29 December 2014

Life stories

Chatting to a friend of 40+ years, I speculated as to what a mutual schoolfriend, whom neither of us had seen for decades, might be doing now.

'Why do you want to know?' she queried. 

'I'm just curious. It would be nice to get in touch and see what he's up to.'

'But why?' she persisted. She's very pragmatic about people: she stays close to those who are important to her, but the rest are of no interest.

The reason I wanted to know was simply that I can't bear loose ends. My innate writer's nosiness may be a contributory factor, but it's my obsessive need for completeness that's mostly to blame for this itch for knowledge.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
I just can't bear the idea that I will never find out what happened to all of those people who have had an impact on my life, whether positive or negative. While I understand, in theory, that friends come and go - and that most other people play only a minor role - it's not so easy to accept in practice. 

Christmas has, of course, brought the usual 'round robin' letters that have filled in some of the gaps. Many people deride them, I know - especially those missives that are boastful from start to finish - but I genuinely enjoy hearing old friends' news. 

Rather that than the Christmas card I received from one university friend years ago, which was missing her husband's name, without a word of explanation. Was she now a widow or a divorcee? In spite of subsequent - gentle - enquiries as to her wellbeing, I never did find out. 

Of course, the problem is that no one's story is finished until they shuffle off this mortal coil (and possibly not even then, if there is, in fact, an afterlife...). If I could, right this second, track down every last person who has come into my orbit, and find out what has become of them, what about an hour from now, or tomorrow, or next week?

Never mind real life, I don't even know how my fictional characters' lives pan out. I may tie up the plot strands of the particular story I've chosen to tell about them, but I then leave them in limbo, their futures unknown. If I don't know their ultimate destinies, which, after all, I have the power to control, why should reality be any different?

My mind might seek order and completeness, but real life is messy, with millions of questions to which we never get answers. 

I have, however, gone online to track down the old schoolfriend who was the subject of my conjecture, and discovered one thing about him: he has worked with the Osmonds!


blogaboutwriting said...

I think wanting to know what's happened to old school colleagues (as we went to the same school I'm intrigued to know who that is, but appreciate that you can't tell me!) is a 'writer' thing as much as anything else. We are interested in people, how they tick, how their lives pan out. It always amazes me how most people aren't interested in anyone other than those in their immediate circle of friends/family. An example: most days, when I'm walking the dog, I bump into other dog owners that I have invariably met before - perhaps a couple of weeks earlier. "Oh, this is Bella, isn't it?" I say and they are dumbfounded. I can remember them, their dogs' names and what they told me about themselves and their dog the last time we met. They can't even remember having met me before! I don't think I've got some amazing memory: I'm just INTERESTED!

Helen Barbour said...

blogaboutwriting (aka Helen!), thanks for the comment. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who is fascinated by others - I seem to be in the minority amongst my friends/family and thought I was the odd one in thinking that way! I guess, as writers, the second we lose that interest, we'll find ourselves with nothing to write about...