I write about the most mundane things in life. Sounds like a boring undertaking, I realize, but it’s what I’m driven to do. It’s what I love.
I often have an essay building in my head before it ends up on paper. I was walking the dog the other day thinking about a text thread between friends that had become overly enthusiastic, if you know what I mean, lighting up my phone screen at all hours and impossible to navigate. I felt badly about my radio silence in the face of the conversation’s persistence and thought, “I should write about texting manners!” and quickly typed it into the “story ideas” section of my new list-making app (how a list-making app improved my life would be another good one, I realized, and added that, as well).
Lately, though, I’ve begun to question my work. Because this rather specific talent I’ve honed over my years as a journalist — writing about the ordinary — suddenly seems, well, ridiculous.
I’ve written about family vacations and battling my maternal martyr complex. Written about my dogs dying and how watching an MTV reality series yielded some deep thoughts about turning 40…instead of politics, sexuality or drugs.
Although I’m an voracious consumer of news, the issues that have me yelling at the television screen during my daily coffee date with MSNBC rarely make it into my stories.
I’ve been awed and inspired by the #MeToo movement. And I’ve been staunch witness to friends’ stories of physical and emotional abuse. But I don’t write about that, despite having the toolbox (appropriate command of grammar and the ability to compose thoughtful narrative).
What I want to write about, when faced with the blank page on my laptop screen, is how my four-year-old lovingly crafted a birthday card for herself the other day — despite the fact that her birthday is this summer and mine was a mere two days away — and how that act made me think about my own attempts, or lack thereof, in the self-care arena.
Sure, it’s a fairly compelling story idea, but doesn’t hold a candle to the fiery op-eds, powerful emotions and jaw-dropping accounts others are sharing on Facebook.
I don’t have a problem with this modern-day, volatile media environment. The problem I have is that I don’t quite know how to navigate my writing life within it.
We are all afire with righteous rage, aimed at political and cultural norms. I feel it just like you do, I swear.
Yet I’m still driven by this particular impulse of mine, to indulge in telling tales of the routine experiences that make up our days.
I guess, maybe, there is a benefit to this path I’ve chosen — a trite, overused but overarching idea — which is that we find our commonality in the ordinary. Family vacations don’t go as planned, moving is stressful and our dogs die.
I still criticize myself and my choices. I should have gone to law school or started a non-profit. I should have written at least a story or two about the opioid epidemic.
But it’s just not what I do.
I’m less motivated than I once was to learn new, marketable skills. So, it’s a little selfish, I know, but I’m hoping that people still enjoy reading a story about how to get picky kids to be more adventurous eaters, or one about how watching a binge-worthy series with your partner can be just as romantic as date night.
I’m hoping even revolutionaries need a moment to decompress — to find joy, shared struggle or camaraderie in the little things.
— Cara McDonough
Cara McDonough is freelance writer whose work has been published in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Salon, The Boston Globe and HuffPost. She also posts regularly on her blog, www.caramcduna.com, about important subjects like “Law and Order: SVU” and, one time, about incontinence. She lives with her family in Hamden, Connecticut.