I sometimes think about alternatives. What is it that makes one conversation interesting and another one not so much? Why is it that one minute I am happy and another minute, sad? Why are lions not tame and puppies wild? Why is dessert last and veggies first? Why am I so consumed with alternatives and not with other more reflective topics? Topics like… planning our Labour Day camping trip?
Alternatives are to me by definition, opposites. They are that which is and that which is not. For instance, I am a teacher by trade, but I often wonder what it would be like to be a full-time writer instead. The alternative is this: live in the tried and true, the steady source of income; or take a leap of faith and plunge into the unknown world of self-employment. Quite an alternative of choice in that last sentence.
I think of alternatives with even greater stakes, those which change the course of a life. And these alternatives are the hardest ones to ponder. But what has got me really thinking in the last little while is what the alternative would be for me if my life was more dramatic. Flashy. Fascinating. More content driven. I am after all, a writer; and writers want to gain readership. But how? Would it make for better writing material if my life were more tragic? More interesting story lines if I was funnier? A greater demand from my readership if I had a more sensational life story?
My life is so…bland.
I was reading about a writer today who deals with addictions. As a result of telling her story, hundreds and thousands of people have reacted to her experience and shared their own tale of woe and heartache. There are many, many people out there with painful life stories. Many who suffer addictions. Many who are depressed and suicidal. Many who are desperate for answers to life’s dilemmas. Desperate for hope. And it got me thinking this thought. Unless your life is lived on the brink of disaster, there is seemingly so little to share, to relate to the greater world out there. For what people want to read about are life experiences that mirror their own, or on the contrary which provide worthwhile reading material to keep them from living that kind of life. What people don’t want to read about are ordinary lives lived in predictable ways. Because who really wants to read about someone’s tough day as a mom when they are just about to pop a pill to end their life? Or who really needs to hear another rant about someone’s bad day when their own alternative life is too horrific to even contemplate? And far worse are those of us whose lives seem to be peaches and roses…who wants to read about that?
I think people want sensational storylines because it is not only more interesting to read, it opens the reader up to raw, edgy and honest material that challenges and moves people to different levels of understanding. Sensational reading material is vulnerable and transparent. Sensational seems more real because it bares all. And it holds back nothing. It is tragic, poetic, mystic and dramatic in one messy package. While ordinary, as the alternative, is quite the opposite. It is boring, uninteresting, un-provocative. Predictable.
Same old, same old. Ho hum. Why do I care, you ask? Because I am this: boring.
However, is it worth it to be the alternative? To live life in that larger than life place, just so one can be read and thus validated? Is it worth it to live a shattered life so as to have a story to tell? Is it worth it to be turned inside out so as to compel people, and thus draw them in? Is it worth it? Is the greater trade off, that of trading in a perfectly good, perfectly normal existence for a more dramatic life that is noteworthy, worth it in the end?
Hard call. I know that some would say it is worth it. Particularly celebrities who have cashed in on fame with the cost of their privacy. Even ordinary people would say they would not change a thing about their lives when tragedy or fortune comes calling. How can we say what is best for our lives when we know no other life than the one we are living?
I digress. What I am really analyzing here is what makes great reading material, and the alternative, what does not. At the end of the day, people want to read the words of someone they feel a connection with. And when the connections are made, readers are able to feel empathy and understanding from those writers who KNOW HOW IT IS from personal experience.
It is so validating for both the reader and the writers when the written word strikes a chord. Ordinary folk who live lives that command little attention from the outside world can still make an impact. The ripple effect is not as wide but it is no less real. These writers and players are quietly going about their business, raising families, holding down jobs, paying off mortgages, solidifying relationships and trying to be decent citizens of the world. No one notices if they drop off the social scene because they are not limelight seekers. Neither do they demand that people notice. They have nothing to prove to anyone other than their closest circle of family and friends.
This group of people is the largest sector out there. It is thus worthwhile to know the hearts and minds of these ordinary folk particularly when they are the status quo. It is important to find out how ordinary people live out their ordinary lives when the majority of us in this big old world are likewise ordinary people living out ordinary lives.
There is strength in the status quo. Everyday people are where it’s at.
Because even ordinary people can have extra-ordinary stories tucked away inside. I’m all for talking to everyone regardless of stereotype, age, social class or distinction. People are people are people. So whether people suffer addiction or depression or the baby blues, people are struggling to make it through the best way they know how. And sometimes the world needs to hear from people whose lives are larger than our own. And other times it just needs to hear from the regular folk who are plugging away on the periphery. Either way, there are truths to be heard and understood. From the mouths of those who are the greatest of us to those who are the very least.
At the end of the day, it is not the story that has the greatest importance but the storyteller. And regardless of whether the package is covered with delicate tissue or a brown paper bag, inside is a gift that is worth unwrapping. The gift. A life story unique and unparalled. Like no other, and never to be replicated. And truly, how extraordinary and rare is that?