There’s never just one picture.
We are all different. Some people deal with difference better than others. I deal with it partly because I have to. I feel like one of The Different. But I’m not really. I’m just one of those whose differences are social and therefore make me feel noticeably different. Other people have differences they can hide better (even if they shouldn’t). Other than being ridiculously lacking in confidence and having a vivid imagination and habit for wordplay, though, I expect I am probably boringly normal.
I write because it is how I communicate. If I didn’t write I would be taken at face value and for an unconfident person that face is always a lie. Apart from being an occasional slave to the imaginary characters and dilemmas playing in my head, I write to say things about what I see going on around me. I have always been an observer and a thinker. My mother tells me, for instance, how many years ago, at the age of three, I watched famine victims on television and asked why they couldn’t share our food and water. I still think like that now. I think quiet people can take a really good look at things because they are using less time talking – but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
I am quiet and I hide away but I am OBSESSED with people! Sometimes I feel a responsibility to speak out. I get involved by imagining myself in people’s situations, absorbing myself in their dilemmas as if I am no longer me but I am someone else, somewhere else. I may be wrong but I think I am good at this. I learnt to think about others’ feelings at a very young age – I would like to explain why, but for some reason it doesn’t seem appropriate here and now…
I also studied social science courses that forced me to turn my view of the world upside-down, give it a good shake and reassess it – without any judgement or preconceptions. The lessons of acceptance of diversity and – if not trying to see the bigger picture, then at least accepting that there is one, are incredibly worthwhile and valuable. And in the last ten years I have read and seen and felt a lot of what I can only describe as very “real” stuff and am now distressed more than ever by limited viewpoints or dogma.
As I think about things I blend in and out from being an observer to being the subject. I don’t feel like I see things from the privileged viewpoint of an outsider, instead I feel that I know how it is to suffer, to struggle. For that reason I am always very careful not to judge, not to blame and not to assume things. I prefer to avoid knee-jerk reactions and/or stand-off or polarised viewpoints. Instead I like to talk things through, introduce the ideas that are playing inside my head, air my instincts to repair and protect, and reluctantly allow viewpoints that clash with my own to be introduced.
It’s my way of talking.
Talk is cheap, some say?
Well I disagree. Strongly, in fact. Here the difference thing comes into play again. There are those who act and don’t have enough time to think, those who discuss, argue and suggest courses of action, and then there are many, many, many variations in between. These differences are what make things work. Conversing, arguing, and changing course leads to policy changes and societal changes. Take away the talkers and the writers and we are left with those who merely act. All acts must be challenged regularly, if only – at times, to reassure us that we are doing the right thing. Much as we might hate it, we must have our views challenged and we must take on new information. The whole picture, the bigger picture, the various viewpoints must be heard. And talking – outside a situation – is a good way of recording an overall impression and bringing together ideas.
I think a lot of writers don’t feel that they have all the answers, they are simply saying, ‘Please, just take a look, have a think and imagine yourself in these shoes before you judge.’ Far from being removed, writers try to empathise, and, without necessarily condoning behaviour, try to challenge preconceptions.
I heard that Roald Dahl, for example, had a writer’s hut, a fair walk away from the family home, with no telephone and strict instructions that he was only to be interrupted in an emergency, so that he could write for days in peace and not be bothered by life, normality, or social interaction. Yet he wrote so astutely, observedly (oh, apparently observedly is not a word. Can I have it anyway?) and warmly about the human condition that you can tell he was only physically removed from humanity – never emotionally removed. He liked to show the reader that things were not always as they seemed. Isn’t it the best thing ever – to make people think?!?
Writers do care. They care enormously and while they do not have all the answers, their minds are a great holding place for a myriad of observations. And a creative mind can make connections and observations that other people miss. People in the centre of the action often miss what is going on around them and only see things through one viewpoint. Writing can help us to see how, where and when things might have gone wrong. We are not trying to change the world (okay, maybe sometimes…) but we want people to see every viewpoint and I think the very nature of writing has a special knack for achieving that. When we look at a photo of a group of people, we think we know what we are seeing, but each person in that photo will have a different story – as will the person behind the camera. When people explain what is really happening you can be surprised not only by how differently you saw things, but also how there is conflicting information in the stories.
Writing is a good way of taking an argument through to its conclusion. A verbal argument is full of interruptions, twists and turns and can be dominated by a loud or aggressive participant. Someone with their own agenda can often shout down other participants and distort another person’s words in order to say what they want to say. It’s frustrating to be stopped in your tracks and to be told you’ve said something you haven’t or made to shut up because another person thinks you are clearly wrong, misguided or uninformed. People can assume they know what you are going to say and never really hear what you are saying. In writing you get a better chance to make your point, even if there are still those immensely frustrating times when people with preconceptions will misread you.
In writing you can also see the chaos theory at work; how easy it could be for any of us to have had a completely different life but for one action. I don’t know about others but it makes me want to unstitch things and see where they went wrong. It makes you realise that despite some rather hideous behaviours, we are all very similar but victims of circumstance to a greater or lesser degree.
So, I write because my circumstances made me a nervous wreck, a quiet thinker, and regularly dogged by minor health niggles. I’m sick of trying to be something I’m not, of being afraid of being judged for being a thinker and an observer. This is how I do things. How I can be active. If it’s not good enough for some people then it is they who have the problem of not appreciating the beautiful, complicated differences that make up a society, not me.
Quiet writers rock… Quietly…