The Wilsons, pt. 1: A Survey of Typology

When I moved to Atlanta, I was immediately assigned a personality and social role by the friend group into which I assimilated–the Wilson. At first I balked at this, as it is chiefly a supporting role, and I have ever considered myself a leading lady in the unique story that is me. But, as I became familiar with the Wilson role, I grew to understand and appreciate the ways in which the definition was apt. I explain myself and my social function in terms of this paradigm, and thus reaffirm to myself that it is a worthy and well-fitting role. As you are likely unfamiliar with the Wilsons, I thought I would begin with a survey of its most famous examples.

Wilsons are, essentially, a type of sidekick. The title of Wilson is drawn from the TV show House, in which the apathetic and disinterested Dr. House can be said to have one friend–the caring and engaged Dr. Wilson. Wilson provides a more human grounding to House’s worldview, in which a person is the sum of its parts, humanity the sum of the persons. It is worth noting that the people who mapped this relationship for my social group have something of an interest in Myers-Briggs personality tests. I accept their assessment, that House is an ENTJ, while Wilson is likely an ISFJ. Thus the title of “Wilson” came to be associated strongly with that same type (although with some room for movement, to be discussed later).

Wilsons are generally intelligent, compassionate, fastidious,…and loyal. Loyalty is the key trait, as it pushes them to attach themselves to a leader, a House–a protagonist, if you will. But the Wilson’s storyline is not a function of the House’s–rather, the Wilson finds a comfortable grounding in supporting a main character. The House’s storyline is home base.

The first Wilson I would point to is also my favorite: Samwise Gamgee. Sam’s loyalty to Frodo is obvious. What makes him a Wilson, however, is the manifestation of his intense followship. Despite the world-saving nature of the hobbits’ quest, Sam’s first concern is always for Frodo’s well-being. He takes care of Frodo in the wild, as he did in the Shire. He is eager to stand up for Frodo to those who would create problems for them. And, although he cannot truly bear the burden of the ring, he carries his friend in the final moments of their journey. Wilson!

The next Wilson is the ever-harried Dr. Watson. For our purposes, the most exemplary incarnation of Watson appears in the BBC TV series Sherlock. One function of the Wilson role is that he will take whatever crap his person dishes, and no one dishes quite like Sherlock. Time and again, Sherlock tests Watson’s loyalty, putting him through untenable emotional trials. But Watson always comes out on the side of Sherlock, proving his Wilson through-and-through. Wilson!

Female Wilsons are more rare in pop culture (something to do, I think, with the popularity of the modern bromance), but there is one to whom I would like to point: Meg, from The Phantom of the Opera [WATCH THIS ONE ONLY, on Netflix]. I first began to see her as a Wilson because my best friend is a singer who loves the show. Carmen’s dream, is, of course, to be Christine, and it is not unwarranted. As a less able vocalist, I love Meg’s lines–much power, little tone. But Meg has other classic Wilson personality traits as well. Although her primary role is to support and laud Christine, she takes almost more readily to her secondary role of inciting panic. Meg cannot keep calm. Neither can most ISFJs. In crisis, Wilsons lose their minds. Go, Meg. Wilson!

I said Wilsons are sidekicks, and I stand by that (despite debate in certain academic circles). However, the Protagonist Wilson is not unheard of in cultural memes. A good example of this is a Wilson who begins in a supporting role and transitions to main character: Samwell Tarly, from A Song of Ice and Fire. I am not current on Game of Thrones (the show), but I am fairly certain that I am continuing without spoilers. In the books, Sam begins as a loyal acolyte of Jon Snow, who protects him from the harshness of The Night’s Watch. However, as the books progress (and main characters die off), he gains an independent storyline, including his own chapters. He retains his Wilson status, however, in personality, temperament, and decision-making process.

The Wilson is not a simple type. One size does not fit all. Not all Wilsons are even the same personality type. But the role does exist, and it is easy to spot once you are familiar with the paradigm.

Got it? Good. You are ready for next week’s post.

The Lives of Others

Yes, I know it is a movie, and a very good one, and relevant to this conversation. Before I get to that, however, let me go back a bit. When I was a Senior in high school, I took all of the available AP classes. Liz and I were the only two people, however, who elected to pursue AP Chemistry. The coursework was grueling, and we turned it into an independent study midway through the semester. Before that, however, we spent about six weeks learning the complex calculations of chemical reactions…and doing four hours of Chemistry homework on Saturdays, at Starbucks.

One such Saturday, we were each quietly performing our own calculations, when Liz raised her eyes to me and said, “Are you listening to those women?”  In fact, I was.  At the next table, a woman was discussing the particulars of her divorce with what seemed to be her lawyer, or another such dispassionate compatriot. We listened to their entire conversation.

It was a small incident, of no more than passing note at the time. But I have hearkened back to it as I have gotten older, as I have accumulated other such incidents and pieced together a trend in myself. I watch other people. And I listen to them. I have called it “compulsive eavesdropping”, this tendency I have to find words in the whispers and low conversations of other people. I do not generally hear well, so often these conversations present themselves as merely a puzzle. By the time I assign a picture to the pieces, I am interested to see how the image will turn out.

Beyond that, however, I do find other people fascinating. When I worked at JavaVino, I would make up backstories for my customers. Even the outfit a person is wearing can pique my curiosity. I want to hear their thoughts, their histories, their opinions. I want to write them down, the substances of these strangers. So I listen. Given the opportunity, I ask. I watch other people and long to know their lives.

Fairly soon, you will see Emily Blunt headlining the forthcoming adaptation of The Girl on the Train, based on the novel, one which we read in book club a few months back. It is about a woman whose life is in shambles, who develops a peculiar fascination with a couple she sees every day while on a commuter train in England–a couple that inhabits the house in which she used to live. She also develops a story for this couple, assigns to them personalities, feelings, and decisions, based solely on routine glimpses of them.

When you see the film (which I hope you will, as it is an excellent cast and sound source material), I hope you will not so easily arrive at the same conclusion as my book club. Everyone reading the book considered it manifest that I was the main character, Rachel, an unemployed, alcoholic slob of a woman primarily controlled by her feelings. Although some points were disputed, I found that I did identify strongly with Rachel, especially with her attachment to the strangers she witnessed and to whom she ascribed whole lives.

When I was younger, I always used to stare at people I passed on the street. I was, of course, told that it was rude to do so. I have decided that this is a reasonable policy, as a stranger can never know why you are staring, and can too easily derive judgement where none is intended. But I would caution against judging those who are doing the staring. Some people just want to watch others as they go by.

Thankfully, I have an outlet for this tendency in my role as storyteller. I like listening to the stories of others, telling them, and writing them down (with permission). All of these people I have observed become ideas and characters and stories in my head, parts of the human experience from which I draw to create. And I can invest in those stories in a way I never could with all of the strangers who interest me.

I promised I would come back to The Lives of Others. For those who have not seen it, it is a movie about the Stasi, specifically, about an agent assigned to spy on a man in East Germany, 1984. Through a routine of near-continuous observation, he becomes invested in the life of the man he is watching and develops an emotional connection to his subject. This is what happens to the watchers. Given time and access, we grow to be personally affected by those who pass under our gazes. Although circumstance does not always afford that time and access, I use my creativity to populate my interior life with rich characters derived from passersby, from casual acquaintances, from chance encounters. And thus I am able to connect more deeply with the casual world which I have the constant privilege to observe.

Life in Atlanta

Whenever I travel or go home, I am invariably asked how I like Atlanta.  Every time, I respond with variations on vagary, generally offering the impression that I do not love the city, but I do like my life here.  I do so because it is difficult for me to communicate through small talk all of the wonderful and awful things that have happened to me here, and to wrap them up into a judgement on the city itself.

The truth is that I love the life I have built for myself in Atlanta.  Since my first visit here, my schedule every week revolves around the fixed point of Thursday night Bible study.  My best friend’s brother and his wife host at their home, where between eight and twenty people gather for dinner, community, and a well-researched analysis of one chapter from whichever book of the Bible we are studying at the time.  Afterward, we play games or Smash Bros., or just enjoy good conversation, often over a beer.  I arrive early every week to help get the house ready, and that is usually where I write these posts.

When I moved here, I had a job lined up as a barista.  I was at that job for about nine months, but I left in January of last year.  Since then, I have worked every Friday cleaning my friends’ house, sold salsas and tamales at a farmers’ market in the summer, folded laundry for a family in the suburbs, and taken on freelance work for my dad.  In my off times from those jobs, I workout, look for other jobs, and generally reevaluate my life.  I also travel a bit, and I have had the privilege to host my friends and family in Atlanta.

Most importantly, I have nurtured a community of friends here.  I hang out with various parts of that friend group weekly, and we usually keep one of the many Atlanta goings-on on our horizon.  So far my favorite is Matilda’s, an art gallery and outdoor concert venue that hosts local artists.  We took several bottles of wine, fancy snacks, and a few friends to see Blair Crimmins and the Hookers there, and thus found the formula for an excellent evening.

There were so many times in the past year that I felt tempted to see my move to Atlanta as a mistake.  I felt that the city was rejecting me like a transplanted organ.  I know now–I knew then–that that perspective was wrong.  It takes time to settle in a new place, to build a new community.  Moreover, it takes faith that the seeds you plant are worth cultivating.  Right now, I am experiencing the joy of seeing those seeds yield true fruit.  But there were times, along the way, when I thought my plants would not flower, and there were plenty of seeds that never sprouted.  I stayed because I believed that God had brought me here for a purpose.

I have a wonderful life in Atlanta.  It still has its difficulties and complications, but it is, overall, fruitful.  I know that such a life could be cultivated anywhere.  But I am glad it is here.

Year-End Wrap-Up

2015 was epically horrible for me.  It was worse than 2013, which I did not think possible.  I lost my job.  I lived in 8 places in less than six months.  I was sick three times in three months.  I was betrayed by people whom I considered friends.  I lost my sense of self, my sense of purpose, my direction, and my will to apply for jobs.  It was genuinely an awful year.

So, as I look back, I feel that I should give thanks.  Thank you to my family and friends, who were nothing but supportive (emotionally and financially), who listened to me endlessly and offered counsel when asked for, and who made me feel a sense of worth, even in my darkest moments.  Thank you to my roommate, who is so kind, so gracious, and such a joy to be around (even if her cat is redefining “needy” for me).  Thank you to my church for bringing me into your community and giving me a way to serve.  Thank you to the people who have employed me, sometimes in the face of minimal qualifications.

Thank you, most of all, to God, who is with me through all things, who has taken care of me, who gave me such a unique and supportive family, and who has constantly placed exceptional people in my life.

I look forward to a better, and bloggier, 2016.  Happy New Year!