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Writing the Ordinary

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Photo by Seb Mooze on Unsplash

I love stories about ordinary people. Sure, superheroes are great, and being a cop who blows stuff up is fun, but for me, the interesting stories are about regular people. I feel like there are fewer and fewer of these stories today. To be in a book, you have to be a mass murderer or at least have some terminal illness or be prepared and willing to commit suicide. And don’t get me wrong, these are all fantastic stories, some of my best friends.

But I look around, and I don’t know anyone who had substantial trauma. Yes, I’m privileged, and my life is sheltered, for sure. But if I’m honest, I don’t know that I can relate that much to someone who is a “bigger than life” person, has an abusive parent, or has gone through war and homelessness. Sure, I can understand it, especially when it’s a well-written story. I can empathise. But then I close the book and move on with my life because my life looks nothing like that.

I wonder why we tend to prefer stories that are so outside of our lives. Maybe it’s safer this way. When it’s someone like us, a regular person who had a good childhood and has friends and a loving relationship, it’s too close to home.

Another aspect of this is the question of how much trauma is in the eyes of the beholder. I’ll tell you a story. My therapist asked me why I became vegetarian when I was 14, and I told her it was because a little while before that, my grandparents came to visit. I was sick enough to not go to school that day but not so much that I could get away with lying in bed all day, so I had to help my dad and my grandfather “with the turkeys”. We used to have a turkey farm. It wasn’t the only thing, but my dad would raise them from little chicks until they were big enough to be sent away on a truck. I had often gone with him to feed them and such, mostly when they were little. When they were grown, I was scared to death of them. Anyways, that day I tagged along with my dad and grandfather and discovered how come we always have schnitzels and chicken soup when my grandparents came to visit. I’ll spare you the details, but there was quite a bit of blood.

My therapist called it a trauma. I think she was pretty shocked by this story. I was like, no, that was a regular day. A lot of people I know went to help their fathers deal with turkeys. Someone I know told me when he had a Bar-Mitzva they had a lamb in the back yard for a couple of weeks before they cooked it. When I was little, my grandmother would have a live carp in the bathtub every Thursday for the Friday gefilte fish. Thursdays, therefore, were the best: no shower and a fun playmate.

I think this kind of story, for people who didn’t grow up on a farm or in similar circumstances, sounds exotic, unordinary, irregular. But for us, it was daily life. That said, I did stop eating meat after that day with the turkeys, but I do think it was compounded with other things. In any case, my point is this: our sheltered, regular lives can be interesting for others precisely because we are unique and our stories are unlike anyone else’s. That’s why we keep writing.


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1 Comment

Caroline Studdert
Caroline Studdert
Dec 07, 2021

I really enjoyed this, especially as I also often feel stories nowadays seem to have to feature some massive gimmick or super-oppressed, depressed, deprived, depraved, disabled or whatever character to hit the spotlight. Loved the grandmother and the carp, the Czechs and most Eastern Europeans do that for Christmas, including keeping them in their baths. All over Prague, counters spring up on the streets in the runup to Christmas with some big guy massacring carp; people often trail home with them dripping blood, so possibly the bath seems a better option if you really have to eat these overgrown goldfish. Our local restaurant in Prague did produce a delicious one, according to my partner (I refused to try it), and…


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