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Monday, June 28, 2010

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Ordinary Lives


Houston artist Kirsten Ufer made this beautiful print that hangs above my desk. It was part of the Mom 2.0 Summit auction to benefit Haiti, and I bid on it thinking I would give it away to a reader, but it turns out I'm kind of greedy, and I had to keep it for myself. My preshus.

The text on it is a quote pulled from a piece of mine that appears in Kirtsy Takes a Bow, an anthology of womens' voices online. (In spite of being greedy and all, I can't seem to hang on to a single copy of that book. I keep replacing mine, only to give it away.) The quote is, "Life is rich and interesting and full of story. It's okay to write it down."

I wrote that in response to a snide comment I read in print about women who write about their lives and publish it online. You've all seen or heard some variation of it. What makes you think your life is worth writing about? Who do you think you are? Why should anyone care? Etcetera.

The thing is, those are interesting and valid questions when they're not hostile. In the course of introductions a few nights ago, a friend mentioned that I had a book coming out. The guy wondered what it was about, so I gave him the short answer, which is that it's a memoir about family life.

"Why is your story important?" came the question. In another tone of voice, it could have tripped my defenses, set off the mental alarms that warn, "ATTACK! ATTACK!" But his expression was sincere and interested. He wasn't trying to be the provocateur; he was just curious.

The answer came so quickly and easily, it sent lightning along my spine. I don't think it came from me at all. At least not the me that sits in the control booth behind my eyes.

"For the same reason yours is," I told him.

I try to keep a lid on my expectations of this book. Now that it's written, my attitude toward it is that of a mom, sending her grown child off into the wide world. Good luck, let us know how you're doing. Send money when you find work. Its success or failure is largely out of my hands now.

The book is about belonging, about becoming a family. It roughly covers a ten-year span. When Patrick read the manuscript in full for the first time, he said he couldn't believe how much we had lived through in those ten years. Nor could he believe how much didn't make it into the book. Not just trivial things, either. Big stuff, whole chapters, left out because there wasn't room, or it simply isn't time.

Life is epic. Mine. Yours. It begins with birth; it ends with death, and in between is a hero's journey: love, agony, comedy, horror, struggle, victory, defeat. There are no ordinary or extraordinary lives. There are only ordinary and extraordinary storytellers.

If I could ever be counted among the latter, may it always be in service of the former. Because what matters most to me, what will make my book "important," is not whether the critics are impressed, or the academy, or even other writers I admire. What matters is that it makes people believe that their own story--told or untold, written or unwritten, published or unpublished--is just as important.



Blogger Neil said...

This guy's question, "Why is your story important?" is one of those questions that really doesn't deserve an answer. Even your response about life being epic sounds like you are trying too hard. We both would read a book about a safety pin sitting on a table if it was interesting enough. I find that a story that has to be pumped up with importance is usually a lesser story. Most of us spend 99% of our days doing unimportant (or unimportant to other people at first glance) stuff. We should reflect that in our stories as well.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Courtenay said...

"life is epic." i love that. i also read a phrase the other day that i love - "small lives of great consequence." great post. i can't wait to read your book, it cannot get here soon enough.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

So true. Even in fiction, the overall plot isn't as important as how the story's told... how we get there. Congratulations! On many things.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

But you do have an extraordinary story. Not to have told it would have been greedy. Especially when you're such an extraordinary storyteller.

So we thank you.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Lindsey said...

Oh Kyran, I needed to hear this so desperately today, as I wrestle with my own memoir, and all of those hostile voices in my own head and sometimes in other peoples' mouths. Thank you for this. I can't wait to read your book.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

Everyone's story is just as important. So lovely. And powerfully true.

Thank you, Kyran.

8:14 PM  
Blogger sarah gilbert , cafemama said...

[shivers] can't wait to read your epic ordinary tale, Kyran.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Jomama said...

You have such a knack for plucking inchoate thoughts and feelings from my unconscious, and polishing them to perfectly articulate what I've been wanting to say, but couldn't form.

Thank you. Again.

5:01 PM  
Blogger Jomama said...

BTW, I *heart* that print. Can we get reprints of our own? I would love notecards or a poster!

5:04 PM  
Blogger starrynightimpressions said...

Yeahhhhh! Your words in a book, can't wait to read it, let us know when we can order a copy :)

12:30 AM  
Blogger patsyrose said...

I started writing my blog mainly so that my greatgrandchildren and great-greatgrandchildren could see what one of their ancestors was like.

I would give anything to have the opportunity to read the thoughts of my own ancestors, whether they were supremely interesting or mundane.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Angela said...

Thanks Kyran for a great post. It's unfortunate that "worthy literature" is only considered if something completely extreme or extraordinary happens, as though saying our everyday lives is just a waystation till the next adventure and doesn't have its own magic. Unfortunately this happens way too much with women voices.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Schmutzie said...

This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday!

11:20 AM  
Blogger Joan said...

Yes, we all have a story. I also agree, our tone when conversing, can say much more than even our words.

1:03 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

Nicholson Baker wrote a whole book about someone going up a flight of escalator stairs. It's not what you say. It's how you say it that captivates people.

12:40 AM  
Blogger Notes from the Trenches said...

I love everything about this post. And I love the print. Is she going to make reprints of it?

8:25 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Thanks! I'm told it's a one of a kind.

8:43 AM  
Blogger kirsten said...

Hi Kyran - what a nice compliment that you kept my poster! I just happened to stumble across your blog and saw this entry, today. Loved your quote and the story behind it!

4:23 PM  

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