Empress of the Ordinary

digital graphicOrdinariness is not a vice. It has taken me most of my life to grasp that home truth, to recognize the sublime simplicity that what is ordinary is not inherently bad. It’s not even necessarily boring or predictable, though most of us treat it that way and make it so.

It occurred to me as, for the umpteenth time in my life, I was marveling at the biography of some outlandishly gifted famous creature and reflecting on the comparably slack bag of tricks that could be held to define me. No one, I thought, will ever have reason to pore over my biography, no, not even to write it. I never so much as kept a diary for more than a few brief delusional periods before being recalled to my senses and silence by the glaring absence of exotica to lure even its author to reread it, once written. What is the great magnetism of the larger-than-life character’s story, I wondered; why am I compelled to recount and savor the life stories of those who loom heroically or with great drama or grand style on the horizon?

And I realized my answer was a strange surprise: I am seeking my own reflection.

Doubtless wiser souls have spotted this long ago! But what a freeing moment, in a way, was the discovery that what I am always hunting is familiarity, commonality, a sense of communion with others. It’s glimpses of characteristics I can truly understand—my own—that make extraordinary people real and attractive to me.

If that’s so, then perhaps my own “universal” qualities, my being Jane Doe or Everywoman, cloak in the seemingly ordinary person that I am not only shared parts that other people would find familiar in that same compelling way but also distinctions they might find equally surprising, strange, dare I say it, impressive. In the rags-to-riches celebrity tales, it’s not entirely the thrilling alternate universe of that unfamiliar life of wealth I find titillating—that’s so often a short last chapter to the tale, revealing little of real mystery and glamor—it’s that someone who seemed as ordinary as me got there. The story of a brilliant achiever or fabulous saint is rarely of great interest unless that greatness is seen set in the contrasting frame of dimmer, plainer beginnings, the quieter greys of mortality and everyday being.

So who am I, if not merely the forgettable dust of common humanity? Perhaps I really am Jane Doe. I have no characteristics more notable or exciting than my DNA or fingerprints and dental records to separate me from billions of others on the teeming earth. No reason to complain; the great and grand, the famous and infamous, the rich and rare among humankind would have less grey to offset their glory without me, and that might be purpose enough.

But I am more. I realize that every Jane and John among us has a story, a single glittering spark of distinction that sets us apart from all others. It may be the peculiar combination of ordinary traits alone, which for the unrecorded life dies with it and may remain ineffable forever. It may be no more (though this is presumably the greatest trait one could aspire to have) than that I am loved. Or maybe, just maybe, I am more interesting than I guess, and looking at myself as a biographer should can reveal someone more impressive and worthy of note than I have heretofore imagined.

And there’s always room to write a new chapter for the autobiography as long as it’s a work in progress.digital graphic illustration

36 thoughts on “Empress of the Ordinary

  1. but you are not ordinary, I don’t understand why you would write that.. you are special! You have a gift we do not. a gift your family helped you to pursue, and anyway, what IS ordinary, we are none of us who we appear to be. c

    • I am of course musing on how I have seen myself as ordinary and yet realize that that’s entirely a matter of perspective–and ultimately, that most other people must go through that sort of transition in thinking at some point (probably earlier than me!). As you note, there’s more to any of us than meets the eye. So I have crowned myself Empress of this masked mystery! 😉

  2. You are the sum of all your parts, more than some but less than others.
    What matters most is your inner peace and happiness and love for others on the planet.

    I guess we’re all searching for our hidden meanings and reasons for existence.
    My quest is just beginning.

    http://vermontverse.wordpress.com

    • Every time I think I’ve got things figured out I realize I’m just closer to understanding what the *question* is, not so much the answer! And really, is that such a bad thing? I think not!

  3. Whether we know it or not all of us are more interesting than we will ever think. I am sure, Kathryn you are a fascinating biography to read…so just go ahead and start writing and you might surprise yourself.

    I’ll have a look at my ticket and will let you know. It would be fun 🙂

    • Maybe what I’m writing here on the blog constitutes a long stretched-out biography, eh! Just as I feel each of your photos and writings lets me know a new tiny part of you. This is a comfortable way for me not only to have an extended “conversation” with a lot of interesting people, but to learn a bit about myself too. I’m delighted that our paths have crossed here and imagine they’ll cross in the real world at some point, whether you fly through DFW soon or not. 🙂

  4. I read the words of a young man recently, and he was trying so hard to be different so others would take notice of him. It’s as though he (and millions upon millions like him) have no self-confidence. They don’t understand that the ordinary good person is good enough and an individual that will stand out to the right people for the right reasons. Enjoyed reading your post.

    • Since I was shy and nerdy in my youth, I was mostly interested in *not* being noticed! But it is striking, as you say, how many people don’t get that it’s okay to be anything other than superhuman. Maybe we all go through a bit of it, but I’d hope everyone would hit that same point I did, somewhere, and figure out the Okay part.

  5. I find you extraordinary, Kathryn. I marvel at the words you write as you give us a glimpse into your life and it is anything but ordinary!
    The person I look at and am constant awe of is my cousin, Kevin. He has bicycled Yosemite by himself, did a tour in the Peace Corps building fisheries in Honduras, GPS mapped American Samoa, planted a forest in the U.P. of Michigan and is still going. And I work in a library, taking a photo a day, living vicariously through the adventure of his life.

    • There are just SO many amazing people around us!! And you and I, we are both pretty amazing too. Really. You amaze me all the time, with your wisdom, your insight, your humor, your perseverance, and your kindness. That’s a pretty impressive resume, in my opinion! I’ll admit your cousin sounds special too, but no more so than you.

  6. Beautifully written Kathryn, and I can tell you, you are far from ordinary. Just wanted to stop by to wish you a magical holiday season… 😊

  7. Celebrate the Ordinary, the Regular, the Plain… Our differences – talent, skill, etc. – make us individuals. Our commonality makes us a family, on a global scale…

    Beautifully written, wonderful images…especially that second one. What is the medium? It almost looks like a wax scratch-board…

    • I’m a tricky goil, I am. The second image is a much-Photoshopped digital photo of a field of dandelions. You’re right, it looks like my favorite crayon scratchboard art from grade school! And it took all of these years to learn another way to do what I did kind of nicely when I was just a little shrimpy-pie.

      You’re also right: we are all related in one way or another. Thanks, sister! 😉

  8. Wow! And I was just thinking that so many other people in the world are more alive and entertaining than I am – not all, but a lot. Maybe it’s because we are with that person in the mirror 24/7/365 that we become mundane to ourselves while those that are even the slightest bit different seem brighter in comparison. Oh, and love your images!

    • Thanks, I’m glad you like the images. I’d say you’re mighty accurate with your assessment of how we come to develop these concepts of what (or who) is and isn’t exciting.

  9. Amazing insights, Kathryn. For years (and still now, at times) I was on a ‘Search for Significance’, and did this by comparing myself to others. the problem was that I never seemed to measure up. Not in all ways, but enough to make my life seem ‘Insignificant’. Then there came a day when I realized that I was created to accomplish something that absolutely no one else in the world could accomplish… to be ME. There is no person that has the same DNA, family, experiences, and traits that can do what I am *uniquely* qualified to accomplish. I wonder what that will be? We find ourselves ordinary just because we live with ourselves 24/7. It is difficult to surprise ourselves, when we know ALL of our secrets. 😉

  10. “But I am more. I realize that every Jane and John among us has a story, a single glittering spark of distinction that sets us apart from all others.”

    Each and every individual is interesting with a story to tell. A lot of times the one who’s hiding in the corner is the one with the best life story, it’s just that those who are in the spotlight are always getting the attention.

  11. Kathryn, you have a most wonderful way of being directly beautiful. Stating clearly just how most of us feel but in a melodic way without being a poem. You brought tears to my eyes. You know what I think about sometimes? The people who died early due to lack of vaccinations or medicine due to poverty. For whatever reasons we will never know what they had to give, but I know what you have to give. Beauty! Your artwork, your words, and the care that is taken to weave it together is singularly special. I beieve you are just getting started giving in this blog, and there is so much more goodness that will happen. It isn’t the Van Goghs of the world that really influence our lives. I feel that it is the people that we come in close contact with every day that influence the most, and that hold our hand through it all. That to me is the power of the ordinary, and by the way you are not :”that” at all.

    • Thank you for these sweet and generous words, Terri. I would say the very same to you, that you are a rich source of inspiration and grace for all of us who treasure our visits to your blog. That, in fact, is precisely the ordinariness that I so deeply value: that each of us has our own forms of distinction and beauty, and while some may carry ours in places and ways that aren’t as obvious to the casual observer, sometimes they’re all the more fabulous when uncovered over time and with patience. I’m posting about it again today!

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