I just finished reading The Collected Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, and I’ve got to say that there are not a lot of laughs in it. Ernest is pretty intense. Lots of matadors getting gored and people dying in battles and depressed people. The stories reflect Hemingway’s passion for writing, and his obsession with being an Important Author. Truthfully, I love the elegance of the prose, and I feel the short story form suits Hemingway down to the ground. But I’d still rather read Jane Austen.
Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, the Brontës–these women had what we might think of as “small lives,” especially when compared with someone like Hemingway. Hemingway pursued adventure, whereas my aforementioned girls mostly stayed home. But their minds and souls were large, and–as a result–their observations of the quotidian resonate. These writers are Important, too, even if they never fought off a wounded rhino.
Many writers–particularly new writers–think that only Big, Important Stories matter: Death, Abuse, Drugs, etc. But small stories can also matter. Making people laugh matters. Not everything is a matter of life and death…some things are just a matter of life, period. And that’s fine, because that’s what we’re living.
I’ve spoken with many young writers who complain that they have nothing to write about. “Nothing dramatic has never happened to me,” they say. Well, that’s okay. Think about what has happened, and what it means. Then write about that. Think about what made you sad, what made you giggle, what made you afraid. It does not have to be a lion or a known murderer. It can be a teacher, a test, a trip. It can be about someone who hurt your feelings, or someone who betrayed you.
I’ve been thinking about this, in particular, because of Paige Rawl. Paige is nineteen, and has been HIV positive since birth. On an unremarkable day in middle school, she disclosed her HIV-positive status to a friend—and within hours she became the victim of hateful bullying. To honor the release of Paige’s memoir, POSITIVE, I made a pledge to be positive for 24 hours as part of the #positiveproject campaign. In that time, I have been thinking about how necessary Paige’s story is. Bullying happens to a lot of people, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. The fact is, we are all important. Our stories matter. Your story matters.
So tell it.