In Search of an Ordinary Life

JESSICA MCCLUREAbout 20 years ago, a crisis occurred in a Texas suburb which captured the attention of the country—and then the world. A baby, named Jessica, fell down a well. Rescuers worked for 58 hours to free “Baby Jessica” from the eight-inch-wide well casing 22 feet below the ground.

The fame that came to the people involved in this drama was intense and, like so much in our over-stimulated American culture, fleeting. The young man who did, without thinking, what he thought he should do, was lauded as a “hero,” which, no one doubted that he was. He was told how super-extraordinary he was on talk shows, radio shows, he appeared on Good Morning America, was the focus of best selling books and a made-for-TV movie. When all the excitement died down and the cameras turned else where, when the next “hot” story eclipsed the Jessica story, this young man was faced with going back to living his ordinary life. But for him, there couldn’t be ordinary ever again. How, after you have tasted being a superstar, after you have had Presidents shake your hand, after you have been made to believe that you were so special? How could you go back to pumping gas and living in your hometown after that? He couldn’t. After ten years of trying, he killed himself. His sister said:

“After being famous for a bit, he just couldn’t settle back down to living an ordinary life.”

What is this so-called Ordinary life? Do any of us really aspire to have one? Can you blame this poor guy for not being able to go back to life before all the fame and excitement? Even though he was happy before he got famous? Could he really go back to pumping gas after he’d been interviewed by Diane Sawyer?

I think the onslaught of on-demand, 24-hour cable shows, reality shows, movies (and news), helps to undermine our sense of reality because it suggests that life is constant high drama.

Let’s face it, it’s pretty difficult for a developing chrysalis on the backyard oak tree to compete with the excitement of saving the world from invading aliens or making a Super Bowl touchdown. (The virtual experience derived from the most basic of video games.)  While Mr. Draper (Kevin, not Don) is the extreme—he didn’t just watch high drama unfold, he was a participant in it—I think we all lean in the direction of wanting something bigger and more dramatic in our lives.30898733

Ordinary life is subtle. It’s the slow but resulting proficiency borne from years of tedious piano or guitar lessons. It’s housework, watering the garden, and staring off into space as you do it. It’s preparing a meal. And most pleasures in real life are small ones…a hot shower, a beautiful sunset, a bowl of soup, a good book. When did we all start looking to win the lottery? Or star in our own TV shows? When did the manic fantasy of what could be, take the place of what is?

While it’s possible that you or I might be able to handle the five minutes of fame better than poor Kevin Draper did, it’s also possible that this young man is, in himself, a cautionary tale. A tale that suggests that the further we get away from what’s real, the more we layer on the superlatives, the over-the-top praise, and pile on the possibilities for superstardom that are really only achievable for a lucky, gifted few, the further we get away from who we are in a true, organic sense. (Or as Mr. Incredible once said, “When everyone is special, then no one is.”)19316210

I am sure that we should all strive to be the best we can be and to try to achieve great things. But, in the process of doing all the hard work required to achieve those great things, it might help to remember what perfection there lies in an ordinary life, lived with pleasure and enjoyment of our surroundings and each other.

13 thoughts on “In Search of an Ordinary Life

  1. I stopped watching TV several years ago, and barely take note of the ongoing display of hype on internet news sites. But I’m well aware of how much of that space is taken up with the ups and downs of celebrities and other ephemera, rather than real news. Poor Mr. Draper is just one unwitting victim of the same unrealistic expectations that are pumped into most people’s home day after day.

  2. Life changes us as kid’s we dream of being a movie star, a gunslinger or Ballerina, Life changes and reality arrives whether we want it or not. in the end we all end up being us, Heroes, Tap Dancers or not so glamorous just regular folks. the thing to look at is that even regular folks have their moments. It’s up to us to live those moments to the fullest. I spent a good slice of my time on this earth living aboard (during those years my little boat
    was home and studio) and sailing the coast and islands of California and Mexico. mostly alone. A common saying among boat people is that sailing is 90% boredom and 10% never to be forgotten absolute grinning from ear to ear wild crazy love affair, the trick is to live every second of those ten percents. the rest will take care of it’s self.

  3. I think you’ve nailed it – ordinary life IS extraordinary, if we want to make it so. It is an attitude of mind, not a construct of culture. The wonderment at a sunrise with the glorious colour of the sky; or the joy of achieving something – all these things, to me, can be extraordinary. Certainly, I think anybody who seriously writes or does anything in the arts, does not do so in order to ‘be famous’.

    Yet we are relentlessly told that ‘media’ or ‘public’ fame brings certain things – imagined status, usually; seldom money; often a supposition that it is somehow satisfying. I am absolutely sure it isn’t. And it’s often that gulf, I think, that causes people to fail to handle sudden, unprepared ‘fame’ – which in that sense is a media ‘tap’ that can be turned off as suddenly as it is turned on.

    • It’s so hard not to get sucked into the excitement or the constant search for relief from boredom. I do everything very fast. EVERYTHING. And I have to force myself to slow down and live in the moment. (I’m not usually successful but I keep trying.) As far as reaching for “fame” especially as it relates to what I try to do for a living, I love what John Gardener said:

      “Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga or an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious–a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfaction no non-novelist can understand–and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough.”

      Thanks for chiming in, Matthew!

  4. This is so on target. The value of an ordinary life is seldom recognized in a social construct that often doesn’t have an accurate concept of what “ordinary” is.

  5. Most of us maybe all of us spend most of our time trying not to make mistakes, your mom told you not to cut across old man Crawford’s lot,
    your teacher told you to write complete sentences, your big sister told you
    not to sneak into Crazy Marry’s garden, and then you got caught in Crazy Marry’s Garden after dark, feeding her cats the vegitables your mom told you to eat and you hid in your pocket, and Crazy Marry squints at you in her garden in the dark and asked what you’ve got hid in your pocket and you say noth’n and she say’s looks like someth’n to me hand it over and you want to run but for some reason your brain isn’t talkin’ to your legs and your feet ain’t listen’n to nobody, so you pull wad of crumpled paper out of you your pocket and hand it to the stick thin ol’ lady and she sits down right there in the middle of that ugly scary garden. just a bunch of twisted sticks no leaves no flowers, crossing her legs, she pats the dirt beside her and asked me to sit right up against her in the dark and she starts reading what you’d written. she smelled like dirt and damp dead mulch. after reading for a while she stopped and looked me in the eye and asked how come you wrote this, what were you trying to say. I shrugged my shoulders wrapped my arms around my legs and shrugged my shoulders. after a few minutes of silence she said don’t never spend time write’n stuff for no reason, write because you’ve got someth’n to say, and say it with every word you write. spelling don’t matter, none of that stuff matters, all that matters is the story you’re tellin’ now get home, cain’t you hear your ma call’n, now git and stay outa my garden until you’ve got somethin to say. and don’t keep me wait’n. what a great day that was, not a penny of it
    worth nuthin’ to me until the night I cut through Old Man Crawfords lot
    and stuffed an envelope filled with stuff I’d wanted to say through that beat-up old picket fence into a spot of moonlight under some welted flowers.

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