This is sort of becoming a habit, linking between the two blogs back and forth, but well, that’s what happens when endless conversations lead to posts that lead to more endless conversations, I suppose.
So I was talking to Sam and, again, we were talking about how to overcome writer’s block. Last time I told him to just write and he did so, but not as he intended at first – to write a post and publish it without revisions of content, or wondering too much about what readers might think about it. So yesterday was the day when he was going to just write it, and then he would just publish it too.
I mentioned a creative writing exercise to him: restriction.
The idea is simple, instead of writing about anything, which is an infinite and daunting pool of topics; restrict your creativity to write about something specific. Let chance choose the topic for you. Very common are the “30 days challenge” in photography and creative writing, in which each day you’re presented with a topic you need to work with. I suggested a variation of this restrictive technique. Randomly, I told him to pick a book, the fourth book he saw, and go to page 72 and read the 12th sentence. That was going to be his topic. You can read the outcome here (it’s good, trust me!)
Of course, I had to try it myself. After realising that books about photography (or typography) with lots of photos, or books about programming languages (in Spanish) were not good for this exercise, I went to the living room where all the novels and fantasy books are kept and counted. Of course the book I landed on was in Spanish, so I chose the next one, which happened to be the same book, but in English: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
This was the sentence:
“I am all alone… all alone… all alone…” answered the echo.
Believe it or not, despite it being an awesome sentence, I’m finding it difficult to write about it. I seem to digress quite a lot and I’m finding it hard to focus on the subject. I guess it’s because of the fear of what a deeper analysis of the quote will show about myself, maybe some truths I’ve been so far trying to avoid or ignore. However, I cannot just write about it in a lightly manner and leave it at that…
In this particular example, the voice is just an echo, repeating what we say out loud, it’s just the sound waves that have bounced back off somewhere. However, the little prince thinks there’s someone answering him. He believes this because of his past experiences (whenever there was a voice, it always came from someone else, like the rose) and also because he doesn’t want to be alone. He wants to make friends.
This got me thinking… Being alone is a fragile state. We don’t like being alone. Yes, we might like being on our own, but only for a certain amount of time (usually short) and always as long as we don’t feel lonely. Being alone when we don’t want to is possibly one of the worst feelings in the world. There are many others of course, I just think this is just one of them!
So… how does that sentence give me a topic to write about?
For some reason, it reminds me of the efforts we do when we are trying too hard, when we want to be accepted and avoid being alone. We try to please others, we plead for their love and acceptance, and it doesn’t usually end up well for us; or it shouldn’t.
The majority of us (the majority of the time) only hear what we want to hear, which normally is a reflection of the way we think, and ourselves. Most people are just happy with being surrounded by clones of themselves.
Sadly, a lot of people are also happy with being a clone of someone else.
All our lives we struggle between who we are and who others want us to be. Parents have high expectations of their children, and we are afraid of disappointing them, so we embark in a life that is not ours, a life that they dreamt for us… Someone we like (or even love!) has certain opinions, and we fear losing them, so we end up attending events we hate, hanging out with people we don’t get along with, and basically forcing ourselves to like stuff we don’t. Every time you lie to yourself about who you are, you do so out of fear. Many times, it’s fear of rejection, fear of being alone, of being cast out of the clan and ending up alone. If everyone seems to like, say, One Direction, shouldn’t you learn to like them as well so you could belong?
The sentence reminds me of all the times we try hard to not be alone.
As kids, we were challenged with dares in order to be a part of a group, rites of passage, or simply bullying. I guess we all have done things we weren’t sure of just to not be the weird one, the one nobody really wants to hang out with.
As adults, we keep our opinions to ourselves and we just echo what the majority seems to think, especially with controversial subjects. We follow trends, and are quick to join the majority when judging. Think of the London riots, there were many people that joined just because that was what everyone else around them were doing, even if they knew it was wrong, they didn’t want to be singled out. OK, maybe that’s an extreme situation in where you might fear physical assault if you don’t join, I don’t know. How about these?
Have you ever hooked up with someone you knew didn’t care about you just because you didn’t want to spend a night alone?
Have you ever been in a meeting where you didn’t agree with what the speaker was saying, but you didn’t raise your hand to contradict them or present different data and waited for someone else to notice or say something?
Have you ever been in a group where everyone was mocking someone, and you felt it was wrong yet did nothing about it just because you didn’t want to be singled out yourself?
Have you ever pretended not to like, say, Twilight, or any other widely disliked topic, despite secretly loving it, just to avoid the japes of others?
Have you endured that friend or relative going on about a topic you can’t stand, just because it would be impolite to tell them to stop?
Does any of it ring a bell?
Have you, basically, ever done something you didn’t want to because everyone else was doing it and you didn’t want to feel left out?
This quote speaks to me of being an echo of someone else. The little prince finds it strange, he’s an individual, his rose was an individual, the snake he met was an individual too, so he just doesn’t understand why someone would simply repeat whatever one says to them. Having no opinion of your own is a form of this. Following the crowd. Being an empty carcass. Just an echo.
The fact that the little prince climbed a high mountain when he encountered the echo is also quite telling. It’s almost as if the author was telling us that when being an individual, you will rise above the masses and sometimes when you hear the sound of voices around you, they end up being just an echo of yourself, and so you really are alone in the end.
In those cases, what would you do? Retrace your steps back down the side of the mountain and join the echo, or keep being yourself and just shrug at the weirdness of the planet?