Sonder Stories- Tales of the Everyday Human

If you have been around the Internet for a spell, you may have noticed a word in use that is previously unknown to you: sonder. This word, which is actually not a word according to Webster’s Dictionary, is an Internet-fueled phenomenon that gained traction because of its appeal and relativity to some Internet dweller’s lives.  Sonder is a noun, the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

When I discovered this “word” on a random corner of the Internet, it resonated deeply with me. The feeling that I had was evidently felt by others, this sonder-filled moment of looking around and seeing that the world is not about you, not even a little bit. This feeling of placing yourself squarely in the shoes of another, to empathize with their story that you are not a part of, brings humility and awareness to all of us if we would just listen.

Which brings me to my next project as a writer: Sonder Stories

Experiencing sonder is a humbling moment in which we are yanked out of our realities and placed into a space where someone else is the focus. Readers experience this most often, and usually with fictional characters. I am a proponent of people reading non-fiction for this exact reason: real people have such complex lives that we never get to experience. People have different viewpoints and realities and moments that are lived with pain or pleasure, honesty or dishonesty, happiness or grief…and they are so important to hear. And I want to tell them.

Stories are how we learn about how others tackle issues and overcome obstacles. But some stories have horrible endings because someone did something wrong. These type of stories are normally woven together as fables and do not show real situations with real effects on real people. Some stories have amazing endings because someone did something right. And these type of stories are normally dramatized and made into heroics.

What about the real stories?

This type of project is not new. Humans of New York does it with pictures, Chicken Soup for the _______ Soul does it with collections of relatable submissions by everyday people, and Studs Terkel did it with oral collections of Americans’ lives in his time. What I want Sonder Stories to do is tell stories of another’s life, with honesty and hopefully an enlightment of some kind. I want Sonder Stories to evoke empathy or learning, understanding or acceptance, to bring the human experience closer.

Here are my guidelines:

  • The interviewee will be prompted to verbally tell me a story. They can begin wherever they wish. Through normal conversation, I will ask the interviewee questions and give them a chance to round out the story. I will ask uncomfortable questions.
  • Then I will write the story. I will hold true to the substance of the verbal tale, but I will write it in my style from a third person point of view. The interviewee has a chance to read the story before I publish it, and they are welcome to give me feedback, but unless I get a fact blatantly wrong, I am not obligated to change the story.
  • These stories will all be true as I am told. I trust that the interviewee understands the essence of the project and acknowledges that if they wished to tell a fictional story, they can write it themselves. The onus of truth is on the interviewee.
  • The interviewee may remain anonymous if they wish. Some stories require anonymity. I will tell no one of the anonymous identities.
  • The stories can be big or they can be small. Sometimes the smallest story can evoke the greatest relatability.

If you wish to have your story told, contact me. I prefer to conduct the interview in person but I am not opposed to Skype. Body language is important in getting a story right. I already have a few people lined up as interviewees and I am excited to begin this chapter of my writing!

 

 

A Day Trip to Parris Island- Part 1

I had been stood up, for breakfast on a Sunday, no less. He was a good guy though, truly good. He would drive me to church events when my grandparents were unable, and I had read all the horror stories that he had written since I was 13. He fancied himself a young Stephen King, and his stories were the first raw exposures of an aspiring writer that I would be inspired by. My grandparents wanted me to marry this boy, and encouraged our slow courtship that last years and had never gone anywhere.

Nevertheless, I was shocked when I received the phone call that he wouldn’t be coming. I was already in my car, driving into town to meet him, when my flip phone rang. It was easy to maneuver a manual car and hold a phone. The days of my stick-shift driving had prepared me for moments like these. I answered and we spoke briefly as I careened through the country backroads of Georgia in my Ford Taurus with faded blue paint. When I hung up, I passed by the Waffle House where we were supposed to meet. I wasn’t about to waste a Sunday being upset about a boy, especially not when he had sounded so concerned about canceling on me. So I decided to just keep driving.

A few weeks before, I had spoken to a Marine recruiter. I had received extremely high marks on the ASVAB test for people interested in enlisting in the Marine Corps, and the recruiter was waiting for me to finish high school a semester early in December before he “shipped me off to Parris Island”.

“Where’s that?”

“South Carolina. You’ll love it there.”

I had a vague idea of which direction South Carolina was from my tiny hometown of Covington, Georgia and clearly the only logical thing to do was immediately set off to check out this place, without a map, without directions, without a friend, and with a cell phone on 90% battery life.

My 17 year old naive self took off, 10 am on a Sunday in September, and went east. Guessing randomly, I started taking left turns, heading in the direction of towns I’d heard of, and maybe visited once or twice. I had no GPS, because those contraptions only existed for the rich. The radio was on and I sang loudly with the windows down and imagined that I had a few more months of high school before I was free of this shitty town. As I flew down I-20, I didn’t notice I had passed a cop car on the other side of the highway in a speed trap.

His tires spun as he crossed the median to catch me. I burned a little rubber slamming on the brakes and getting over to the side of the road when I saw his flashing lights. When the cop saw me, shakily handing him my license, registration, and proof of insurance, he seemed surprised, probably because I looked 14.

“Where are you heading, young lady?”

“I’m sorry, Officer, I didn’t realize how fast I was going. I’m heading to…I guess Parris Island. I’m so sorry.”

“You were going 20 over.”

I tapped my speedometer.

“I dunno, sir, my car only said 11.”

He went back to run my plate and make sure I wasn’t a more serious criminal, I guess. My hands shook in my lap as I clasped my hands together and watched him in the rear view. When he walked back about twenty minutes later, I had already organized my center console and had begun reading the book I had brought along for the impromptu trip. I never went anywhere without a book, because you never knew when you would have to wait twenty minutes for a cop to make you regret ever going a smidge over the speed limit.

“Slow down, ma’am, and have a nice day.”

Thanking him profusely, I took my papers back from him and painstakingly took my time returning every item back to its rightful place while I prayed he would leave before me.

He did not.

Creeping along, I pulled out in front of him slow as molasses and continued down the interstate. He eventually stopped following me and went to catch another unknowing speed racer.

Realizing that I was almost out of gas, I pulled into a gas station and walked inside to pay the attendant. I had my bank card, and I quickly checked my checkbook to make sure I still had some money in my account. As I waited in line, I twirled around the stand next to the counter. The MAPS OF AMERICA spun in front of me. I thought I should probably grab one real quick so I would stop wasting gas money on a wild goose chase of a vague location I only had the name of.

“Sir, can you tell me where we are?”

I called out to the cashier. He looked at me concernedly.

“Athens, sugar.”

“Oh, okay, thank you!”

Athens is the home of the University of Georgia, where my sister had gone to college. I guessed that she probably would know where I was, but she had long graduated from UGA and had moved to Honduras so I couldn’t exactly call her up and ask for help. I continued to twirl the map stand, and it tilted back and forth as it spun.

I guess I looked lost, because a man came up to me asking if I needed help. He was tall and well-built. He had brown hair, and he looked like every typical Georgia good ol’ boy.

“Oh, no, thank you. I’m just looking for a map to get me to South Carolina.”

“Whereabouts?”

“Uhh, Parris Island? I guess that’s where they make Marines.”

He laughed and I looked at him, confused. He saw my face and stopped laughing.

“Why do you want to go to Parris Island? Your boyfriend there?”

“No, I’m going to be a Marine. Just wanted to check it out.”

“No shit, well, why don’t you follow me? I’m actually heading that way, to Parris Island.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not. My trucks outside. Which tank are you on?”

He got out his wallet and paid the attendant for my tank of gas. He threw a map on the counter too. (“You always need one in your car.”) I shook his hand and introduced myself.

I followed Patrick Morehead outside to my car. He pumped my gas for me, and pulled his truck around to be in front of my car. A dozen stickers covered his truck’s back window. US MARINE SEMPER FI IRAQ VETERAN.

“YOU’RE A MARINE?”

I leaned out of my car to yell at him.

“Yeah, sweetheart, I’m going to check back into my unit and need to be there by tomorrow morning. Stay close!”

We pulled out of the gas station parking lot and headed to South Carolina.