Five by Five

We all have problems, right? Some of us are riddled with neuroses, others with egotism. Some of us feel a need to be needed; others feel suffocated by the very same thing. Some hunger love and intimacy while others are ensconced in so many layers of protection, that no-one can ever really touch us again. Most of us recognise our problems. We may even know the reasons behind our various maladies, but how many of us have contemplated them to any meaningful degree?

No, I haven’t been reading bad philosophy – just bear with me. Basically, having pretty much finished my book (due for release in December), I realised that I had had enough of my main character. I cared for her (in the pretentious way writers care about their characters) but I didn’t want to think about her problems anymore (of which she has many). When thinking about this, I realised that it’s a good way to build characters for my next novel; writing down, say, five things that shaped that particular character. They could be bad things or good things; they could be things that equipped the character with strength and ability, or that crippled them with fears and insecurities. They can be random or subtle or violent and tragic or epic or sweet or all of those things. I just have to know what they are and use them to build my characters’ personalities.

This, of course, got me thinking about the five things that shaped me the most. Some are random, some are nice, some are awful, some are ordinary – all are a part of the strange, sprawling mess that life can sometimes feel like. Maybe I’ll list my five in the next entry, but for now, I’d like to hear about you. Can you think of five things that have shaped you as a person? Are they good or bad? How have they affected you? Would you change any of them? Does thinking about them help or hurt, or a bit of both? Would writing about them and sharing them be terrifying or cathartic? If the latter, would you be willing to do so here, even if it’s under ‘Anonymous’? What about if you can’t or couldn’t think of five things? Would you count yourself lucky or just inexperienced? In short, what five things have made you, you?

5 thoughts on “Five by Five”

  1. this is a life's work this – working out what has shaped us. i think i probably started thinking about this in the last 5 years or so.

    a couple of the things that have really shaped me:

    * living through an invasion -war opened up my eyes, and maybe not in the ways people might think. it was one of the periods in my life when i felt the most alive
    * growing up as the youngest of 5 sisters- i know this has affected my psychology deeply..!

    i don't know – i think they do tend to be 'hard' things – the ones that shape us i mean.

  2. > Sonia

    Thanks for the comment. You're right; it's the difficult things that perhaps shape us the most.

    I think many of us think about the things that have shaped us but putting them down in black and white – actually making a tangible list – can be hugely cathartic.

    Living through an invasion? Now that's something to write about. You say it made you feel alive. It would be really interesting to hear you elaborate on this.

  3. 5 things that shaped me…

    1) being thought of as intelligent but not having the drive to achieve what i was capable of

    2) a difficult mother with a lot of issues and a father obsessed with 'back home'

    3) my best friend who had a crazier mother and a crazier father and a crazy sense of humour and helped me to survive

    4) my younger sister running away from home to marry a convicted druggie who we grew up with and my family disowning her

    5) my religion which always helped make sense of things even when it felt like it couldn't get any

    we ourselves can never know what has really shaped us, we can only guess

    thanks for asking this question

  4. > Anon

    Thanks for the comment. This question is actually helpful because it makes you see that no matter how unique you think your problems are, there are other people experiencing the same things. This is really comforting (and not just in a 'misery likes company' kind of way).

  5. Hi're right, it is a cathartic process. Perhaps for me, i'd have difficulty stopping at five – now having looked at what Anonymous came up with – and as you say -we all do struggle with similar things.

    yes i would like to be able to write about my experience of war – i was 12 at the time so it was an end to childhood effectively. i think its an incredibly difficult thing to put down in words..where does one start, and also express things meaningfully without being 'facile' about it. I keep meaning to try on my blog..I will send you a link if and when I manage this! yes the feeling alive bit i think was from not taking life for granted anymore..also the sense of community in the refugee camp..i had never experienced that and never really have again, on that level. There is something about a crisis situation, which really does bring – previously disparate people – together.

    Growing up in different countries where one is an 'expat', not a citizen, not an immigrant, has also shaped me hugely i realise. socially, culturally, politically, intellectually. it drives so much of my 'group-individual' fetish, and my obsession with nation-state borders and how they affect the individual.

    Most of the discussions in the UK around ethnicity and the immigrant experience – well i do understand them, but people who grew up here still have some sense of belonging (or at least a group of some kind to identify with!) or at some level..a permanent home at least. growing up without that, not just 'mentally' but actually in terms of residency..has its own special implications.

    its interesting, it's only been since Facebook and connecting with my own 'global diaspora' that i sort of feel i have some sense of community, with people who have had similar global floaty around backgrounds. I think because most of the world tends to stay put in the same country until they leave home, it used to make me feel a 'lot' out of sync with other people's experiences. Belonging is so central to who we are, who we can become, i don't know, i guess (in my rambling non 5-point way) it really is something we can't run away from.


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