Are You at War with the Ordinary?


Seen on FB, source unknown


Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary. ~ Blaise Pascal

“Scandal-laden” is not an adjective typically associated with Canadian politics, but times are a-changing in the Great White North. It’s had me browsing news websites with unprecedented frequency, and in turn, I’ve stumbled across a number of articles describing heroes: A police officer who tied the shoes of a homeless man; a goaltender who kept a hockey game scoreless; a waitress who chased down a customer with a forgotten envelope despite knowing it was filled with cash.

Inevitably, the articles’ comment sections were full of scoffing. “These people aren’t heroes,” readers would say. “Your headline is misleading.” It seemed their objections fell into two main categories:

1. The criteria for being termed a “hero” had become so loose as to be meaningless.

2. If the scale or quality of the gesture were sufficiently grand as to be above the capacity of average people, it still didn’t count if it was part of the job description. In other words, if you’d signed up to be a police officer and been responsible for freeing a hostage, excellent! But you wouldn’t be a hero unless you’d done it while blindfolded, crawling over razor blades and, if blessed with male dangly bits, at risk of becoming Jewish.

I’d read these critiques and in a classic case of projection, think, Well aren’t you effing cynical?

Why would it be so hard to recognize people exhibiting bravery and competence, people living  in principle? (Especially given the political articles that brought me originally to the site. What’s up with all the corruption lately?) Why must we eviscerate or devalue kindness? Why not celebrate ordinary people doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways? Or people doing ordinary tasks within their extraordinary jobs?

Judgy-Jan was righteously indignant about their indignation.

If that wasn’t enough to demonstrate my spiritual bankruptcy, this weekend I realized I’ve been doing the equivalent thing to myself.

I’m not speaking of heroism, per se, so much as my tendency to discount ideas or conversations I might bring up here because they lack the patina of excitement. (This is why I’ve been quiet of late.) They might be deeply meaningful to me, they might feel liberating and expansive and make me want to burst into song or dance. (My kids really, really don’t find this admirable.) But I didn’t believe you’d be interested.

We’re told that to have a successful blog we should educate, entertain, or fill a distinct need. People are busy. They both need and deserve our respect, which bloggers demonstrate by delivering high-value content on a consistent basis.

I have no trouble with that premise. I even agree.

Except that presupposes I know what you consider to hold value. Newsflash: I’ve never been good at anticipating others’ needs.Marilyn Monroe

For all I know, you’re interested in hearing about why I’ve been sweeping the dog. Perhaps you’d like to know about the ToolMaster’s recent exploits, which he’d describe as simply showing up and doing a good day’s work,  but which I find amazing. If I shared that I’ve been doing ordinary things with unusual-to-me contentment, maybe it would resonate or help you find inspiration, or allow you to think, “I’ve been doing that for years.”

Heck, maybe you need to feel superior today. I’m generally good at helping others feel superior.

Point is, none of these “stories” are particularly wacky or humorous–the things which I try to make Tartitude stand for when I’m able–but maybe that’s okay. Maybe I’m not changing the subject so much as letting it ripen. Maybe you’ll come for the Vitamin C and stay for the marmalade.

Do you believe in the concept of ordinary heroes, or do you reserve that label for special occasions? If you have a blog, do you worry about writing about the ordinary? Can you predict what that is for others? 

PS: I forgot to tell you about last month’s WU post, which is somewhat zestful in that it features the use of playful language in fiction.

Linguistic Quirks: What Wordbirthing & Name-Nicking Can Do for Fiction

18 thoughts on “Are You at War with the Ordinary?

  1. Fantastic, thought-provoking post, Jan! I very much believe in ordinary heroes, and generally find myself pretty righteously indignant when people hide behind their computer monitors and make snide comments about them. Not one of those folks would tell that policeman to his face that he wasn’t a hero.

    I also worry about “wasting people’s time” with blog posts that aren’t super-important, but I do it anyway, sometimes. And the ones I think are like that do seem to get the same amount of traffic and comments as the “important” ones. Of course, I’d love to have more time to write blog posts. But I do what I can squeeze in. 🙂

    Good to hear from you! I’ve missed your insight.

    1. I believe cynicism is the influenza of emotions. It’s easy to catch, makes donor and recipient suffer, and can be lethal for vulnerable people. To make it worse, it seems like it can protect us from hurt, when it only propagates the same.

      I hear you about the time squeeze. In your case, a nice place to be, you’re so busy with your fiction’s success. 🙂

  2. Hooray! A voice for the common man. I like to think of everyone having the capability to do something extraordinary once in their life. That cop showed true humanity, the waitress showed honesty. Acts like this deserve to be shared and celebrated. They confirm, at least to me, that people have an innate goodness. Ambition and greed may smother it in some, but by and large it lives and breathes in the majority.

  3. Me, too. I have a list of blog ideas. Things that pique my interest or reveal the quirky results of my pondering. I would write about them, but then I think who cares about that?–and my blog gets dustier.

    Inspiration is sparked by many things. I like short blogs that explore less trodden paths. And if, like yours, they’re served with a side of humor, even better. A mind is kept healthy when it’s left open, and fed well.

  4. Why are you sweeping the dog, Jan?

    When I started my blog, I decided to write for myself. There are days when no one shows up to comment, and while that may be depressing, I’m okay with it. It’s a weekly date with myself that lets me stretch my writing muscles and explore what I’m thinking about, whatever that may or may not be. : )

    1. It’s a great attitude, Liz. I journal most days and don’t worry about grammar or word choice. Some of those entries could be prettified and posted for sure. It’s the discounting thing that’s prevented me.

      Re the sweeping: Maya gets to run offleash for the last portion of our walks, and she chooses to lie down and wriggle in the lawns in our cul de sac. Most of us grass-cycle, and I can’t let her into the house like that. Without a brush in the garage, I’ve taken to sweeping her–gently of course. Pretty funny because when I take out the broom, she promptly lies down.

  5. Jan, I think this particular post illustrates your very point (well, the point I hope you’re making!) that it doesn’t have to be about something lofty and pithy to be interesting. Your post was not even about ordinary things, it was actually writing about writing about ordinary things! And yet, as you always do, you made it captivating and thought-provoking.

    With regard to heroes, most definitely they can come in all degrees and small gestures can sometimes have the biggest impact. Who are we to judge?

    As for my own blog, I have boxed myself into a corner with the narrow business perspective I chose, so ‘ordinary’ or ‘extraordinary’ might not be the right word for what I contemplate. I’m always just looking for the relevant and marginally interesting!

    May I say, you are truly your own worst critic. Trust your instincts; they are so sound. Okay, maybe you won’t convince your children that bursting into song and dance is a good thing, but you can always convince us that what you write about is worthwhile.

    1. You’re always good for my ego, Deborah, and so intuitive. Thank you. Glad to hear I succeeded in some of my aims. : )

      WRT your blog, you have a great and realistic focus. Your readers wouldn’t know what to do if you veered abruptly off topic. Do you know Jane Friedman? She has a popular publishing blog, which she keeps for her “writing beat”, but uses Tumblr for personal things. That might be a model to which you could ascribe. Or you’d be welcome to guest here anytime.

  6. Between the day job, promoting my novels and being a brilliant new screenwriter I tend to blog at random, without warning and often for very little reason other than ‘this had to come out.’ Not a great way to build readership but it serves me.

    As for being an ordinary hero, it was a runaway car I was able to stop after the older child undid his seat belt, climbed into the front, started the car and put it in reverse. I think adults have an instinct to rescue children in trouble. No doubt a lot of your readers have some quiet heroic event(s) in their past. If you think back you might have one too.

    1. Now that’s dramatic, Phyllis. I bet you had an adrenaline high for a good while after. How wonderful you were both on-scene and capable!

      I suspect you’re right about the ordinary hero thing. I have stories, but they were in my job, so I see them more as basic competence.

  7. Hi Jan – I love your blog, whether it’s educating or entertaining me or, as is usually the case, both. My own blogs are much more plebian. Lately, I’ve barely been blogging at all. Often I blog when the urge strikes, and it’s easy to tell scrolling through my blogs that I make no attempt to discern what my followers want to read. I’m not talented that way!

    1. I think you have plenty of talent, Becke, but also have competing priorities. She’s a pretty darn cute priority, too. I can’t find fault with your choice.

      I see many people moving away from blogging, finding it too time consuming for what they receive in return. Maybe Adeline has spared you from a cruel mistress.* 😉

      *What some call it. Not me. Not most weeks.

  8. In my tiny corner of the blogging world I do blog about the ordinary stuff of life. I love it when I find inspiration from ordinary! Have blogged consistently, now I am at a random pace. Am happy to be spending some downtime catching up on the blogosphere — have always loved your writing, your humour, and your blog.
    PS — In Manitoba a bus driver stopped at a street corner and gave a shoeless guy sitting on the street corner his shoes. I say he is a hero and showed the true spirit of the province! Lots of heroes happenings in Alberta these days too.

    1. It’s good to have downtime. I’m much obliged that you’d spend some of it here! Thank you for the kind words.

      Love the bus-driver story. And yes, I’d quite agree Alberta’s rife with heroes at present. I’m amazed at how well Calgarians and Albertans are pitching in, and how organized the progress seems, given the degree of damage.

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