I love the podcasts “Snap Judgment” and “The Moth” for a lot of reasons, but the biggest is how much I’ve learned about storytelling.
A run in with a bully. A stupid dare with your best friend. A day dream during church. Mundane events every human can relate to somehow. Experiences we’ve all had (sometimes tangentially). Moments I tend to look at in my own life and throw away because they’re just life—they’re not story worthy.
Except when they’re told by the right voices…Voices willing to give them the attention they deserve.
A casual run in turns into foreshadowing of a future dream come true or wish fulfilled. Mundane encounters, touched with just a brush of magic, turn coincidences back into fate. Boring “just life” becomes the foundation of a story, an adventure.
Eowyn Ivey spins this truth in fiction masterfully. It’s magical realism that characters summon themselves. In “To the Bright Edge of the World,” Sophie creates magic through her camera and through her grief, while her husband sees it in desperation, exhaustion, and illness in the Alaskan wilderness. Whether or not there’s really magic in the tundra or the photographs is up to whoever reads the story.
But it’s so much easier to see this ordinary magic in fiction than real life. Personal reality is eclipsed by the more thrilling snapshots of others. A curated photo on an exotic vacation and handpicked updates that make the lives other people live seem like nonstop adventures and thrills. While my own life is just so…ordinary. Filled with joys and heartaches, grief and happiness, honeymoons and fights, luck and fear.
But maybe I’m looking at this all the wrong way. Maybe it doesn’t have to be about finding the story that sets me apart, the story that brings magic into my life, but finding magic in the stories I’ve already lived–the common stories that give us common ground.
My favorite editorial mentor gave me this life lesson shortly after she found out she was getting laid off:
I’ve spent a lot of my life wishing for the things and outcomes I thought would make me happy. But even when things worked out they didn’t really “work out.” So I’ve started to just wish to be happy. No specifics.
And maybe that’s what I need, what we all need sometimes. Less time spent on dreams of happiness. More time spent realizing the ordinary, underrated, and unexpected can make us happy.
So, what are you reading this week?