I broke my pinky toe this week. What I stubbed it on should have been obvious.
I mean, a plastic tub of legos, taking up half the hallway? That my three year-old left there, during his righteous fit? What’s more obvious?
That’s why I don’t have a good story to tell you, which is annoying.
Pay Attention–starting with the obvious!
But my attention was elsewhere. It was past 9PM, and I was on my own righteous mission: to get my older kids to clean up after themselves in the kitchen while the baby meowed from the bedroom. (The three year old harumph-ed along beside me to chide his big brothers.)
The minute I felt my toe make contact, I knew I had broken it. Your brain gains a momentary crater where it used to sense a comfortably in-tact body part. In my intero-ception, the damage was obvious.
WHAT HAPPENED?, the three year old alarmist said, when he heard my expletives reserved for those choice toe moments.
I BROKE MY TOE ON YOUR LEGOS! I half-yelled, because the obvious works better in ALL CAPS.
The thing is, when you stub or break your toe, it’s almost always on something that’s right in front of your face, and could have been avoided. It’s not like the walls switch around their location to mess with you and bait your appendages (except in Alice in Wonderland. Or when you’re chronically exhausted).
Look at the story you’re telling yourself…
From the site of injury, I started building a story– sound familiar? “Tomorrow is going to suck…so is the next day…Why did I not put that away?”
I also thought: dang, this would be a lot more acceptable if I had a good story to tell. Then I realized, a good story can start with the obvious, it just can’t stop there.
Moving beyond what’s obvious
What if I looked more closely at why we don’t do what we know we should? Or examined the structure of the foot, the function of toes? What if I wrote about the evolution of emotion, studied my three-year old? The fits he has over things the rest of us have long suppressed our feelings about?
So I didn’t any longer have to end with the obvious, and dismiss the experience as a redundant waste. I could start there. Instead of self-berating, which I’m Pro at, I could do some creating.
Turn it into writing with inquiry
And so can you! Take something that should be obvious. Remember that nothing is obvious to everyone. Start by writing a description of the obvious–by all means use humor and all caps.
Then ask yourself– what threads are connected to this that are less obvious, and more interesting, complex? What stories begin with the obvious, and travel outward?
My toe hurts, and it’s indeed annoying. But when I– and we–open up life and the obvious by telling different stories, there’s opportunity, not just limitation. It works this way for you, too, I promise. It’s why the creative life is so vital.
Where can we go from here (the purpled toe)? Finding connections
Ask me what happened to my toe. I’m going to dish out the history of Legos and their marketing to little boys. I’m going to tell you about how these frozen cranberries I’m using as ice packs ended up in my freezer. Maybe I’m going to tell you about the time I was on crutches 8 months pregnant.
Pick something in your life you’d include in the category of OBVIOUS. Put that item or experience or idea on the top of a blank page. Then, think about every single story, from the simplest to the most far-fetched, you could tell about it, and write down as many as you can.
Make a list or draw a web of associations. For each association, ask a question, to see what stories are waiting for you there.
You know how (three year-old in particular) kids ask, why is the sky blue? And then they are not satisfied with any answer you give them? or when they ask, why do people die? And are not satisfied with any answer you give them?
Do that. Or read this roundup of kid questions if you’re a little stuck in your own brain.
So, remember: your good story can start with the obvious, it just can’t stop there. This kind of deepened inquiry will make your college essay way more interesting and fun to write.
What stories are you ready to tell us? We’d love to hear them. If you want to start with your toe, you have our immediate empathy. If you want readers, and the kind of inquiry that will help you push past the obvious, contact us for fast feedback.