“I See Stories.” What The “Sixth Sense” Movie Taught Me About Perceiving Differently As a Writer
I found the movie in the $5.99 bin at Best Buy. For some reason I was thinking about The Sixth Sense the other day and made a mental note to order it on Amazon. There it was, without shipping.
Bruce Willis, with hair. Donnie Wahlberg, unrecognizable as the skeletal grown child, desperate in his misery, in the opening scene, in a remarkable acting turn that garnered him plenty of attention. (Before Bluebloods, his long-running television role as a detective, Wahlberg also had a similarly haunting performance as the adult Duddits in the Stephen King movie Dreamcatcher.)
By the end of the day, any time after 5 pm, I’m hammered, because I wake up at 3 am. It was a Sunday and I had written a number of articles, including one for a travel site. I’m ready to veg with a movie.
Back when the movie first aired, like everyone else, I fell in love with it. I had a copy in the old VHS format. When I summarily dumped all 700 in my collection, I didn’t replace it.
Now, the message was calling. I had no idea why, but I like to trust my gut.
Part of what I love so much about this perfectly-crafted thriller is its gentility. Not just that, but the notion that those who threaten us are so often those very people who need us the most. I can relate. For nine-year-old Cole, the demands, the needs of the dead to be heard are terrifying. But yet, like us all, they so desperately wish to be heard, and in that awful need, can do damage. Cole ends up being the one who can hear, translate and make things right.
I have to ask, isn’t that at least in part of what you and I do as storytellers? Isn’t that part of the whole point?
This is such a true statement of our times, when we see the same behavior from folks on line, who lash out at the world at large because they feel invisible. Devalued. Insignificant. This is as much a desperate cry for help as any ghost who needs to save her sister from being poisoned by their mother, as happened in the movie.
This time around, I saw the movie very differently. I’d forgotten a few things (such as how much I like Toni Collette).
What’s changed in the 20 years since this movie scared the wits out of me is that I see differently.
Like little Cole, who sees dead people, I see stories.
After a lifetime of focusing on myself, of being so very self-centered, something’s shifted. Look, I can still be wickedly self-centered, as can we all. However I’ve taught myself to look, listen for and sense the story line. Not just in my life. In everyone’s lives. I see stories as I drive. I hear stories when I talk to friends. I see stories when I watch people walk by, hear arguments, catch snippets of news. I am surrounded by stories when I travel.
We literally telegraph our stories all day long, as we live our lives.
In one of his best books, Weaveworld, the marvelous Clive Barker describes how his characters emit brilliant colors over their heads as they walk down the street. Some of those tints are dark, brooding, dangerous. Those that leap into the skies from people in love are the essence of pure joy. This is their nature, like auras, on full display for those who can perceive them.
For me, stories are like that. Their colors and energy leap and dance, they beg to be told. My job is to snatch a few out of the air and tell them. Those, of course, and my own.
If you’re a fan of fantasy, I suggest Weaveworld. Imagine an entire world woven -entrapped as it were- in a floor rug of many designs. There are so many analogies that this is a separate story.
Sometimes I am completely overwhelmed by how many there are. I have a huge long list of titles and the first lines in my New Story file on Medium. The problem isn’t where to find material, it’s which one to write today?
One of the reasons I travel, and spend at least a month in another country at a time, is that this full immersion forces me to decouple from the everyday. By doing a sheep dip in other cultures, my way of seeing is temporarily shattered. I lose the familiar sights and sounds, the relative monotony of habits, the soothing serenity of SSDD (Same Shit, Different Day).
When I shake things up, I see differently. Stories land in my lap, crawl into my consciousness, and demand to be told. Not just mine. Anyone’s. A horse, a household, a happy moment looking out over the sublime scenery in Peru.
I see stories.
The great Marcel Proust wrote:
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.
You and I can journey from an armchair just as we can with an airplane.
The trick is not simply the going. The real gift is changing how we see. Too many of us who do travel overseas, stay in Western-built and run hotels and resorts, and are never touched by the culture. Other than to have some well-educated local serve them a little Mimosa by the pool. They can come home precisely how they left, unscathed and untouched. Perhaps rested. But not necessarily with new eyes.
If you and I are to change the world in our unique way, with our unique voices, perhaps we need to learn how to see the stories that are woven into the air, are being told all around us, the filaments of hope and hurt and love and loss and excitement and pain that inform the flesh and features of everything we see. They reach out and touch us, invite us, and with our permission, work their delicate way into our lives, informing our hopes and dreams and fears and desires.
The textiles of our lives. We are not separate from it.
We are stories. Are you seeing yours?