I have returned from a remarkable three-day trip to begin studying and interviewing the subject of the biography I have been contracted to write, and it went even better than my own barely suppressed arrogance could have presupposed. The story, in the merest tatters of a highlight reel (that which I had been familiar with in advance), is already a fascinating tale of joy, and pain, and rage, and passion, and suffering, and outright, how-does-one-survive-it tragedy. It is also a remarkable reflection on love, hope and success. It is an American Fairy Tale. This life on paper is exactly the sort of story any greedy writer would love to feast upon.
But, as with most biographers, I also have a personal relationship with the subject; we have known one another for more than half of our lives. And of course our individual experiences have gone in wildly different directions, and there was plenty of off-record time for us to commiserate on the ups-and-downs of our exclusively-private lives, and to learn something deep about one another’s personal experiences. It was genuinely a great time: part-homecoming, part-reunion and whole part work work work. It was awesome.
However, back to the point of professionalism. Over this stretch of around sixty-eight hours (about six of which was spent sleeping), nearly sixteen hours of conversation was recorded. An additional, say, forty hours was written down or lived within memorable moments. The rest of the time was spent in interactions or observation, wondering over the impact this remarkable person has on their surroundings from the moment they enter any room.
I had never seen such a profound shift in the environment before, from the second the door opens (this person, as the book will no doubt highlight in many ways, knows how to make an entrance.) There is a moment of held breath, and then a deep exhale. Sometimes this prefaces delight, people thrilled to see him. Other times his very presence is taken as a challenge, people bucking themselves up for either a confrontation or, far more usually, a curious swooping to see just who this person is and what are they about.
He stands out in a room–a towering figure, taller than most, ostentatiously dressed not for effect, but because that is truly the style he likes for himself. Anything that might be easy to scribble off as an affectation would be about yourself, because this is a person does not care for the judgment of society, nor is he even interested in provoking the daily standards of self-doubt and suppression that so often consume our interactions. It is simply what he likes, honestly, and he walks into a room not as a warrior seeking to undermine world order, but simply as a free man, living the dream of what this has always been supposed to mean. Watching him walk into a room can sometimes betray, by the looks on their faces, just how frightened people are of the idea of freedom.
The dark secrets that began to evolve throughout our very close time spent together give me a vision that I was not expecting. For someone who has suffered so much pain, who has had such betrayal in his life, and who has been (unfairly, most of the time), targeted by numerous guises of powers-that-be, he is a remarkably positive person. He seems capable of only seeing in the future further shining stars, and realms of joy and happiness that a glum, bottom-feeding chronicler such as myself finds confusing and, at the same time, completely fascinating, and so appealing that it is impossible to shrug off the influence of his hope.
Some of the time was spent sulking, it is true, the horror of existence occasionally getting in the way of growth, and the sucking vortex of rage that boils in the core of our being consuming everything. But there are curious ways to rationalize our deepest fears and hatred. The subject-in-question handles even issues such as this with an impressive grace and–more important–with a smiling and charming patience that might cause an observer to believe he is somehow less lethal than he is. And yet nothing is really an act. Even the characters he sometimes plays are variations on his true self.
It took about eight hours for me to grasp this. When we first re-connected on this trip, I suppose both of us were a little on our toes, dancing around on the outside like two prize-fighters sizing one another up. Both of us would briefly dip in with the aloof and defensive caricatures of ourselves we are all occasionally forced to play in life, before mutually abandoning this and resuming what is both best and easiest: simply being true to ourselves. Without realizing it, underneath all of the words and facts, other illuminations appear. Bloodied, stripped raw, standing there naked before each other, the brightest spark of humanity can rise like a star in the night, blazing into blindness before firing its way across the sky. Of course we are also witnessing the depths, and all of its horrors, but here is the only way to uncover the truth.
This is perhaps the most important thing I learned on this trip, the first of many over the next year, or more. It is the value of complete honesty, of the power of releasing yourself. This has been the best lesson I have ever had on the actual meaning of freedom.