There was a time when I feared that without drama, I might become a boring writer.
I’ve since concluded that this is a risk I’m more than willing to take. Everyday life offers me endless material, with so much less angst and ache. In fact, we make a pretty good team. In fact, when I’m no longer oriented towards the next shoe dropping or the next big drama, writing requires a new kind of courage and creativity.
It’s the creativity to recognize that everyday life is teeming with writing-worthy moments. And it’s the courage to show up not only when everything’s chaotic, not only when I’m in a place of unrest or searching or heightened emotion or shifting ground, but from inside of everyday life, against a backdrop and in the context of extraordinary conditions. Because for better or for worse, the world is not short on extraordinary conditions.
Everyday life is, of course, all we ever get. It’s where we all live.
It’s where the trash can and the kitchen sink both and the laundry basket fill up, no matter how many times you empty them. It’s where you get things stuck between your teeth, break your phone screen, and change the cat litter. Everyday life is where you oversleep, see a cardinal in the bare tree outside your kitchen window, and forget to change the calendar on the first of the month.
Isn’t it amazing to stop and realize we all live in the same place, in this way?
As I’m writing this, it’s occurring to me that everyday life and drama may be inseparable, in that being human is pretty damn dramatic, no matter how you slice it. The whole having-a-body thing, being-in-relationship thing, and making-a-difference thing? Dude.
When I look at it this way, that is plenty o’ drama for me. Throw in politics that make your head spin, cost of living, and ever-changing dynamics with self, partner, kids, family members, friends, and colleagues, and let’s just say we’ve all got our hands full.
Maybe this is where the idea of “creating” drama comes in. There’s the complexity of everyday life, already plenty to contend with, and then there are the everyday choices we each make about where to place our attention, our energy, and our time. This is where we — ahem, I — can get derailed. But knowing this, and practicing an alternate way of responding to things as they come up, I see more and more that “drama” is often unnecessary and avoidable.
How do I tell the difference between everyday life and “unnecessary drama”?
The body, baby.
Everyday life involved a mish-mash of ease and stress, routines and detours, plans and surprises. Navigating these when I’m not creating “extra” drama generally means I can maintain some composure, think clearly, make decisions with some degree of confidence, speak up for myself, experience compassion, identify sources of frustration or anger, and ask for help without shame. Mind you, it’s a rare day that all of this happens without a hitch. Come to think of it, I may yet to have experienced a 24-hour period where all of this went down without a snafu or three. But hey man, ideals are useful and give us something to practice and a place to return to when we get lost in patterns that no longer serve.
Patterns that no longer serve live in the body, and that’s where drama originates, too. My body isn’t trying to create drama; it’s just reacting in the way I’ve trained it to. I’m betting that you have at least one person in your life whose presence has historically caused your blood pressure to go up — and not in a good way. Let’s say this person’s name popping up — in a text or message — is enough to make your heart race (and not in a good way). This is drama — but it’s not your “fault.” It’s a learned response, one your body came up with to protect you.
The only drama now is in how to choose to respond. Maybe responding at all is not in your best interest, or choosing as neutral and direct a route as possible is how you can keep your presence of mind and heart intact, rather than letting outside forces drive you into a dust storm of blinding emotional proportions.
Sound vague? That’s because drama, for all of its love of every last detail — often is, at its core, just that. Vague in the sense that if you stopped me in the middle of a class-act rant and asked me what this was really about, I might not be able to give you a specific answer. I am too busy handing over to someone who doesn’t deserve it a big platter of my power.
When there was a lot of drama in my life — in the throes of coming out, ending a decade-long marriage, navigating a new love long-distance, losing one job and finding another, moving, and moving through a scary period related to my wife’s health — there was no shortage of writing material. In fact, coming out alone could have been swan song.
I do not live in these places, nor do I want to be defined by them.
I do not want to recycle my stories or fear that without extreme, usually difficult, conditions, my writing will suffer. This way of relating to drama is not all that different from any other form of addiction and the stories we tell about ourselves.
Try it out for yourself. Has this ever been true for you? “I can’t write without ___________.” Fill in the blank: Smoking on my back porch. A glass of whiskey with a single ice-cube. A broken heart. A betrayal. A burning question you will never, ever find the answer to.
Leaving drama-laden life behind and opting to become a boring writer doesn’t make you a boring person. If you are returning to more dramatic periods of your life, you’ll be able to see and write about them with a different kind of clarity from a distance. And if you’re looking for new subjects and stories and open to what’s really happening, within and all around you — you will never, ever have a shortage of material.