Write what you know: it's one of the most harped upon aphorisms when it comes to writing. And as a result, I sometimes feel I should restrict myself to writing kids' stories, or fantasy, or very soft sci-fi. In fantasy worlds, the "what you know" is all in one's head. No risk of getting in over one's head.
Because...in the real world, how can I compete? I've had a boring, peaceful life, really. I come from a big but fairly average middle class family, my parents got along very well, no one had any major vices or addictions, we had no serious long-term illnesses or family skeletons, I was home-schooled for much of my education and therefore missed out on high school drama, I've never been to college, never been drunk out of my mind at a bar, never committed any crime worse than speeding on my way to church, wouldn't have a clue how to obtain illicit drugs or pull off any grand larceny - well, you get the idea.
And sometimes I think, what business do I have writing? So many of the books out there are filled with experiences I can't even begin to fathom.
But then again, not only do we all have extraordinary moments in our lives, but many of the ordinary moments in our own lives are far outside the ordinary for others. Not only that, but good writing is able to take this one step further, and find the extraordinary even within the ordinary.
So I've been daydreaming. Remembering.
I remember speeding down the hill on a steel-runnered sled, over and over, sometimes deep into the twilight hours with our runners striking sparks wherever ground was exposed, and the cold making my face so stiff I smiled just for the way it felt to smile. I carry the memory of rolling down a grassy hill, spotted with dandelions - and last year's cow pies, dried now to clean grassy pucks we could pick up and throw around to gross each other out. I remember hunting garter snakes on sleepy summer afternoons when the air was heavy with bees' buzzing and humidity. I remember turning over stones and old boards, and startling the living daylights out of myself when I did find a snake. I remember picking raspberries in the big field behind our house, pushing one inch further and one inch further after the really big berries, until there wasn't a bit of my legs left unscathed by those darned prickers.
I remember a warm May night in Lourdes, France, when for a few hours, I walked hand in hand with a beautiful Italian boy who spoke as little English as I did Italian; and before that, another night in Biloxi, Mississippi, where I fell in love with a rather nerdy English guy, and -
I know what it's like to watch the sun come up behind the Bavarian Alps on a frosty day in early spring. And I've seen the sun go down in a blaze of glory behind the evergreens on a shimmering night in the Pacific Northwest with the temperatures a record breaking three digits.
I know of a spot in Monroe, New Hampshire where every Friday night, people from all walks of life - characters all - cram into a big old work shed to play music until the wee hours of the morning. I've been there nights when it was too crowded to get inside, and I stood talking with other outcasts in the cool, sweet night air, with music spilling out of the windows and the sky so clear the whole of it glowed: stars beyond stars beyond stars.
And, of course, there are the more everyday things: a baby's smile, the smell of chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven, daffodils blooming year after year, the herd of corgis next door going completely bonkers because they see a bird, or a leaf, or hear me slam the oven door....
All of these memories and thousands more I carry with me. There are stories in them for the seeking.
There are many stories I could never write. I could never write gritty crime novels, for example, at least not without a major life change and/or a tremendous amount of research. But maybe - just maybe - I can be a writer all the same. It is, I would say, all about not only knowing your limitations, not only accepting them, but embracing them: digging deep into what you have seen and heard and felt, seizing on those things that are beautiful and true and all too often overlooked. I may only be able to write about the everyday, but perhaps I can be the one who makes someone out there stop and see those everyday things for the first time in a long while.
A toast: to the ordinary. Long may it live.