Where are you? Can I join you? I think I’d like to know, even just for a moment, what it’s like to be behind your eyes. Sometimes I know I would jump at the chance, and other times, I’m not so sure. If I traveled there with you, what would I be like when I got back? I don’t think either of us can answer that. You exist in your own world, a world that’s hard for me to imagine. The things you tell me, I can’t even fathom those things. You are in many ways so much braver than me, tougher, more resilient. I admire you, and yet I feel like I know nothing about you. I’m still trying so hard to figure you out. To really know you. We’re separated by all of these memories, these fears, these obstacles. They make you so unreachable to me.
Have you ever met someone like this? I think we all have someone, someone who eludes us, keeps us at arm’s length, never lets us totally in. They give us glimpses, of course. Sometimes they’ll let you in just enough, just for a moment. And then as quickly as it happened, you’re out again. You’re left straining to see, like looking through a rain-splattered window, remembering what it was like for that brief moment when you stood inside.
One story in particular always comes to my mind when I look at him, at my elusive person. In Yukio Mishima’s Patriotism, the protagonist Reiko describes the gulf between herself and her husband as he enters a world of pain she can’t yet understand. The man she loved, who she knew so well, is now far away from her, separated from her forever by something she hasn’t lived. And even though they’re in the same room, they are no longer existing in the same universe. That story has always affected me. I know the wall between us is thick, built and fortified by those trials I haven’t endured, by that pain I haven’t felt. And if I’m perfectly honest, by pain I hope to never feel.
Our experiences shape the way we see the world. No one else can experience things quite the way we do. It is very difficult to know what someone is thinking, to really understand. How can you really, when each person is comprised of so many different experiences and feelings and emotions and opinions? I think there is something incredibly powerful and intriguing about that. There is also something sad about it…when you truly care for someone, but yet you feel so very far apart.
This has been on my mind a lot lately in my writing. Characters are no different from human beings. For the most part they endure significant trials, challenges that will change them. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worst. They, like us, will become different people after these experiences, and sometimes this will separate them from those they were close with before. This is normal, and it’s good. It’s reality. Writers like to put their characters through the wringer. It makes sense that once everything is said and done they might look a bit different on the other side. A bit faded, maybe a little wrinkled or tired. Or maybe not, maybe they’ll be stronger, more powerful or confident than ever. Either way, it’s bound to change things in the dynamics of their relationships. How could it not?
I don’t know if I’ll ever quite get there with understanding other people. People are complicated, and just when I think I have someone figured out, they surprise me. Sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the bad. As for my elusive person, who knows? But I do believe that with time, we will eventually get there.
The more I write, the more I realize that this frustration doesn’t end with human relationships. It definitely carries over into writing. Are book characters any easier to understand? Nope, they’re just as hard. But there is a beauty in that complexity, in creating these personalities with their flaws and strengths and challenges and beauty. In some ways it’s helped me figure out the people in my own life. Working through the tangles in them, it’s made me look a little more insightfully and kindly at those around me. It can be quite an undertaking. Sometimes it seems like too much work, like I don’t have the energy. But just like with someone you care about, it’s worth it to get there. So I’ll keep on with those people in my life (real and fiction). Will I be successful at it? Not sure, but they’re worth the work. They’re all worth it. Plus it’s early, and I have a couple of hours to write. I’m going to try 🙂