This post was originally written for Thoughts & Ideas.
That’s something I hear — your life is weird — from time to time, usually after I share an anecdote that hovers into hard-to-believe territory. In emails from readers, I get interesting or exciting. It’s laughable to me because it’s so far from true.
My life is boring. Honestly. Unusually boring.
Most days, I don’t go further than the coffee shop and library at the end of my street. Right now, I’m not sure when I last left the house, aside from walking to the end of the street and back. Maybe a week. No, more like two. And I have no plans to venture out until 4 days’ time when I have an appointment.
I spend my days writing, reading, sleeping, taking long showers, playing with my cat and the dog, and writing some more. When I say I spend most of my time alone, I mean that I socialise perhaps twice a month, see family once or twice, and that’s it. I listen to the same music all the time and even my diet is repetitive.
It’s even funnier whenever anyone expresses envy at that. Sure, the grass is always greener. But at the end of the day it’s mind-numbing and lonely.
Choosing to live a certain way doesn’t mean you don’t hate it at times.
I tell weird stories not because my life is weird, but because I pay attention.
That’s the important part. People watching. Eavesdropping. Focusing on every detail of an experience. Remembering everything everyone says.
That’s what writers do. Notice things. Pay attention. Find what’s weird and interesting. Then turn it into a narrative. Perhaps that’s why writers are stereotyped as reclusive: every experience is overwhelming in its potential.
Having kept a diary since I was six years old, I can’t make sense of anything without writing about it. Not having the chance to do so leaves me feeling out of control, as if the moment will slip away. Positive experiences that go on too long become draining without the space to reflect on them. I end up hastily typing notes on my phone, or scribbling in my notebook or on any available scrap of paper.
My life is boring. I just notice the weirdness within it. I see the strange aspects of people and I know how to make stories out of it. I plunder every aspect of my existence for material.
This is a story about sitting on a fire escape in the cold alone on my birthday. This is a story about making to-do lists. This is a story about the end of the first and probably last serious relationship I was in. This story talks about my cat chasing flies. This story and this one are based on the same party, one that happened when I was 16 and one of just 4 parties I went to during my teens.
The point is, not everyone sees this stuff as a story. But that’s how I happen to think.
Maybe I wouldn’t think that way if I were part of any sort of group, instead of existing as a solitary unit. Maybe I wouldn’t think that way if I were truly immersed in living, instead of dipping in and out of it. Maybe I wouldn’t think that way if I did interesting things often so they weren’t a novelty. Who knows.
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my head that I text people things that make no sense to them, or when I finally spend time around people I say things they can’t understand. I disconnect from physical reality and have to touch the edge of doors and furniture so I don’t bump into them. I get so far into the weeds with work that everything else loses its colour. The shock of snapping out of my own brain and remembering that this is not a story always stings.
The French novelist Guy de Maupassant was mentored by the older novelist Gustave Flaubert who, while not the gold star giving type, taught him the art of seeing. From Roger Colet’s introduction to the Penguin collection of his short stories:
“Deciding that Maupassant was worthy of his tuition, he [Flaubert] spent several years patiently coaching him in the art of seeing.
Reminding his pupil that ‘talent is a long patience’, he told him again and again: ‘There is a part of everything which is unexplored, because we are accustomed to using our eyes only in association with the memory of what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the smallest thing has something in it which is unknown. We must find it.’”
Flaubert said that you can find an aspect of everything that’s never been described before. Even the most overdone topic has an unexplored side. I believe that. I believe the mundane has facets that deserve consideration and that by narrowing my life down, I’m better positioned to appreciate what happens.