Pondering about the wonder of sonder

Have you ever sat at a red light and watched people cross the road in front of you? Ever wondered what their lives are like? Then you’ve pondered sonder.

Sonder is grist for the mill of human kindness, connecting us to the web of humanity. It’s an opportunity to recognise and interact, albeit at a distance, with the people around you.

Pedestrians each with their own vivid and complex life

So what’s sonder?

Sonder is defined as

the realisation 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…

Sonder can be found in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, where John Koenig coins new words to fill a hole in our language – to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.

Winter is a wonderful time for pondering sonder. At least in the Macedon Ranges where I live. It’s cold. Time to stay inside. My office buddies cram around the heater or watch the rain through the window. Not so many pedestrians passing. Though the dogs let me know as soon as anyone dares to use the street.

From the background to the foreground

I’ve spent a great deal of time pondering about sonder of late. I think about people, a lot, both imaginary and real as I’m writing. And that remarkable moment when people move from the background to the foreground of our lives.

There is a brilliant and helpful group of people on Twitter to whom I am very grateful –  the #WritingCommunity –  and amongst those –  the excellent #AusWrites crew  –  and a fabulous subset of those  –  the #6amAusWriters.

The #6amAusWriters are dedicated authors all (some might say ‘mad fools all’) who get up to write at 6am, sometimes for ten minutes, sometimes an hour or more before we go off to our day jobs. And while the early rising is sometimes impelled by small humans or lack of sleep, still the crew, or a proportion of it, is there most mornings with words of encouragement, supporting and sharing a little of their vivid and complex lives with me and each other.

More than an extra

But it’s when we’re prepared to go to the next step; to move beyond being ‘an extra sipping coffee in the background’ of someone’s life, that the nugget of magic unfurls like the promise of sunshine in Spring.

Furn unfurling like magic

Taking one such chance to get to know another writer on Twitter, I’ve ended up collaborating on a whole novel. We’ve just completed our first draft of a supernatural thriller that pursues our characters around some of Australia’s most iconic locations as they endeavour to solve the mystery of the opal key. So much fun, and now he knows so much more about my ‘routines, worries and inherited craziness’ and I about his.

Now the #6amAusWriters and a sprinkle of others are composing an anthology of Aussie Christmas stories. We’ve moved from being passersby to being key characters, sharing a little about our writing, our ambitions and ourselves. Planting more seeds of magic.

How about sonder? Ever wondered what kind of life the person walking by you might have? Is it time to open the door to one or two or ten?

Thanks for reading


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4 thoughts on “Pondering about the wonder of sonder

  1. Lyn says:

    What a thought-provoking post, Veronica. Because we’re on holiday at the moment and frequenting cafes more than usual, I’ve been spending more time “pondering sonder” without even realising it. Sitting at an outdoor cafe table give you glimpses of little vignettes of people’s lives – the mother of a very active toddler who is veering between indulgence (french toast and syrup for the little one) and responsible parenting (don’t bother the lady, only ride your bike on the path, don’t go past that pole) or the three older white-haired woman who went past one after another: the first walking briskly, carrying a designer bag, the second wearing a faded tracksuit and shuffling behind a walking frame, the third in a helmet and lycra, pushing a high-tech bike. They seemed about the same age, and I contemplated the differences there must be in their lives.

    • Veronica says:

      Brilliant sonder pondering Lyn. And so much great research for characters. Add to that the fact that people are like icebergs – we only see the 10% they wish to show us – and we can let our sonder run wild.

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