Yesterday I was part of a small group of friends and family sharing part of the last journey of a mother, niece, sister, partner, wise woman, and friend. We gathered in a circle in Wiltshire, lit by candles within the ancient design of a Long Barrow to offer thoughts and thanks to Trinda. She had had the advantage of knowing she was dying, and being able to prepare her last wishes. Her daughter had had the opportunity of spending a final year with her mother through the tears, pain, joy, and challenge. They had both prepared for this final journey which her daughter is making from Australia, through England, and onward to a final wind swept joyful ancient place in Ireland.
As the day progressed we all learned so much about this friend and family member, but too late to talk to her about the extraordinary life she had had. I never knew she was an art expert. Others knew little or nothing of her brothers or mother. We shared a sense of her wisdom and joy for life and the ancient ways. But there were so many fragments of understanding which came together as a jigsaw puzzle too late for us all to share the rounded picture with her in life.
The day before I was doing a coaching/mentor session exploring the process for a writer to take a new idea from its spark to the page. I was inviting him to create a character map for his central character, so we could together see the richness of this young traveller’s life. This exploration may suggest the style of speech, his love of a particular place or colour, and his reason for setting forth on his personal hero’s journey. The richer the understanding of this fictional human being, the richer the tale can become.
And on Thursday we had a guest in to meet with the MA creative producing cohort of Mountview. Two parts of the session connected with me yesterday and led to this reflection. The first was that, as we had done many times in the past few weeks, each person on the MA introduced themselves to our guest. In this process I invited them to tell us something which we don’t know about them, as well as introducing their standard career elevator pitch. We learned that one of the team has a small chocolate making business on the side. This enriches our understanding of them.
Drew then set us an exercise as we explored brand identity and the art of narrow cast marketing. He asked us to think of a place we love and sell it to the person on our right. A simple exercise, made so much easier if you do not pitch in and evangelise, but rather ask questions of your potential customer to find out a little more about them to help focus your own pitch. It was so much easier to sell the delights of Byron Bay, Australia when I realised by colleague loved yoga and the sun.
In each of these experiences this week there was a sense of exploration and an uncovering of the richness of a human being.
On the flip side there is nothing more revealing about a person talking with you if they just talk about themselves, their needs and their hopes. If and when they enter into a dialogue with you and ask about you and your life, then there can be a connection, and you are more likely to wish to find ways to listen and understand their world, as they are doing with you.
So, if you have an aged aunt, mother or father ask them about themselves before it is too late. Be specific. Seek to explore corners of their world which could enrich and inform you and their extended family – before you hear it in a eulogy.
If you have a new character for a novel or a play ask yourselves about their backstory and rich textures. If you are about to start a sales promotion for your show explore the character map of 5 people you would like on your front row (see Your Life in Theatre for far more about that). And if you meet someone you think could be useful to you, start by asking them about themselves. Understand another human – before you miss a trick.
Thank you Trinda for a beautiful day yesterday. You have touched so many in this life.