For we dreamed a lot, and we schemed a lot
And we tried to sing of love before the stage fell apart
If everyone was listening, you know
There’d be a chance that we could save the show
–Supertramp, If Everyone Was Listening
I’m a good listener. I love listening to people’s stories, listening to them talk about themselves, listening to them debate and pontificate and introspect. I can sit for hours and just listen to people, rarely adding my own voice to the chorus of humanity, of character.
When I think back on it, I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to love sitting with the adults when we had company, listening to them tell stories to each other or reminisce about a shared past. Even when they talked business or something that I didn’t really understand, I listened intently, gleaning what I could from the details dropped.
I love too being someone that people can talk to when they need it. Sometimes we all need to unburden ourselves, to just tell someone about our crappy day or the problems we’re facing, and I have made it a personal promise to be that for my friends when necessary. If listening can help them, I want to do that.
Then people apologize, they say, “I’m sorry, I’ve been going on about myself, what about you?” but I’ve not minded. Sure, I like to talk about myself too, sure I need to unburden at times, but I am happy to just listen.
And it occurred to me recently why this might be. Or perhaps it is not the effect of a cause, but rather the cause of an effect, but I think there is a direct connection to my propensity to writing. One of the reasons I write is because I find humanity so overwhelmingly fascinating. The things people go through in their lives that make them who they are, the opnions and beliefs they hold, their relationships to family and friends, the psychology of who they are and where they are going. I want to explore that in my writing, to make believable characters that embody a journey that some people can relate to, that some people have gone through.
It’s a common trope of writers that we put the people we know into our writing — that if you piss us off, we’ll get our revenge by killing off the character that ‘is you’, for instance. I put a lot of people I know into the characters I write — never (or rarely) is it a direct insertion, but I’ll coopt certain personality traits, stories and backgrounds, turns of phrase. Usually combining those from multiple people, myself, and things I make up.
I think people can be worried about this, but I think it’s a compliment. It means I find you profoundly interesting.
It’s also a common trope of writers that we have to be pretty messed up to be writers, that we have to have gone through some kind of trauma or hell so that we can pour that pain onto the page. I’ve had a pretty safe, easy, happy, sane life so far — I’ve often joked that it’s a good thing I’m gay, and forced to go through the difficulties therein, otherwise I’d have nothing to fuel my writing. But I have another recourse, and that is the people around me. I draw inspiration from life around me, from the stories I hear every day.
I’m a good listener, and I love to do it. Listening to people tell me about themselves, tell me stories and insights and debates, fuels my imagination and energizes my mind. I am constantly fascinated by people. And I think we can all learn a lot from the stories of other people. Of each other.