Even though I see drawing and photography as, well, mostly solitary pursuits, ironically they act as ways I can connect with others. Or–if connecting’s too strong a word–at least sparking conversations with strangers. On airplanes, in libraries, in coffeeshops, on piers, etc. Sometimes we’ll talk briefly for two minutes–oh, what’re you drawing? or, I take photographs, too–and other times, for several hours.
For a while I worked on a photography project called the 100 Strangers Project. I’d talk to strangers (something I often do anyways), photograph them, then write about their stories on my blog. I guess it was a way of recording the conversations I’d had with so many different people, people whose paths I’d likely never cross again. These conversations were sprinkled across cities, across the country. Usually we’d bond over something small, or something that we shared in common (or maybe we didn’t). The person was an avid traveler and had visited my home country; they liked video games, too, and recommended one I’d play years later; we shared the same taste in weird TV shows, and their favorite was one that’d soon become my own. And like the quote that “everyone you meet has something to teach you”, I’d always learn something new about the person.
I stopped working on the project a few months ago–I’m notoriously bad at finishing what I start. Writing the descriptions also felt–what’s the word?–contrived, and I felt self-conscious, and so I’d have all these portraits and stories but I’d be too afraid to write them down. I still talk to strangers; I don’t take as many pictures, but I remember the few strangers I wrote about quite vividly. I remember their faces, the spaces where we met, the point in our conversation where you could tell they felt passionately about xyz. And that’s what I’d write about. Some of them emailed me afterwards, or vice versa, to say hi or follow up, to send links or snippets from their book.
A poet whose name I forgot wrote about how, without our inner worlds, we are merely shells. And we all have inner worlds. Sometimes we just get so wrapped up in our own that we forget, or simply don’t engage with, those of others–particularly strangers. We do it all the time. Talking with them and hearing their stories reminds me to peer outside my turtlish shell from time to time.