NaNoWriMo Day 20: Imagining Others Complexly

How do you introduce yourself? What do you say? What do you tell others about your life? How do you identify? What is important?

I had the time to show my mum one single Ted Talk yesterday that I loved. On my list, there are many. Talks about the environment, about books and technology and history and self-improvement. The one that I picked, though, was Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s talk “The Danger of the Single Story”. About imagining other people complexly. About books that show more than the usual, go deeper and consider many aspects of life. About her college roommate who could not believe she could speak English or know how to use a stove, because she is from Nigeria. That girl had only ever heard a single story about Africa. One of disasters, not of ideas and rich cultural history.

About the books Adichie read as a child, British and American books. With white children in them eating apples, instead of mangos. Children who were so very different from herself.

My childhood novels were the same, narrow. They showed people like me, though. But they did not change my picture of the world. They were selective. Thrilling, but small in their diversity. In their topics.

What I found particularly interesting, is the thought what stories would tell, if we started with “secondly”. If we left out parts of history to make them fit our images. Tell the story about failing African governments without mentioning colonialism. Showing fighting Native Americans without the settlers from Europe who robbed them of their lands and livelihoods. Their stories. Stories are written by winners so it is important that we read stories from those people who’s voices have been muted. Who do not have the power to speak up. Whose voices are too small, too faint. Those are the ones who show the cracks in the system, the failures of the winners. The life behind the walls.

We are humans, there is so much to our lives. Every day we discover new aspects, learn new things. We built up a pool of knowledge that we can live from. Every day a step in a direction that might be yet unknown to us. We might have big dreams that we want to reach. That will lead our steps in the right way. However, you cannot always have a plan. You go on anyway.

What do I tell people when they first meet me?

I’m a student. Of environmental and resource management.

I love to learn. I love our earth. I will make our earth my profession. I’m an enthusiastic. I love my projects. I give everything for them. My best friend told me a few days ago, that he was impressed by my endurance with my ideas. I develop them but I do not give up on them. I will involve all the people it needs to bring this project to an end, to make it happen. It was so lovely of him to say so and maybe that’s exactly who I am. I’m a creator and a manager. Very obsessed with nature protection. Inspired easily.

I’m an artist.

Now this is more difficult. My art teacher always told us that we cannot call ourselves artists if we do not make it our profession. How many wonderful artists are out there who have a day-job? Who juggle everything in their lives to find the time to paint in the middle of the night? Who will give everything for their dream? Are those not artists? It would be an insult to all the hard-working people out there.

Isn’t everyone an artist in the end? People love beautiful things. People love provocative and interesting things. They love to see hand-made things. Things that make them think or cry or laugh.

I just went on tumblr to search for some inspiration and I found this blog: Isn’t she amazing? I love colours, I love to look at art! There have to be people who make art! Let’s please all call them artists.

When I look around the room I’m sitting in, there are many canvases that I have painted in the last years. They bring life into the room. They add a bit of colour. They add bits of myself. Paintings are very personal. They can be a looking-glass to your soul.

They all look different. There is this odd oil painting that I did in school many years ago. It pictures the tuscany. It has that bright blue sky, the screaming green, little houses and red roofs. There is a realistic grey painting of a train station I did as a school project. A painting that I made in anger in the middle of the night. Wild brush strokes with black and red. Trees shaken by the wind. A road with colourful cars, quite impressionistic.That’s my favourite one. A painting not yet finished of a canal in Venice, a portrait, a stormy sea. Lübeck in abstract forms, one canvas with just rectangles on it. All of them have completely different styles. I painted all of them following my road. I got better doing so. I developed forms and colours. I tried and failed and tried again. They are complex as a whole, they might not fit together in your eyes. But for me they do. Because they are all made by the same hands. Every single one representing a step in my artistic development.

John Green said in his Ted Talk “Paper Towns” that we all are making a map in our lives. That everything we learned and did appears on that map. It makes us who we are. I love that image. With every step forward the road in front of us gets a little more illuminated. With every picture we draw, every word we read, every sentence we write. We are the light on our paths. Never fully aware of what will come, but always sure what we have learned so far.

I’m a writer.

Every day I write words on paper. Every day I think of stories. I let my thoughts go through a pen. Channel my creativity. Am I a writer? Probably. Writing is an important part of my life. It makes me a better observer, a better thinker, a better learner.

My writing style has improved so much during the last year because I surrounded myself with it. It takes 10 000 hours to bring something to a professional level. That number shouldn’t prevent you from doing anything ever again. Because you cannot invest that much time. Nobody has time! However, this figure tells you to keep going. Every hour you invest in painting, writing or playing an instrument, a sport will bring you closer to your goal. Will illuminate a metre more on the path in front of you. Even if you sneak in ten minutes a day.

I’m a reader.

I love stories. I have not seen much of the world yet. I have never been out of Europe before. Which is sad. Which I cannot change right now. But I read across borders. I read stories of people so incredibly different from mine that I wondered if we even lived on the same earth. I have seen many lives unfolded, many situations dealt with, many wars fought. They changed me and made me who I am. Diverse stories. Not diverse enough, though.

What Adichie calls the “Danger of the Single Story” is, that we always read that one defining story about someone. A person, a country, a people. They are written from outside. If we let ourselves be lead by this one story, we narrow our minds. These are the starting points of judgements, prejudices.

Understanding the world in its entirety is not possible. We can only ever see little parts and pieces of it. We are not able to know every person we ever meet. We can try, though, to encounter as many stories as possible about them. Every story has the capability to change our lives. It’s important that we give them the opportunity. That we let them into our minds. Think of it as a scrapbook. You put more and more pictures into it, decorate it, write little lines. You always add to it. Until it gets a new picture. A more complete one than the one before. Our lives are scrapbooks of experiences.

Media do a great job at breaking things down for everyone. Depicting conflicts as two-party-problems. In reality, they are much more complex. There is so much more to it! We talk about wars in history. Identify the leading parties. The politicians, the driving forces. No one talks about the fate of the people, though. A war is always fought on the back of ordinary people. Who will give their lives. What are the stories these people have to tell? Does that interest us in history? It doesn’t. That’s sad.

It would be much more interesting to have an approach on the tales that people have to offer. They would stick in our minds. I don’t remember when the Thirty Years’ War started but I do remember that some people where thrown out of a window in Prague which marked the beginning of the whole mess. It’s the stories around that matter.

I don’t remember the seven first kings of Rome but I do remember that the first one was nursed by a wolf and the last one Superbus, was a real assh**e. They made Rome a republic afterwards! Said, “nope, no more kings please”. In Latin we read Cicero crying about his exile, how bad he felt. We read what Caesar wrote about his war in Gallia. Those are stories, told by people. Hundreds of years ago. Through their stories they are alive again.

We remember all these stories. They are a part of our lives.

What I find sad is that we never got to read many stories from other continents, other experiences than those from Europe. Our stories were narrow, our minds were, too. Small, those of children, when we tried so hard to not be children anymore.

We tend to see the problems in other nations, not their potential. We see all those catastrophes in the media that they suffer from. Not their achievements. We hear of the crises but never of the female leaders who made it to the top. We hear of diseases and drama, never of the inventions and ideas. Our pictures of each other are so small, the paths so dark. Maybe one day our ways will cross. Will we try to have a look around on the roads of other people? That’s our choice. It’s our choice to seek other perspectives.

Imagine others complexly. You will never see everything of a person’s life. You are never able to take a look inside their minds. You will never really know what they think. Despite what they tell you. We are bound to our own consciousness. Therefore it is important that we read.

You are what you read. You learn how to act in certain situations. You see what kind of person you would like to be. I would like to be a bit like Jane Austen’s Emma. Witty and interesting. Like Hermione Granger, intelligent, hard-working and loyal. A bit like Luna Lovegood, a little weird, but kind-hearted. Like so many other women I read about. More like Katniss, like Rue, like Celie, like Brienne.

We have a need for strong female characters in books. They were always a bit overseen in literature. They were just shadows, kind shadows in the background. They did not have to face challenges. They were blunt copies of the flesh-and-blood women they were based on. A female character is not strong if she always just gets her way, if stones are thrown in her way and she overcomes them. A strong character has flaws. Has a life before the story even begins. A strong character faces the stones that are thrown on their paths. A strong character falls over them, fails, tries again. She has different interests and passions, leading her on her way. I want to see more female characters who work despite the odds. Who stand up again after being thrown to the ground. Who use their wits and intelligence, their energy to go against a current and sometimes with it. Well-rounded interesting characters.

Take for example “Gone Girl”. They are both a bit… strange characters. I don’t know who is better. They have their flaws. But they are alive. You think of them as real people. They have their stories to share. They make their judgements based on prior decisions, paths they have taken. Take “The Girl on the Train”. An observer who isn’t quite objective, who is an alcoholic. Unreliable narrators are the best! We get to know her story, feel pain when she does, are angry when she is angry. We are desperate when she doesn’t remember anything, we are with her. Why? Because she is a rounded character. A strong woman, in her own way. She has a story to tell. She has a life, that we can believe. Flaws and strengths.

There are many books with great female characters but never enough. There are many books from storytellers all over the world. Those we do not hear from regularly. Stories we never knew of. They are important. It is important to listen to faint voices. To filter them in an environment where only the biggest fish get a place on the bestseller lists. Those little stories are sometimes the most honest ones. The most interesting ones. The most life-changing ones. Because they tell us that we don’t have to shout to get heard. Show us that we can have our flaws and be wonderful humans after all. That we can walk on our paths, never lonely, always surrounded by people whose stories we shared.

Share your story with others. Tell them more than just one about you. Let them think of you as a rounded person with flaws and strengths. More importantly, listen to their stories. Ask them to tell you more than just one. Consider them as complex people. Reject the single story. There is always more to tell about a person. There are always so many things hidden behind the facade. There’s always more to uncover.

Think deep, read more. Learn from other people. They have a lot to offer. Imagine other people complexly. Never be satisfied with just one point of view. Ask questions. Do not think that you know what a person feels like. Listen to them.

Think of the world like one huge painting. You start in one corner. You fill the canvas. You can paint over it, change its look completely. There are always more colours to add, new shapes to discover. Every action forms a new line on your canvas. You would want to add more colour instead of wiping it off. Make it more interesting, make it more diverse. With every experience it will get a little more like yourself. With the bits you pick out of books, songs, conversations… They will change you, your painting, your life. Don’t just paint with one colour. Life is so beautiful, use the beauty to make your own the best you could possibly live.

Current Word Count: 33 370


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