Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Little Character

I've been giving a lot of thought to the word 'character' the past couple of days. It's one of those words that we throw around quite a bit...

"That Chester was quite a character at the office party. Get a few drinks into him and you don't know what he'll get at."

"Nana Pat can really spin a yarn. She must have been quite a character, back in the day!"

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I'm not talking about the protagonist, antagonist or some minor character that gets his brain eaten by a horde of rampaging zombies in your horror story. Nor am I referring to a foreign symbol you may see spray painted on the side of the grocery where you do your shopping.

I can't quite put a definition to the word. A former Lebanese co-worker of mine noted that the English language is very difficult to learn. One word can have so many meanings. The best definition I can arrive at for the word character is 'A person who stands out against what one perceives as the norm of society.' In the old days they may have been called: an odd duck, a bit queer, a rogue or a scallywag or perhaps the eccentric old lady living alone in the Victorian mansion with 40 stray cats.

The St. John's paper referred to the blog of a local photographer who, in his spare time, took photos [with permission, of course] of characters who frequent the downtown streets of our city. The only criticism of the journalist was that the blogger/photographer didn't update their blog very often. That is true as their are 11 folks listed there over the 13 month period of time the blog has been active. You can see the photos and descriptions of the characters here. Drop by and see a few colourful folks that inhabit this old city. Perhaps they will brighten your day or become a character in your next short story. I suppose in our own ways we are all 'characters' with our own stories to tell.


ERIN COLE said...

Great post, Alan - I'm finding it difficult to explain some things to my son regarding our language why bare and bear sound the same, etc. I agree with your definition too, and haven't really thought about that...when it seems I should be, given that I'm working with character(s) everyday.

Jarmara Falconer said...

The town where I grow up, there was an old tramp. Everyone was kind to him and I remember seeing the greengrocer giving him a few pounds when he helped him sort out the fruit and vegetables on his stall. A picture of the tramp appeared on a mural of local scenes. It turned out to be such a sad story as he had at once time been a wealthy and much respected man who lost his wife and son at a young age. Even though he owned a large house, he lived most of his life on the street and sleeping rough. When he died it was discovered he was a very weathly man, but that had meant nothing to him after his family had died.

Natalie L. Sin said...

I like the flipper lady : )

Aaron Polson said...

Man, what a sweet idea for a project. I wish it was updated more often, too. Every community should dedicate a little cyberspace to its inhabitants.

Laurita said...

What a great photo blog. A lot of my characters are based on "characters" like the downtown buskers, Hobo Bill, etc. They make life so interesting. I think every small community has at least one. I knew a guy who would take his three string guitar down by the river and play songs to it all day. Said it made the fish happy.

This was a great post, Alan. Food for thought today.

Darlyn said...

Thanks for the link. I love the photos.

I agree with what you said about characters. I think life would be boring without them. In a society filled with conformists, they add much-needed spice.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Erin- Thanks. I think that 20 others would arrive at similar yet different definitions for the word 'character'.

Jarmara- I wonder how many times that has happened. You can never know the background of the sad person you see on the streets.

Nat- I liked her too (but not enough to try flipper pie...)

Aaron- Nice thought about community involvement. Perhaps one person in every community should start a blog about these characters.

Laurita- Many thanks. I think that we need more 'Hobo Bills' in our lives, whether in the city or 'round the bay.

Darlyn- I'm glad that you liked them (I did too). As you said, they add 'spice' to our lives regardless of where we live in the world.

Anonymous said...

Great post and the blog you linked to was a real treasure.

I'm currently addicted to this:

So many incredible locations and stories.

Cathy Olliffe said...

Thanks, Alan. Really beautiful photos. When I was working for a small newspaper in Haliburton, a local photographer took it upon himself to take pictures of some of the local 'characters.' The pictures were beautiful and were among the most popular features in the paper.
I love it when people share little bits about their world - like you did here, and Laurita did recently.

katey said...

That is brilliant.

Character, in every sense of the word, is the thing that I think of most, I think. When I meet or hear of someone new who has an interesting quirk-- which is to say someone who doesn't bore me to tears, my friends always laugh because I say, "Wow, what a great character she'd make." Which is kinda like saying "What a character!" right? :D

John Wiswell said...

I'll try to put my token in this machine.

You are a person. Your identity is the sum of all that defines you. Your character is all that you appear to have some (usually substantial) will in executing within your identity. What you do, what you say, these bely the characteristics, the traits of character. Characteristics add up to character. Character excludes most non-choices like, let's say, irritable bowel disorder. How you react to the disorder may well be a characteristic. It's "in your character."

We sometimes call someone a "character." "He was a character," old ladies will say of a vivacious lover from long ago. Real people who are "characters" are those we primarily define by those traits that were active and/or under their own influence. This is artifice, but artifice can just as often express the truth as deceive from it. A person can be anybody, no matter how passive, but Harvey Milk and Sam Kinison? They were characters.

We call fictional people "characters," ironically not because of what they choose to do and be, but because all we see are what their authors choose for them to do and be. Their identities are their characters and nothing more. They are only projection to us, where real people have three-dimensional substance including their projected characters.

All three uses of "character" are intimately related, though we don't often meditate on why. Thanks for prompting me to try. The above is my attempt.

Akasha Savage. said...

I've always thought you look a bit of a 'character' yourself Alan!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Anton- Thanks. That website you linked to looks like hours of entertainment and strangness.

Cathy- There is no shortage of characters on 'The Rock', for sure!

Katey- Thank you. I like your definition as well..."When I meet or hear of someone new who has an interesting quirk-- which is to say someone who doesn't bore me to tears..."

John- I enjoyed your linking of the three uses of the word 'character.' Well done.

Akasha- Thanks. I think. I suppose I may look a bit like that fellow pictured above in 20 years. Maybe 10...