what an iPod was as he sifts through the family photos.

My father told a story of when he was a boy, being sent to his room on the second floor of the house for some infraction of the rules. Bored, he dropped notes out the window on a fishing line to his cousin who waited below. His grandmother leaned out a first-floor window to halt the game and my dad, in a panic, reeled in the line and caught the fish hook on his grandmother’s wig, snatching her bald in front of the entire neighborhood. Obviously, he was in even worse trouble then, but it’s funny years later and now it’s part of the family lore.

Everyone has dozens of stories, large and small, happy and sad, funny and painful, that shouldn’t be lost because you think your life is ordinary. It is not. Your stories will bring alive times past for your descendants and enrich their lives by knowing the family stories of their ancestors (that’s you someday).

So let’s say it together one more time: No lives are ordinary.


I can just see the snagged wig being jiggered upward. *laughin uncontrollably* Thanks for sharing that moment with us. Timelines run both ways. Since Bogie introduced our family to blogging, I've heard wonderful tales out of our daughters's families and lives. I hope that Bogie, Dudette, and Wichi Dude understand how appreciative I am of their everyday stories and of glimpses into their past lives, of which I had not previously heard. My own parents were properly aghast, at times, upon learning what their progeny had actually been "up to" in their earlier years!

A great story about your dad and your grandmother's wig! I can just picture the scene! Am still giggling!

*giggles at the wig* Oh, DEAR. That's beautiful.

That's the other thing that's lovely about blogging - such incidents are also fun to hear about even if they aren't within the family itself, especially if they are part of the personal history of someone you read regularly, and feel you know.

Great story, and how true it is that there are no ordinary lives. Everyone has a few great stories to tell, no matter how dull they think their lives have been.

Families tend to have all these wonderful oral stories, stories you have "heard all your life". To your reader with the "ordinary life": stop and think about large family gatherings, the laughter and the stories, everyday stories that had such special meaning that they stayed around in repeated tales. To preserve these in a written history would be a treasure for years to come.

Perhaps it's not that some of us think that our lives are too "ordinary" but that we just enjoy other people's stories more than our own. Perhaps people are divided into voyeurs and actors...a difference in how we each react in the world.

No lives are ordinary. Amen.

If it is possible, you get better and better. This post really hit home to me, I think my life has been ordinary but as you point out, no life is ordinary!



this is all so true!
that's why a lot of have started videoblogs, so our children and grand children can see who we were when we were young. the things you can't write in text; seeing my first apartment in nyc, getting a tattoo, having lunch with my best friend.
it's all important.
lets share it.


Goodness! Millie hit the nail on the head!!

I think one of the most interesting reasons to post is that we really don't know what will be of interest to others. What is trivial in the present might easily be of importance in the future. We're all different and little pieces of our lives that might be completely uninteresting to our children today can easily be of great interest to our grandchildren. The other reason to blog is that we too might forget and having a record of posts is like having a personal time travel machine at our disposal.

The very word life means experience, change, learning, emotion...yes, every life is a GREAT story and that is why I love reading all the blogs!

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