Yes, it’s me. But who am I?
This is a tandem question sure to amuse writers, whether they write fiction or nonfiction. And not a few savvy readers will offer up a smile at this as well. I met a woman once who performed body massage work called Rolfing. She was also a decent folk singer and songwriter. Her avocation(s)? Sports and physics. Discovering all this about her, on one occasion I asked her, “Which of these is the real you?” Without batting an eye, she replied, “Oh, I enjoy all my personalities.”
I could identify with that. I worked as a structural engineer for quite a few years, meanwhile studying the philosophy of and testing my own theories of complex geometries. I’ve played guitar since the 1970s, written poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and edited the work of others in these three fields of creative writing. Not to mention an abiding interest in military history and politics.
Okay, I admit: this might sound like someone who should spend time on a shrink’s couch, or perhaps in the infamous rubber room. But the more I get to know people, the more I realize that when given the economic freedom to allow their minds to wander, virtually everyone has multiple-sided personalities. This, I think is why readers enjoy modern fiction, particularly, as well as biographies of and books of essays by popular personages. We’re all complex people, and we enjoy seeing the complexities in others.
When I first started writing fiction, I first wrote down lengthy, detailed descriptions of the characters who would people my stories. Soon I realized that bits and pieces of all of them were strands of my own personality. In fact, I began to see myself similarly to a piece of rope – you know, fibers twisted together into strands, and these strands twisted together into the rope itself. I saw my characters, then, as an un-twisting of the rope of my own personality only to discover characters hidden within.
Readers will pick up on a trait of a character here, another there, that belong to me, and remark something like this: “I get it, Bob! That Phil character in your book was really you.” This grates, I admit, because identifying Phil as me is only a (very) small part of the truth of either Phil or me.
Still, it’s simply astounding that people who read about Phil and understand that there is a connection, however tenuous, to me, recognize one of the personalities that are parts of my makeup.