anghara (anghara) wrote,

July blogathon # 19: "I want my life to be extraordinary"

Just yesterday, flapping around the Web as you do, I tripped across this article

It'a about "anomie", and they define the term like this:

Anomie, which literally means “without law” in German and French, was defined by Durkheim to be a state of “normlessness.” times of social change and upheaval, clear societal standards and expectations for individuals vanish. Without “clear rules, norms, or standards of value” people feel anxious, rootless, confused, and even suicidal. Life in an age of anomie can often feel empty and meaningless.


A little further down, we get this:

I have a friend who is endlessly lamenting that he wants his life “to be extraordinary.” But when I ask him what that means, he shakes his head, and says, “I don’t even know-it’s just this feeling that haunts me all the time.”

Life is a search for meaning. Sometimes, all too often in fact, we don't even consciously realise that this is what we are doing - but we pursue things, and accomplish things, and aim for things, and want things, that will *add meaning to our lives*. We search out mates we believe will complete us in some deeply esoteric way that we never fully understand (and therefore many of us fail to succeed at this, long-term; the contemporary solution is divorce and a going of separate ways but not THAT long ago divorce was a social stigma one could not easily admit into one's life and manner of existence and lots of our forebears stuck it out in failed relationships which lasted DECADES...) We choose careers we believe will fulfill us - but for many of us the major choices come at a time when we are still too young to know our own minds, and some of us will wind up going to college, getting multiple degrees in a discipline, and then chafe for years at working under the constraints of that discipline until we either drop in the traces or else find the courage to change horses midstream, as it were, and begin to pursue an existence more congenial to what our adult and fully formed selves find fulfilling as opposed to the callow young things we were at 16 or 18 or even our early twenties.

I don't completely agree with everything that the article which started me thinking about this actually says. For one thing, it's from a site which is blatantly called "The Art of Manliness" - and the female experience begins to diverge from that "art" almost immediately. If our grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought for votes, and our sixties-mothers (or ourselves) fought for freedom, those of us walking the Earth today are far from able to bury the weapons and declare the fight over. Far too many of us are still stuck on the "lesser human being" level. Far too many of us are dismissed or denied, our achievements buried, our prospects far less stellar than those of our male counterparts no matter HOW good we are in a discipline shared by both minds.

Take science. How many pre-21st century female scientists of high achievement can you name, off the cuff, just like that, RIGHT NOW? (No, OTHER than Marie Curie...)

Here's a short list. There have been other worthy candidates added in comments, if you scroll down. How many of those names did you know? How many did you, as your eye slid over them, actually recognise - an "Oh, YEAH" moment - but would not have thought of yourself if you had been asked to give a list of ten names without looking at at encyclopedia or, well, a website?

How about space exploration? How many people know who the Mercury 13 were, and what their aspirations were, and how they ended up? How many female astronauts can you name, even today...?

Take literature. There was ONE Jane Austen. Before they became famous in their own right, the Brontes wrote under male names (Currer Bell, anybody...?)Male names were used to make sure that publishers took their works "seriously" and that the reading public accepted them as being written by the kind of human being who was thought, at the time, to have an actual MIND. Having one of those was frowned on, for a little while at least and in the right circles of society, if you were a girl. Some other 19th century examples of this were Mary Ann Evans (whom you might know better as George Eliot) and a lady who rejoiced in the mouthful of a name that is Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, Baronne Dudevant (better known as George Sand). Isak Dinesen, who wrote the sublime "Out of Africa", was actually Karen Blixen. And if you think that we're past this in the 20th century and even the 21st, we've just changed the nature of the beast a little. The Harry Potter stories may or may not have sold like the hot cakes they did if the author's name on the cover was JOANNE Rowling rather than J.K. - and there are lots and lots of examples of those "ungendered" author names out there (D.C. Fontana, S.E. Hinton, J.A. Jance... I'm sure you can add to this list without too much trouble...)

All of these women wanted their lives to be... well... extraordinary. And all of them were to a greater or lesser degree tramelled by the "normalcy" of their times.

It is far more acceptable today than it has ever been before in herstory (the female version of HIStory) that a woman has a vocation which she can turn into a career - that a woman can work at a job because she wishes to do so and not because it's a minimum wage sloggery thing that she is forced to do because her children are starving - but even so there are invisible strings attached, and the glass ceiling has a nice hard crack on it, perhaps even large enough for a few to crawl through, but it is very much still there for the rest. And a woman really DOES have to be twice as good and work twice as hard to be considered half as good as a man, in many disciplines. I'm lucky enough, myself, to be born into a time where the idea of a woman writing a book is not as actively foreign as it used to be - if I had been born in the times of an Emily Bronte I too might have put my hair up under a cloth cap and found a boy's name and soldiered on incognito. My life might have been extraordinary, in those terms, but it would have been a life that would not, in a certain sense, have been my own. It would have been borrowed, it would have been stolen, it would have been faked.

But it doesn't have to translate into a stellar accomplishment of any sort at all, really. If I say I want my life to be extraordinary... well... I just mean that I want it to touch other lives, in some meaningful way. In my own case, I may do this through the books I write, and my life is filled with extraordinary moments - every time I get someone walking up to me at a con, or writing me an email, and telling me that they loved something I wrote and that it had changed them in whatever small way it was able to do this, that's a luminous and extraordinary moment for me, and I string them down my days and my years like pearls and wear them proudly. But some people are gifted enough for their mere presence, for the brushing past of another's existence in whatever minute manner that might be, to be extraordinary - for them to be remembered, for them to be loved. I could not go to my grandmother's funeral - it was in another country from the one where I was living at the time that she died, on another continent. But I saw the pictures from it. Her casket was surrounded by people, by people who mourned her loss, the fact that she was no longer amongst them. Everyone came, everyone whose lives she had been even the tiniest part of. People whose only link to her might have been a conversation. But she was that kind of woman. She existed, and her mere existence made her life extraordinary.

I would do well to accomplish half that much.

I want my life to be extraordinary. I've filled it with love, and with rich experience, and with books and with a sense of wonder; it now remains to translate that, to transmute it, to leave it behind in some tangible or intangible form - a book, or a memory - and to enrich someone else's life with a sliver of it, a kernel, a piece of grit, something around which they can build their own pearl.

I want my life to be extraordinary.

I guess I will never know if I fully succeeded in achieving that. Nobody is given to do that - the verdict on a life well lived often comes way too late for the one who did the living of it to know. But some day, somewhere, I want somebody... to remember my name with love. THAT would make for an extraordinary life. That alone. Right there.
Tags: july blogathon

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