Writers don’t write from experience, although many are hesitant to admit that they don’t. …If you wrote from experience, you’d get maybe one book, maybe three poems. Writers write from empathy. – Nikki Giovanni
As a writer the main thing that has always inspired me most is characters. I feel like they can come from anywhere and everywhere, whether that be a stranger you notice in the street, a lyric in a song, a manifestation of an emotion or a random strand of thought that passes through you and makes you see things from a completely different perspective.
Once you have a character, the rest can come together. Their world forms from their loves and hates, from all your wonders about the hundreds of souls that surround you every day but have no meaning, no real connection. And as their stories unravel there’s the chance to feel closer to the world, and to live out a life that is a momentary escape from your own.
I think it’s this love of characters that explains why I love documentaries about people so much. That would probably be my dream job: to interview and document the lives of strangers. Because as boring as it may seem, everyone, whether outwardly strange or not is full of secrets and fascinations. You just have to look closely enough to catch the details.
Last night I watched a TV show about obsessive collectors, which aired on Channel five. This guy was one of them:
This is Barry Kirk, and if you couldn’t guess, he’s obsessed with baked beans. He has a baked bean museum in his house, two baked bean tattoos, an alarm clock that farts when it goes off and most spectacularly, a baked bean super hero costume that allows him to transform into ‘Captain Beany’. Oh! He also has his own website.
Barry Kirk appeared on the show alongside several other collectors, including a gnome fanatic and re-born baby dolls lover. While the extremities of their collections had led to all of them experiencing a certain amount of attention, some preferred this to others. For the Gnome collector and Captain Beany it had become a positive in their lives, turning them into local celebrities. This was a position that allowed them to not only openly share their obsessions with others, but also gave them some much needed company.
While watching this I felt as though I could make better sense of the eccentrics that live locally to me, like the Wizard man:
I suppose the natural assumption for most is to see someone like the above and think they’re mad, because, I guess, it’s difficult to understand why he might choose to do that everyday of his life. This is a huge generalisation though. I think instead it comes down to something else: loneliness.
There is something inherently lonely in all of us, and how we deal with it depends on who we are as people. While some may choose to be around friends all the time, others might turn to collecting, or dressing up as a wizard and walking around the shops, chatting to strangers.
I also think that it’s this loneliness which makes us so fascinated with other people. Even doing things like watching movies, listening to music, writing stories and generally losing ourselves in the narratives of the world all feel like ways to better connect with distant spirits. Art especially conjures this comforting presence amid the terrifying “what does it all mean?!” questions of being alive.
While we might not relate to everyone, I think there’s something so vital in trying to understand who others are or might be because our characters are what make us so special, whether fictional or real.
As a final note, here is an Interview Project by David Lynch, which I watched a couple of years ago and fell in love with. It seemed appropriate for this post.
I hope that you all had a lovely Christmas and have an even better New Year 🙂