My ex-wife Mandy hates the word - or words - ‘num-num-num’, I don’t know why, but can guess, after all, who can really get away with saying such a thing except a muppet. She hates a lot of other things as well, like tapping, or doors that aren’t clicked shut, but that word, or words, is high on her list. Being a man of words I have a few I don’t like, the word ‘blessed’ one that I find irritating, although I’m not sure why (I can forgive one, no more than that). Another is the C-word, that word being ‘connected’.
I was reading an interview this morning where the interviewee kept using the C words, that they liked to ‘connect’ with people, wanted to ‘connect’ with people, ‘connect’ with nature, create a ‘connection’ between them and whatever. The interview was written in a kind political speak, safe questions and safe answers, working from a self script many people use, an edited version of one’s truth, not true or honest, just the same old re-run that’s safe to share. The other week someone rang me up from a newspaper for an interview, then after saying, “hang on” asked me to answer the questions, which began with the usual, “when did you start climbing” and went downhill from there. The questions were so monotone, so dull, and so listless and limp, after about five I asked, “excuse me, is this a real person I’m speaking to”, thinking I’d been put through to some Siri style questioner. The woman replied yes I was, and we continued, “what are you doing next”.
It’s hard to avoid doing these types of interviews (they’re like a mantrap), but I do avoid reading them, and this one was very much in that mode, the reading of it as valuable as searching for wisdom in a roll of toilet paper.
What kept me going, kept me ‘connected’ was I knew the poker-faced person who was being interviewed, and so marvelled at the deception, of the self, of the interviewer. Here was the least connected person I’d ever met, not only unconnected to anyone or anything but also unconnected to themselves, whose script was telling the total opposite of who they were.
Sometimes what people fail to say is far more revealing than what they share, the lies too big to hide behind the letter, the words and sentences, yet all carefully selected for that purpose. The job of the really great interviewer, not the perfunctory one, is to find out what lies back there in the shadows, but it’s something you rarely see, most interviewers ‘friends with band’ (have a read of Michel Mok’s interview with Scott Fitzgerald ‘One blow after another’).
I must have done a hundred interviews in my time, and one thing you learn is there is nothing of more value than the truth, the honest truth, the truth that must not escape your lips, the truth like a little self suicide or murder. Such a thing makes people wince. Makes interviewers scribble. Makes the directors smile. It’s like watching someone fall down the stairs on a skateboard, miss a trick on a snowboard and hit the ground hard, or tumble off the trail on a mountain bike, you just can’t help but feel the pain of it, but it sort of feels good to, so hard you can feel it second hand, but without the blood or the broken bones. When you share something of real value then it jumps from the page or from the podcast, or from the screen. It’s not easy but it’s generally always appreciated, one brutal truth about yourself worth a library of platitudes and word filer.
And yet we don’t want it all. When someone describes being raped or sexually abused we appreciate the honesty but we don’t want the details, that bit of information enough for us to think we understand. These small pieces of truth can also be undefined as anything, just a comment that ends there, or something else far bigger, that would be spoilt by full disclosure. When Gwen Moffet says that “Mountains have no malice”, that’s all we need to know, just four words that beg questions we don’t need to be answered.
Yesterday one of the biggest projects I’ve ever been involved with was launched on Kickstarter, a film based on Psychovertical to be directed by the multi-award-winning director Jen Randall (Operation Moffet, Project Mina, Push it). This has been on the cards for quite a long time, going from filmmaker to filmmaker, but finally, it’s going to happen. I’ve known Jen for quite a while, and I think I get her, and she gets me, and I think we will produce something very unusual and interesting, and also funny.
From the outset, I wanted this film to be honest, not a hand job movie, but raw and full of complexity. I don’t want it to be another dull film about a climber, full of cliche and fluff, slow-mo, and time-lapse, but a film that’s hard and dense and difficult. I want it to be an experience, like the best interviews, where I learn something about myself I did not know, maybe something I do not like.
Yesterday someone emailed me about the film, and I replied how bloated I looked in the promo, and she made a joke about me being vane, to which I replied being vane is what I aspire to. I’d wanted the picture changed because I looked fat, wanted it swapped out for something where I looked better, but Jen kept that one… and really she is writing too. Her job is to screw me over, to get the truth from me, to show me warts and all. I once said to her on a film panel that you could never be friends with your subject, that that friendship would undermine the honest truth of the film, the film worth more than friendship. I seem to think she disagreed, but I hope she takes that to heart with this film. I would rather us be enemies at the end, but have a great film than life long buddies with something as profound as that roll of toilet roll.
I’ve been reading a lot of Peter Hitchens lately, the brother of the late, and far cooler Christopher. I’ve never paid him much attention because he’s a Christian, and in my own intellectually bigoted way I had no time for the views of such a man, but more fool me. I read a line from him today, from ‘The Abolition of Britain’ that read, ‘A nation is the sum of its memories’, and I thought what a wonderful idea. I wondered if we’re no different, each a nation to ourselves, a construct of memory. But then the more I thought about it, especially after reading the interview full of the C-word, how we can be so misled by others, even by ourselves, that memory is selective, I thought maybe that wasn’t true after all. If anything, life is a search for answers about ourselves, one long interview where we ask ourselves the questions, where only the most brutally honest answers will do. To really understand the true sum of a human being requires more than memory, but the sum of our absolute truth.