A book provides the source of seeing, being part of the range of experience within our human heart, while exploring all that held within, including the sad, strange, wild and wonder.
A book can hold worlds of discovery offering a way to see and feel, be moved or motivated by a life beyond ones own. The words uttered within the pages express things that are known, reflective…but others are unexplored, distant, touch a nerve, open a door to the lives of another.
Such a rare way to play in the community of human experience, stories held in the collective like a vast library of lived lives.
It is the collective, the intersection of personal and universal that intrigues me…and the voices, the characters themselves leap our of volumes, and off of pages to enliven, inform and invite us in. They provide the windows of knowing…
Characters are catalysts.
They teach us, guide us, inspire us and sometimes shock our systems. Think of the characters that swim off the page of a book and into your dreams, have traveled with you for decades or show up unexpectedly, on the small or silver screen.
Some of these characters that you have loved and admired, were tucked into library shelves or held under your arm, at a specific time in your life. They may evoke remembering, spark joy, expose pain, deepen healing, foster understanding, remind you of someone or something and expand wonder. Some characters, like us all, hold the range of human expression and experience that may be light, fun and fantastic to explore and embrace, but others are disruptive and disturbing, exposing raw truth and mirroring our own flaws, fears and frailties.
Characters, wherever they are found, once discovered and claimed by your own knowing will travel with you. Some are very present, you might think of them or talk to them like a close friend. Noticing where you feel so familiar, or are drawn to their qualities and attributes, that they become alive in your life. These are allies, characters who reflect aspects of yourself or open awareness to how you want to be seen, known and perhaps bring you closer to recognizing where your story is connected or crossing over theirs.
Characters can also express depth of character, interactions, feelings, reactions, decisions, offering their own motivation and ways of being in the world that can teach us about things we do and do not know. They are surrogates carrying us along within their stories, to guide life by offering a new view. This ability to travel inside the story expands perspective and each character can impact us in conscious and subconscious ways.
“In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.”
– Clarissa Pinkola Estes
This is where characters can assist you in birthing your own stories…
Characters inspire us, ignite our creativity as they influence and assist us in our own world building. This too is one of the main ways I create as a tool of discovery stories are everywhere and offer powerful experiences in art and life.
Working our curiosity and questions on characters, within art, can open up more space to explore the roles they play in our lives. Do this by bringing their image or energy into your art. Each character I see, really see and come to know, in the context of being exposed to a story, book and film, holds immense value. The characters I am most often drawn to include energetic entities, animals, landscape, objects (books among them) and houses as characters are a favorite of mine.
Drawing on modern fiction, the Library in the book Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Zafron, has never left me. The River in Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, is ever familiar. The House in the Clockmakers Daughter, by Kate Morton is rich with mysteries, the Stories themselves as shared in The Childrens’ Book, by A. S. Byatt are fascinating yet misguided exposing the desire to direct the experience of others. Over the years the worlds created by Frank L. Baum, JRR Tolkien Frank Herbert, Anne McCaffery and Anne Rice have drawn me in, all reflecting ideas that were birthed of enchanting, interesting and scary truths. Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland have populated life and art for decades, but there were other Anne’s and Alice’s in books and movies that have held strange sway at pivotal times in my life. But above all, my first books were myths, full of fraught families, pantheons of power and worlds inhabited by titans and god/esses who made quite a mess of everything.
Recently I’ve been drawn to several stunning biographies by writers and creatives, Suleika Jaouad and Barbara Streisand. And a tome rich with insights from Neil Howe’s The Fourth Turning is Here, about generational change, predictable cycles and saeculum that references historical, current and coming experiences that generate awakening, unraveling and crisis for the corresponding generational archetypes: prophet, nomad, hero and artist. These have offered me a different perspective, or way to sense the atmosphere of experience, and in turn, explore my own stories of learning and living.
The word character is not my favorite, now is it intended to be a diminishing label, not expressing make believe but seeing it as realized within our collective experience. Character is a collection of human characteristics, qualities and attributes that are both familiar and unfamiliar. I myself prefer the language of “all of us” rather than “character” but that is unwieldily at best. I would like to find a word that is simple and honoring that any of these “between the page” expressions can be held as reflections of self, other, individual, part of self or archetype. Another words any of us, all of us.
These reflections from books influence me and make me see more deeply into humanity and my own experience. There is a nature way these cross influence one another and come to my art as expression of an individual, their story or place of beginning. This can also be reflected in images that fell like “she is me, he is me, they are me”. There is an occasional arrival from a book, story, show…because like experience we have slipped into their skin and bear witness to their stories. We become connected, befriended…
How do you dance with the beings that inspire, influence and delight your life:
- Do you create with them?
- Do you make space for them in your home?
- Have you grown away from the beings or characters who had once mattered so much?
- Can you invite them back within art as process?
- Are any beings or characters reflections, connected to parts of yourself?
- How are they asking to be explored or expressed?
- How has one bring or character become “alive” in your life over time?
Characters or beings in books and other sources of story ultimately provide reference points in our life, and they illuminate and expose facets of the self and humanity that hold clues to our own desires. Characters are mirrors, friends and companions, both allies and challengers, that influence us at specific times of life and guide us in subtle ways.
They remind us of what matters most and what becomes extended space to create into can come through characters and their stories, leading us deeper into our own.