All serious daring starts from within. —Eudora Welty
After I set the goal of writing a book of essays for my senior honors project at college, I began daydreaming about what this foray into essay writing would be like. I thought of lattés, tweed skirts, of mornings and afternoons spent writing wonderful essays that captured the essence of existence. I imagined that I would wake up as the sun was rising and walk to the local coffee shop (while wearing my tweed skirt), where I’d order said latté and write one or two essays that took me on a grand journey of personal discovery. I began to imagine hypothetical scenarios in which fellow customers in the coffee shop would ask me about my book of essays, after which my response would be to roll my eyes at them, laugh like the way Julia Roberts laughs in all her movie trailers, and then pontificate on the grand journey of personal discovery that I was on.
Shortly after I stopped daydreaming and actually began the book, I realized that my foray into essay writing was not the hipster-fantasy dream I had imagined. Instead of finding myself in a really hip coffee shop wearing a slimming tweed skirt, I instead found myself sitting on a saggy couch in a pair of sweatpants I got in junior high. When my daydreaming was interrupted by reality, I found that producing wonderful essays that capture the essence of existence is rather difficult when it so happens that the most interesting thing you’ve done during your week was make a trip to Home Depot for heavy-duty, all-purpose primer. Suddenly and quickly, my illusion of what the writing process would be like imploded and I began to wonder why I decided to write a book of personal essays about my life. What was I thinking?!
I found that producing wonderful essays that capture the essence of existence is rather difficult when it so happens that the most interesting thing you’ve done during your week was make a trip to Home Depot for heavy-duty, all-purpose primer.
I was thinking things along these lines: I’ve never lived in a foreign country, never marched in a protest, never had my heart broken. I was raised in a few smalls towns in a landlocked state, I went to college twenty minutes away from my hometown, and my social life often resembles that of a seventy-five year old woman more than a twenty-one year old college student. I definitely should have decided to write something fictional instead. Maybe I should have done that, because at least I could have made up interesting things and no one would’ve questioned my integrity, right?!
After having an argument with myself about this tragic mistake of choosing the wrong genre to write in, I began to become jealous of fiction writers, envying their ability to construct the outcome of conversations and the plot of the day, their ability to craft the lives and looks and personalities of their cast of characters with a simple keystroke. And here I was. I thought about great writers, and how their interesting lives were probably the reason they were such good authors, so widely read. They probably never wrote in sweatpants! Why couldn’t I be more like them?
I thought about writers like Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Oscar Wilde. They lived the kind of lives where they rode wild horses bareback, ate smoked salmon off of golden spoons, and kissed the Prime Minister of France’s niece at a party on the island of Monte Carlo. Their adventurous, cinematic existences gave way to writing that is sparkling, vibrant, and inflicts their readers with an acute case of wanderlust. I even thought about Dickinson, the Brontes, and Jane Austen. They lived the kind of lives that were beautiful because they were tragic; their poetic, Shakespearean existences inspired a kind of writing that stirred and softened the hearts of thousands. Both camps of authors had life stories that were remarkable in their own way, and produced a collection of works laced with the rich experiences required for compelling storytelling. And my life? Not so much.
The way I saw it, the nature of my existence was the nail-in-the-coffin of any writing career I had ever dreamed of before I even started the book project at all. I regretted my mistake: assuming my life would make for an interesting subject matter for me to write about.
I was no Hemingway or Dickinson, and the story of my life did not produce the kind of material that would compel a reader, unless that reader was the kind of person who liked reading dishwasher manuals. As I sat there in my stretched out navy blue sweatpants and reflected on my week—a week of trips to Home Depot and walks around the block alone with my dog—my existence seemed neither cinematic nor Shakespearean, but boring, plain, dull. The way I saw it, the nature of my existence was the nail-in-the-coffin of any writing career I had ever dreamed of before I even started the project at all.
I regretted my mistake: assuming my life would make for an interesting subject matter for me to write about. When I picked a project of writing a book of essays about my life, I hoped that the actual life circumstance I was in—senior year of college—would lend itself interesting material to write about and work with. After all, my age/stage in life was that where I could live the kind of life that would most closely resemble that of the exciting and interesting writers whose biographies I had grown to envy. I started going to college events and dorm-room gatherings with a notebook in my pocket, ready to capture the interesting moments. I hypothesized that this strategy of living was what any good writer would employ, and expected that compelling prose would emerge out of the enthralling interactions I would experience.
The “interesting” memories I was trying to make something out of were nothing to me—they didn’t matter, didn’t stick. Instead, the inspiring ones formed not when I was ready for them to happen, not when my notebook was at hand and my writer’s ear was attune to pithy dialogue. The stories formed on regular days while I was wearing regular clothes with regular people.
But living in this way quickly made my days feel more like research and less like life. The “interesting” memories I was trying to make something out of were nothing to me—they didn’t matter, didn’t stick. Instead, a collection of stories—stories which served as inspiration for many of the essays in what came to be a 116 page book—began to form not when I was ready for them to happen, not when my notebook was at hand and my writer’s ear was attune to pithy dialogue. The stories formed on regular days while I was wearing regular clothes with regular people. At first glance, these stories did not appear to have the makings of anything worth writing down. Yet. Yet, somewhere along the way, they became the moments that mattered most to me. They are ones I want to hold on to as these four years of college end and a new age begins, the ones I want to tell and am telling now, the ones I have written and you have read and may continue to read.
Many of us think our stories aren’t worth telling because they contain neither a soiree nor a grand heartbreak. When someone asks us how our day was, or what our plans for after graduation are, we wish our storyline included more sparkle, shine, jazz music, dirty martinis, and handsome men. We wish for a life like Hemingway’s, or at least not the one we have right now. We flip through magazines, thumb our way through Instagram, scroll through websites and wonder why and how the hand of cards we were dealt have made this life into what it is and not what we see other people experience. Where’s my good hair? My happy, handsome fiancé? My new SUV? My cute kids who say cute things? Where? Why? How?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to keep asking these questions. I don’t want to keep wishing I had somebody else’s life, keep buying into that mentality that I’m missing out and I’m about as interesting as beige paint. I want to stop believing that lies are actually truth. I want to dwell in appreciation for reality, not lust after images that aren’t even real, wish for a life I was not created to live.
I want to dwell in appreciation for reality, not lust after images that aren’t even real, wish for a life I was not created to live.
All around us exist moments that are worth our attention, moments that are asking to be remembered that we didn’t even know we forgot about. You don’t need a latte or a tweed skirt or a project goal to begin practicing a posture of appreciation, a habit of contemplative reflection. You don’t need something exciting to happen to you to sit down and write a blog, to call a friend and share, to write a letter to that old professor. The ordinary existences we experience RIGHT NOW are really full of extraordinary moments: there’s grand excitement in your friend’s baby announcement, adventure in your day as at stay-at-home mom, vibrance on your walk around the block. Can you see it? Within each of us exist a whole host stories of rejection and failure and doubts but also of triumph and perseverance and hope: these are the REAL stories people need to hear. Will you tell them?
I feel certain that time and distance will reveal our narratives to be so much greater than the one we see right now. By recognizing the value our present, ordinary existences contain and deciding to share the stories of them with those around us, we not only have the opportunity to look back and reflect on our own lives, but help others see the value in their own lives and stories as well. The more we share with each other, the more we can to begin to see the grander narrative, the one we often can’t see with these mortal eyes, capture with these mortal words, hear with these mortal ears. We begin to see that at the core of each of our narratives exists a grander narrative, one whose themes of grace and hope and faith and love wants to weave itself into the fabric of all of humanity and cannot not be told.
This spring, I read the memoir of Eudora Welty, a novelist who wrote about the American South. Welty’s memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, chronicles the stories of her childhood, document how her interest in storytelling was discovered over time. The memoir is lovely, brimming with stories of an ordinary existence told with an awareness of the beauty of such an existence. One passage in the memoir that resonated with me said this: “As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. But a sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”
“As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. But a sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”
Writing this book is about rediscovering beauty that has been lost, or as Welty says it, “discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer’s own life.” As I move forward and write more essays, I am pledging to stop daydreaming about what my first book could have been or should have been if I was different or the circumstance was different. I want to stop wishing for a more exciting story, stop daydreaming for a place that doesn’t exist, stop wishing for a different life. I want to dare from within. I want to make the most of the world I am a part of, of this experience I am living that is unique from everyone else’s that has ever lived and will ever live. I want to live into the narrative the Grand Author has for me, the writer whose pen never runs dry and whose creativity is never-ending, the one who wrote the story of time itself. I want to write an essay about that.
Like what you’ve read? Find Twenty-Two: Essays About Growing Up HERE.