Today, I’m trading blog places with Connor, from Cities of the Mind. The post he wrote is below, and I’m over at his site. I hope you’ll visit when you’re done reading! Enough of my rambling…here’s Connor:
First off, I am very pleased to be here on JannaT’s blog. She’s one of my favorite bloggers, with her odd take on life, and all the funny stories that go along with it. Wisdom and humor, folks, you’ll find it here. JannaT note: Um Connor, you do realize you’re posting here, for free, right?
This guest post did present a small problem for me, as adulthood and child-rearing are two things I know absolutely nothing practical about. So I thought I might venture into the intimately familiar space between; that awkward part of adulthood when it still fits like an itchy new shirt. I’m going to talk about the importance of understanding people. It’s a good thing for anyone, and it’s indispensable to a writer.
Every story, even the odd story not about humans, is about people. So I’m going to start with the story of why I came to understand what I do about people. I wanted to talk about how, too, but when I hit five pages I realized I might be overreaching. So instead this is just about getting over myself and growing the <redacted> up.
When I was much younger, my interests lay in observations of nature and of science. I wanted to understand things. I was a dweeb. I’m not kidding; I used to pretend to be afraid of the dark so my parents would let me leave my closet light on. . . so I could stay up and read my encyclopedia; if there had been an entry under “dweeb” it would’ve been nothing but a mirror.
People, on the other hand, existed only to play with and compete against. Aside from my friends, they occupied the same level in my mind as the sprites in video games. This continued right on through my teenage years.
I know what you’re thinking, “Look at this guy over here folks, when he was a teenager he thought the world revolved around him!” At this point I imagine your gesturing at me, here, in my spot right in the center of the universe, saying, “What an anomaly, eh, folks? A regular black swan.”
A black swan is an unexpected and unpredictable event, in this case, not Natalie Portman. Just to reiterate: I am not Natalie Portman. What I am is a guy cursed with a very good memory, so that every time I have an epiphany I get to read it in the voice of the authority figure who tried to tell it to me ten-odd years ago. For example, in my very late teens, I had the stunning realization that if I was going to ever be any good at writing, I had to learn to understand people.
Flashback five years, I’m sulking in the car and my ridiculously empathic former polygraph examiner mom is saying, “You know, your writing would get so much better if you really took some time to understand people.”
This was during a period of my life marked with upheaval, in which I did something I’d never thought of before: I emailed my dad and actually asked for advice about life and not being a jerk. One of the things he said to me (of many) was (basically), “When I was about your age, I went through a process very like this. I realized one day, as if I could see it, there were these golden webs that connected everyone around me together.”
I remembered that paragraph as an anomalous piece of gibberish in an otherwise very helpful email. So, I got serious about understanding people. I decided to approach it like I did physics or math, trying to really understand the underpinning concepts. I transferred to another college, made some really good friends, and learned how to see things through the eyes of other people. A couple years after that, I was considering a situation involving several friends at odds with each other when I had a major epiphany.
It was as if I was hovering above it all, looking down! I didn’t see just how my friends affected me and vice versa, but how they in turn pushed and pulled on one another. Mysteries were revealed, and great dark curtain was swept away to reveal a world I’d only heretofore suspected.
It was as if everyone was connect by lines into a great web–Oh, for crying out loud!
The saddest part of growing up is looking back and realizing that we were too smart to learn half of what our parents could have–and tried to–teach us. I used to think the wisdom was the prize for gaining knowledge, but I’m beginning to think it’s just the price of it.
So that’s my story. Again, I’m not going to talk about how I went about understanding people–maybe on my own blog in the future–but I’ll talk about the benefits, and the lasting after effects. There are these three plateaus on your journey through the world of people, you see, maybe more, but I haven’t met them yet.
First, you’re going to realize that no one, anywhere, is as interesting as they think they are.
Second, you’re going to realize that everyone is much more interesting than they think they are, just not in the ways they think.
Third, you’re going to suddenly see shocking beauty in everyone. This was, for me at least, one of those epiphany things. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was more of a reward than I would have thought possible for this lengthy line of inquiry.
What am I talking about? Writers are always in search of uniqueness. I don’t need to tell any of you how hard it is to find. But it’s everywhere. There’s this certain level of understanding people where all the little pieces of people become bits of characters. A nose here, an oddly curved upper lip there, a tendency to massage their left shoulder when they talk about driving. A woman who carries intentionally overpowering perfume in her purse, in case she wants to encourage a date to keep his distance. The difference between wrist scars made to look like suicide attempts and wrist scars from the real thing.
Once the ordinary is all safely catalogued the things that stand out in every person are the inconsistencies, the little bits of uniqueness–you’ll get caught up in the orbit of the people around you, and they’ll show you things you’d never dreamed of. It’s a window into the thousands of stories that don’t involve us but go on all around us–all the plays where we’re just the extras.
And–take it from a former center of his universe–it is beautiful.
Connor Rickett is a young writer in the early stages of fortune and fame, namely debt and infamy. He just finished his first draft of his first book, and sometimes people pay him to write stuff, but you can read all sorts of things for free over at his blog!