Tuesday, January 3, 2012

But Enough About Me

“How was your day, dear?” I imagine my unseen readers wondering. Really? Before I answer that, let’s just say that there’s a fine line between being the hero of your own story (see Dream On blog) and thinking that anyone else is all that interested in your story. I often think about this reading some family Christmas letters. And I can’t throw too many stones here, because we do one each year also. Perhaps we get one point in our favor by doing it in rhymed verse or multiple choice with funny wrong answers— some kind of creative endeavor that some appear to have enjoyed.

But still at the heart of the matter is the idea that others are interested. And if they’re friends, family or acquaintances, one hopes they might be—up to a point. So and so got married or divorced or quit their job to swim with the dolphins in support of peace in the Middle East is newsworthy. Little Johnny scored two goals in the third soccer game of the season and had perfect attendance at church and loves to play video games is getting close to TMI. As one person confessed, “ I read so and so’s three-page letter and had to lie down and take an aspirin. Merry Christmas!”

What with Websites and Blogs and especially Facebook, the world has become an extended groaner Christmas letter. It’s bad enough we have to read once a year about things we were just fine not knowing, but now everyday is a chance to find out about the great salmon dinner someone just had or how little Charlie peed in the toilet two days in a row. The world is one big Reality TV show, with everyone feigning interest—“I’ll watch yours if you watch mine.”

How is this different from someone writing an autobiography or a novel or telling stories about her day at the dinner table? One distinction is the level of experience. An autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi or Ella Fitzgerald is probably more interesting than the story of someone who watched Reality TV Shows all day. And then went out to get more beer. 

Another is the level of craft. Is there poetry or humor or a storyteller’s zest in the telling? David Sedaris’s experiences might not be more interesting than yours or mine, but oh, how cleverly he tells them.

And finally, there is the hope that the story might hit some universal vein that others can relate to and feel that part of their story has been told. Dickens starts his autobiographical novel David Copperfield wondering if “he will turn out to be the hero of his own story,” but along the way encounters all the kinds of trials and tribulations that most of us can recognize and relate to— loss, joy, betrayal, loyalty, pride, foolish choices, love, redemption and more.

So back to my first day at school. I don’t really think that many people are sitting on the edge of their chairs wondering how it went. Nor should they be. Unless it involved a Martian abduction or kids tying up a substitute teacher or a heartwarming tale of how Lucy gave up her whole recess to sit next to and comfort Lily who had been hit with the ball. But perhaps a few might be interested to know that despite the pleasure of a more leisurely, independent and autonomous schedule that I enjoyed in my time off, the school routine is deeply embedded in my muscle memory, etched by my 36 years plus of living it day after day. And so all the metaphors held—slipping on an old pair of pants, riding a bike after a long time away, feeling like 7 minutes instead of 7 months had passed since my last class—in short, it was just fine and even more than fine. 

I’m quite happy in my own company, but truth be told, the three-year-olds I taught are much more interesting than I am in even my more inspired moments. And the 8th graders are pretty great too. I loved singing with the 100 elementary kids and telling them the story about me really being Doug’s twin brother taking over his teaching, using my new mustache-less face as proof. I even loved the staff meeting that began with laughter and ended with tears as people spoke from the heart— real stuff. That was my day.

But enough about me. At least, until my next Blog.

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