Everyone in the world has a story about them that is capable of blowing my mind. I don’t know where I stole that idea from, but it is a belief close to my heart. Whereas I might know more than others in some aspects of life, there is no way I can be better than anyone in all facets of experience.
At the same time, however, it is too easy to ignore people around us. We are surrounded by people, and there are 7 billion of us on this planet now. In school, at work, waiting in line for a sandwich, there are fascinating stories and lives all around that simply go ignored.
That part can’t be helped. It’s impossible to pay attention to every last human being you run into, unless you’re either really good at it or entirely crazy. Apparently, we can only really keep around 200 people in our head as ‘people’ at any one time; anyone else beyond that number just become concepts and distant figures.
I wonder if anyone stops to think about the garbage man, or the laborers on the streets? They have lives too, and their own stories, although I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to hear them.
Whenever I read fiction, I notice that the stories that I enjoy the best reveal a great deal about the characters and their backgrounds. Most media, in the end, exist to tell a story; we get drawn in because we want the story to continue. Deaths in fiction can be so powerful, because we had come to understand a character’s story, and now that story cannot ever continue – even though we are aware that a character is simply a figment of our imaginations, we get invested in the stories of their lives.
But it’s not just fiction that has people with interesting stories. Real life is like that too, and I’ve found, even more powerful than the best of books and movies.
People tell me all the time that their lives are too uninteresting, which to me is kind of silly. Perhaps that person’s life seems uninteresting to herself, because she was the one to experience that life. But for me, and for others, that same experience might be deeply interesting, and really useful in some way.
Of course, people aren’t going to tell their life stories at the drop of a hat. People aren’t blindly trusting, and that’s probably a good thing. Even I’m not that trusting, considering that I’ve been writing under a fake name all this time.
Those two sides are hard to reconcile. The world is a very interesting place, and everyone is an interesting person, but a lot of that interest is hidden. At the same time, there are important reasons for keeping a life’s story secret, because not everyone is trying to learn those stories for benign reasons.
So then what?
Well, in my case, I start making stuff up. About myself, about others, about the world. I think that’s what a lot of people do, even if they aren’t aware of it. We make our own stories, and they become our imagination, our fears (if those made-up stories turn up badly), or hopes (if they turn out well), or what-ifs.
Or, we read the stories that people do share, fictional or not, and let ourselves fall into them.