Homework For Life

Every day is composed of moments. Even during those phases of life in which we feel like we’re reliving the same day over and over again, drowning in the monotony. Whether stuck in bed suffering chronic illness, home all day caring for an infant or glued to an office chair for forty hours a week, oftentimes the days will bleed together until we’ve lost weeks, months and years.

In reality, each day arrives with its own small idiosyncrasies. However, we are often too swept up in our habitual patterns to notice the unique qualities that set today apart from every other day.

Eight years, I read voraciously and regularly picked up random books from my favorite used books stores. Once such gem was Something Missing by Matthew Dicks. A bizarre and synchronous series of events led me to recently reacquaint myself with the beloved author and discover his podcast, Speak Up Storytelling.

I love storytelling. Whether fiction, poetry, essays or everyday conversations, there is something so incredibly human and relatable about stories. The author whose writing style I fell in love with nearly a decade ago has developed a technique to siphon off something story-worthy from every single day, no matter how mundane appears at first glace.

It’s called Homework For Life. The basic gist is that you sit down at your computer or journal at the end of each day and ask yourself: If I had to tell a story from today, no matter how benign or ordinary it may seem, what would that most storyworthy moment be?

Write down a sentence or two, just enough to trigger the memory. Maybe you snipped off the tip of your finger with herb shears or your toddler screamed “I want my pancakes!” at the local diner. Perhaps a stranger unexpectedly held the door open for you or you saw a woman in stilettos trailed by three feet of toilet paper. Each of these represents the tiniest snapshot of a life, and yet most are accompany by some thought, emotion or story.

What brought me to this moment? How does it make me feel? How does it tie into my past and my future? What about his moment is so interesting?

When we take time to notice to small details that set one day apart from the last, we give ourselves permission to live more fully. By indulging in the moments and truly experiencing every instance of every day, we open ourselves up to the possibilities that may have never otherwise noticed.

As Matthew Dicks explains it, Homework for Life is a process that he developed to recognize simple moments for what they are: storytelling material, life altering moments and a means by which your lens on the world is permanently changed

I’ve now listened to half a dozen interviews, TED Talk, podcast episodes and stories by the storyteller. Each is just as intriguing as the teal book I plucked off an old shelf nearly a decade ago, and all present some variation of the following idea:

I discover that our lives are filled with stories. Meaningful, momentous moments that we so often fail to see, and even if we do, we fail to grab onto them, hold them, and make a record of them. Instead, they are lost to the ether forever.

The other day, my boyfriend and I left a work party around 9pm because I was slipping. He mentioned on the drive home how he misses going out with people, singing karaoke, having deep discussions and otherwise being social late into the night. We both agreed that the days all seem painfully similar. Wake up, work, prepare dinner, go for a walk, and either go to sleep (for me) or work on homework (for him). What if, one day, we wake up and years have passed without us realizing it?

Once you develop that lens for seeing stories, other remarkable things happen. You start to see moments from your life in a new light. The small becomes big. The annoying becomes magical. Patterns emerge that illuminate something about you that you’d never seen before. An ordinary day becomes something filled with moments worth remember. Perhaps even worth telling.

On our walk this evening, I excitedly told my boyfriend about Homework for life. Though I don’t think he quite understands how it’s different from keeping a journal, he agreed that it sounds like a good idea. We’re both now committed to identifying small moments of intrigue in our daily lives so that we can come home and share. Though we both have limited energy lately, we can peer across our periphery and discover the beautiful, bizarre and meaningful things that are passing through at any given time.

We are all human beings living ordinary lives, but that doesn’t mean our lives must be devoid of extraordinary stories.

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