4/22/2009

(Un)remarkable

"It is funny, but it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them. Of course this is the fate of most souls, reducing entire lives, no matter how vivid and wonderful, to those sad black names on withering family trees, with half a date dangling after and a question mark."
-from The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry

Five years ago, at my grandfather's memorial, I was treated to a family photo slideshow edited by my redneck twentieth cousin. Most of the pictures of the long-dead I recognised, oddly-dressed people whose images sat on random bookshelves and mantelpieces in my childhood house. Maybe it was because it was my first major loss as an adult, but I found myself with the sudden desire to know more about them - their names, their professions, their history within their families, anything that created a link between who they were, and who I am. It makes you wonder what traits, physical or otherwise, are shared with the anonymous (in a personal sense) faces which litter our histories.

I have family members heavily involved with genealogy, and though I appreciate how much enlightenment is provided by this, it's mostly dry, factual documents which are unearthed. There is no essence of the individual, though I suppose this media-saturated age will solve this problem for future generations seeking the origins of their past. Blogging may be the domain of the closeted self-absorbed, but I've often thought of this as my document of the side of my life which can't be accessed by marriage certificates and passport stamps.

Initially it may seem a morbid subject, pondering your own place in the grand scheme of things. I think too many people get caught up in the notion of major accomplishments, and not so much on the minutiae that actually makes a person interesting. For me, I'd much rather find out my great-great grandmother collected preserved pig fetuses than discover another great-great-something-or-other graduated from Yale and was an early mayor of Boston.

I'm guilty of questioning my place all the time, mainly through blog reading. Certain people are scarcely older than me and publishing novels, or if they aren't yet, soon will be. Some have series of degrees and illustrious academic careers. There is me, a postgrad drop-out living in a diddy flat with a job I fell into, in a largely unimpressive field. However, I recently read an article about a hoarder in the North of England who recently passed away. No one knew much about him, and he didn't leave any family behind when he died. With one swift swipe by Death, a person was erased. Yes, there is this article, but it doesn't answer any questions as to who he was. The writer went so far as to say that the hoarder's life was "unremarkable", a word which leaped from the page when I read it. What makes a life remarkable, and who are we to judge what is classified as remarkable or otherwise?

No doubt by this writer's definition, I lead an unremarkable life. The rest of my time will probably be spent raising my daughter, working like the stiff I am, and enjoying life through what makes me happy. I suppose by the standard interpretation, my life is unremarkable in its ordinariness. Millions of people have the same life structure as me, so apparently you have to stand out in order for your life so as to avoid the dreaded designation of your life as unremarkable.

Delusional as it may be, I hope P, the most immediate source of who may have interest in my life, takes much more joy in what makes me an individual than what would make me "remarkable". She will know that I moved over to the UK at 22, knowing no one except her father and most of my possessions squeezed tightly into a couple of bulky suitcases. She will know that I have an inappropriate and all-consuming love of hip-hop music despite my abiding whiteness (so very, very white) and nerdiness. She will know that I collect old books, decaying letters from previous centuries, and antique art prints of Arthur Rackham illustrations. She will know that I think The Big Lebowski is the funniest movie ever, a fact of which she will be painfully aware as I will be quoting it until they lower me into my grave.

I might be in complete denial, making up for a life not flashy and important enough. Just don't call me unremarkable.

17 comments:

Ms. Perky said...

I think this is a beautiful post. I've always wondered about my "place" in the world and whether I'll have left my "mark" on it in any real way. Will my children remember me for anything specific? Will they know about my love for stripey socks? Will they know that I used to love nothing more than tangerine jelly beans?

Will I have made a positive impact on them? Will I have changed any part of the world for the better?

I don't think it's important whether a journalist considers ones life remarkable or unremarkable in the end. I think what's important is how you feel about your own life. Whether you're satisfied with the daily doings of your life and the way you've chosen to live it. Ultimately, you don't have to answer to the journalist; you have to answer to yourself.

When it comes down to it, my life isn't particularly remarkable either. My 90 year old grandmother never noticed a single one of my accomplishments in all of my 3+ decades until I had triplets. When I noted to a friend that my cousin is the "pretty one" my friend said I wasn't giving myself enough credit and my grandmother said, "That's right! After all, no one else has triplets!" Turns out - everything else about my life to her has been... unremarkable. But I've liked it just fine.

;)

Lollipop Goldstein said...

You are anything but unremarkable, or people would not have so much to remark on here :-)

I hope, in the future, after I'm gone, that I'm known for my cake making (and baking in general. I'd love for future generations to be using my recipes when they're living underground due to the nuclear destruction on earth) and my kumbayaness.

I think it's pretty damn remarkable to pick up and move to a new country. In the future, generations will be saying, "that Pru, she was a real firecracker" (because they'll also return to these really old-fashioned compliments in the future for some reason).

PiquantMolly said...

Oh, dearest.

We all are both remarkable and unremarkable in our own ways. I hope I'm remembered as a smart ass who cared about people. Well, people that deserved it. :)

You will always be remarkable to me.

DD said...

That man who died was remarkable enough to get someone to write about how unremarkable he was.

Ironic.

And you are most certainly not, nor ever will be, unremarkable.

wheelsonthebus said...

lately, i am having a whole lot of thoughts about what i haven't accomplished

May said...

Oh, you are so very remarkable. No worries.

I do wish I lived closer to my grandmother. Having children has allowed me a window into who she is besides 'Grandma' and I wish I were able to spend more time talking with her.

And hey, Bloglines doesn't seem to hate you anymore. Did you bribe someone?

Rachel Inbar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Inbar said...

My last post is about exactly the same subject (just perhaps more focused on myself)... It's nice to see that other people are thinking about the same things. And I think if you read it, you'll see that I don't think being remarkable has anything to do with what we leave behind.

elizasmom said...

I agree.
And if you'll forgive the feminist digression, we have been treated to the minutiae of men's lives for centuries — how is their claim more remarkable than yours?
It isn't — what you do, who you are, is absolutely remarkable. That you blog is not about closeted self-absorption, it's about understanding that the stories we have are what we have to pass on to our families, the clues to our children as to who we are and who they are.
Lovely post.

Lut C. said...

Unremarkable, that about sums up my life. I can hardly bring myself to mind though.

Aunt Becky said...

Dude. You're my lover. And you're not unremarkable.

Betty M said...

Definitely not unremarkable - the moving continents, the music, the great blog - all slices of remarkability in my view.

I too get occasional hang ups about the friends/acquaintances all with apparently more remarkable lives than mine. But the books they write are sometimes shit and the people they marry ditto which makes me feel that traditional remarkability is not necessarily all its cracked up to be.

areyoukiddingme said...

I think it is the unremarkable among us that keep the world moving. The remarkable ones are frequently too busy wallowing in their remarkable-ness to deal with the day to day necessities of life.

Baby Steps said...

Hi! I'm here from Stirrup Queens. I don't know you, but I can tell by this post that you are remarkable.

Although it's a little hard to think about, this subject has intrigued me. I agree with PiquantMolly that everyone has a little bit of the remarkable and unremarkable.

This is a good wake-up call to help me find the remarkable in my life. Sometimes being infertile makes me feel unremarkable. It kind of just takes over everything. But I know there's something remarkable inside everyone, and I can find it in myself.

Thanks for inspiring the soul-searching! :)

Cassandra said...

One of the only things I know about one of my great-grandmothers is that she would make the grandchildren roll on the floor laughing by entering the room with a pratfall.

I can't say anything nearly that interesting about almost anyone else, even those I know well.

nutsinmay said...

You are like, totally, remarkable. I was remarking on you to H earlier this evening. I was saying something totally sycophantic and face-kissy like 'That MsPru, one of the funniest bloggers I ever did read. And to think I've met her! So cool'.

Do you really collect old books ad Arthur Rackham prints? I think I love you. Wanna see my complete Waverly?

Magpie said...

I think you're remarkable. We all are, in our ways.