People tell me things. I listen; I remember. I tend to free associate, relating why one person tells me with what others have told me, and with my own experience and frame of reference: mythology, literature, psychology, history and my world view. Then I write stories. You know—the creative process—whatever that is!
I am a writer. There I’ve said it! Until recently I did not think I was qualified to do so, since I am not a well-known author with a publisher or agent. Then, I realized: Hey, I am not totally unqualified either. I am facile with my native language, articulate and motivated, and I recently self-published two books. I have much to say, many ideas, and people tell me things—things that should be heard and not forgotten.
What do people tell me?
True things, imagined things, funny things, sad things, intelligent things, crazy things, joyful things, tragic things. They speak of their experiences, their thoughts, and their feelings. I listen, but not because I am trying to glean material for my writing. In fact, I never think at the time that I will use the things people reveal . Why? Because I am truly interested in their lives, no matter how different from my own experience their stories may be.
I don’t take notes and may never use most of the things people tell me in my writing. It just happens that when I am in the throes of my own creative writing process—being moved along by what and from where I don’t know, the things people have told me start to appear in characters’ dialogue, thoughts and actions, or as part of the narrative.
I love when that happens!
I don’t feel I am violating a trust, although I suppose if the people who have shared their stores with me read and recognize something they thought they had entrusted to me, they might feel betrayed. I would hope not. I think of my writing more as a laying bare of the human condition, partly through the things people have told me. Italo Cavino, the fabulist writer said, “A classic is a book that has never finished what it has to say.” And so it is with our lives—which are filled with meaning and offer acknowledgement, and maybe some understanding, of our common humanity.
Dante wrote about the medieval tradition of thinking on four levels when interpreting the Bible and literature: the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the analogical. I would suggest this “method” also applies to experiences in life as well, as I have thought of these levels as a way to understand the things people tell me, which are parts of the book of their lives—also never finished what it has to say.
That’s why I listen, remember, and sometimes write about the things people tell me. If no one is there to hear and to record them, they will not live on. And they should—not only to entertain readers, but also to inform, inspire, and maybe even to go deeper to formulate questions or to see connections to their own lives.
It may be that I sometimes intuit more than what people tell me, through a gesture, a facial expression or a gaze. I may see in their stories a pattern, a theme in their lives, as I see in my own (and others may see in mine). These too can be understood on all four levels: the literal reality of it, the symbolism in it of a concept or principle, the moral implications of it and the possible analogical, which transcends it all to the philosophical/spiritual/universal: whether it relates to beauty, sadness, or a small, unnoticed heroic deed. In their words there are hopes, anxiety and sometimes despair. Sometimes I sense apathy, deluded thinking, magical thinking or no thinking at all—just feeling.
Standing before friends beside their 24 year-old son’s casket, we just looked into each other’s eyes for a long time. I knew the story of pain, of lost hope, of lost faith: an ancient human story, with each of the four levels evident and all understood in that moment—with no words.
People tell me things. I hear them, and I remember. I will continue to write what I hear, what I see, what I know, attempting to tell the ongoing, classic book of the human story that will never finish all that it has to say.