Ordinary adventures

My head is wrapped in a towel as I sit down and face the mirror. As she unwinds and reveals the results of the eye-burning wait, my hair tumbles out: the usual brunette, now with two banana yellow stripes along each side of my face. Not what I was expecting.

My son is in the middle of writing college application essays. I am his in house writing coach and verbal valium dispenser. In an attempt to be the best support I can be, I read a book about writing college application essays. The author recommends that when constructing a narrative, the writer must make a distinction between the “ordinary and the extraordinary.” The possibility of an interesting story begins at the point in which something unexpected happens in a commonplace string of events.

I am standing in line holding a form. The form is only partially filled out. I forgot my insurance card, my work ID and any memory of a tetanus shot. Everyone in line is awkwardly trying to make small talk. Someone pipes up that this is their first time. Someone else says, “Oh, I get one every year and I am never sick.” Several other people share their history. I say, “Do you get cookies and orange juice at the end?” I am told no, but that you get a 10% coupon to the grocery store. A guy steps out from behind the partition clutching the top of his arm and staggering. His face is winced in pain and then he grins. I look at my watch. If the person I was supposed to be meeting with right now was not in the line two people ahead of me, and if I had not gotten so sick last year, I would not be here.

My son easily applies this advice. He is able to identify unique experiences in his high school career and express himself in a way that clearly indicates why these moments have singular importance. I, however, realize that I have an odd resistance to this delineation.   

A coworker to me: “You know those people who you can set your clock to? Who are always at work or go home or go to lunch at a certain time? You are not one of those people.”

I have no trouble discovering extraordinary departures, compelling segues or absurdly fascinating juxtapositions where an aura of potential narrative shimmers. I can hear a story in a turn of phrase. I can see a story in a bright red necklace. I can cajole a story from a forlorn sigh. My problem is that I have trouble deeming anything ordinary. It is hard for me to discern just a few snapshots when I am on a perpetual adventure. When the lady in front of me at Target is schooling a teenage girl on the evils of texting, I want to share the whole slideshow.

“My friend’s daughter died from texting. Died. Crashed her car. And she was adopted from China. From China. Found her in the river. Found the phone. That is what will happen to you. They will find you in the river some day. Dead.”

What is mundane when humans are involved? 

My head is down, rifling through my wallet for a credit card and a receipt I will need later in the day. My mind is knotted with annoyances, how long it had taken to drive here, whether I should have gotten the clear labels or the white labels and how stupid it is that I am the one who has to buy labels at all. “Isn’t the Fall Season wonderful!” I look up. The cashier at Office Max is talking to me. I say, “What?” “I love when it gets cooler and the trees turn colors and we get to wear warmer clothes again, don’t you?” She is smiling. I smile back. “I know. I am wearing my favorite sweater today.” She finishes the transaction and I leave not thinking about labels. 

Although I can help my son choose and edit his best, most distinct ideas, personally I am a hopeless hoarder of snippets I consider worth saving. Scribbling, perking up and leaning over, eavesdropping, watching out the corner of my eye. I am like a child surrounded by shiny, bright, spinning widgets of plot. I am always curious what will happen next.  

 An out-of-the-blue message from my sister: “Damn sacrifice.”



5 responses to “Ordinary adventures”

  1. LP says:

    Finding wonder in the mundane is a great gift, because so much of life is made up of the mundane and mundaner. I have an uncle who is particularly adept at this, he often emails me photos of completely random scenes that 99 percent of people would just pass by. He appends some goofy, dramatic subject line, and voila! A story has appeared out of nowhere. He could find beauty and drama in a cardboard box, I believe.

  2. swells says:

    This is why your posts are so lifelike! You collect moments. I so admire people who notice the stories in the humanity all around us. I hear it in people who obviously pay attention to idioms of speech and can reproduce them perfectly in writing (Smearcase, that’s you) or in your posts, PB, with their eye for detail and little snippets of human feeling. Love it!

  3. Stella says:

    Love, love, love this. I am an obsessive narrator of domestic trivia. I have to edit myself when chatting with people. The checkout line is like going to the movies. Thank you.

  4. Dave says:

    This was a beautiful post.

  5. Ivy says:

    I completely agree. I think this is why I have such a dull life; if I didn’t I would die from over-stimulation. Tulips came up in my garden this spring (right now) and I have taken a photo of every one of them. I don’t even care about flowers, I like vegetables. So now my mushroom crop (perfectly tedious, non-magic variety) is just starting to take, I am beside myself. There is nothing nothing like joy in minutia for fostering happiness!