For most of my life, for whatever reasons, I’ve felt alone, isolated, alienated. It didn’t seem to matter to me that I had many good close friends, and the love and support of my family. I felt what I felt.
I had one main skill, an ability that went back to my earliest memories and that had practically defined my identity: storytelling. I loved hearing, reading, and most importantly, telling stories. I collected them. And somewhere along the way, collecting stories became collecting characters and people. And that caused me to think of myself as somehow separate or even above other people. I’m not proud of this shift in my consciousness. I’m just putting it out there.
Basically my skill at storytelling fed into, and reinforced, my isolation. And that meant that I wasn’t actually telling stories. I was just an outside observer, a watcher of others.
Lately, though, a different idea has been filtering into my brain.
I can connect with other people – by telling stories. What else, after all, is a story for, but for the telling? That’s what our brains do – they tell stories. It’s not my own personal skill, it’s the trait that defines humanity. We keep the past and the future in our heads, not just the present. Animals can be smart in the moment, but they don’t appear to create long-term strategies and compare and contrast them. Animals can learn from their past behaviors, but that doesn’t seem to translate into the beginning of a story. Humans tell and love stories.
I’ve been human all along.
Walking around downtown last night, I was seeing people in a brand-new way, it felt like.
Beautiful, explosive, sad Stormy, tiny dancer at Devil’s Point, who told me Friday night that when she’s not dancing she’s becoming one with her bed. “Nice bed,” she mimed petting the mattress as she laid down, and laughed softly. Was she sleeping so much because of depression? Drugs? An illness? All of those, sadly, seemed equally possible.
The tall, androgynous girl in black slacks and shirt who sat next to me at the Stumptown Comics Fest Saturday afternoon. She showed me her sketchbook without my prompting. She had a series of scars or burns across her inner forearm. She talked to me impulsively, almost compulsively. She wanted to be ready to show her art at next year’s festival. Where did those scars come from? What did she see in me to start talking out of the blue?
The blonde girl who sat near me at Backspace and kept playing with her hair while surfing; I toasted her – Cheers! – with my coffee and she smiled and returned the toast. What was her story? Did she live in the Pearl and just want some late-night coffee? She was dressed in nice shoes, gray slacks and a red blouse; professional-casual, not for clubbing or dancing, and not Goth-y or Emo like the usual Backspace customer.
More importantly, why didn’t I share my own story with these people? Why do I nod and ask questions, but avoid talking about myself? Or tell them about each other, if I don’t feel like sharing my own story… Maybe they all need to connect, and I’m the linchpin?
One thing I did learn while volunteering at the comics festival was that I can get a charge out of talking to people. For a while I was the greeter for people entering the exhibition floor. I checked to make sure people had paid, or directed the exhibitors to their booths, told people where they could find bathrooms or the closest ATM. Boring stuff. But I also got to compliment people on their costumes, or notice the books or artwork they were carrying. I met the friend of the guy who drew the Keepin’ It Real Frog because I spotted the K.I.R.F. on a t-shirt. I talked to another volunteer who had experience in extreme cold-weather construction techniques because he’d worked on Antarctica. I spotted many a fine hat, and people noticed my own trusty fedora – we were brothers and sisters in the lost art of hats. Geeks, it turns out, love hats. Maybe people in general love hats, actually. I don’t want to be too exclusive. I saw a friend of a friend who also knew me through Backspace, and she bared her back to me to show a brand-new tattoo, less than 24 hours old.
And… it was fun. When I have a role to play, I can be talkative and friendly. It’s just that, in normal circumstances, I forget the role that I play, or forget that I can take on whatever role suits my fancy.
And I love storytelling. Can I tell you a story?