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.

Pop Culture Christmas List

Like many of the shows I watch, I took a ridiculously long hiatus for Thanksgiving, and I will take another for Christmas.  But, before I go, I wanted to share my Christmas wish list for pop culture.


TV:

I wish that Hannibal will continue.  Somehow.  Even if it is only in my dreams.  Yes, I would be entirely comfortable dreaming a new episode every night for several seasons.  Do you hear that, Santa?  Do you hear me, God?  I am dead freaking serious.hannibal

I wish that there will be a Community movie.  #andamoviecommunity

I wish that Mozart in the Jungle will have an amazing sophomore season.  You can do it!mozart in the jungle

I wish that the last three seasons of The Vampire Diaries will turn out to be a collective nightmare had by all of the Stelena fans.tvd

I wish that Jamie and Claire will have sex again, and that it will not be as awful as every moment of the season finale.outlander

I wish that Daryl will have more screen time in the second half of The Walking Dead.  And that Carol will be redeemed.  I worked out an amazing death for her character.  I hope it comes true.twd

I wish that Sneaky Pete will catch on.  That pilot was aces.  (Apologies to Giovanni Ribisi for the gif.  It really was the best option.)sneaky pete


Movies:

I wish that The Force Awakens will reignite my Star Wars fever well into 2016.  I want to have rewatched the whole saga several times by June.force awakens

I wish that Leo will be the rock upon which the credibility of the Academy Awards will be shipwrecked.leo

I wish that Tom Hardy and Carey Mulligan will make a movie together.  Please.

I wish that Lindsey Morgan will star in the forthcoming adaptation of Wool.  Her spark and determination on The 100 have already made her my Juliette.

raven


Streaming:

I wish that all cords will be cut and that the streaming services will be more comprehensive.  I need the entire Star Wars saga, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Great Gatsby, all of the major Hitchcock films, Miller’s CrossingThe New WorldAn Education, and The Devil’s Backbone to be available.  Most of all, I need network television to get better or go away.

I wish that Netflix and Hulu will add forward buttons and IMDb integration.  Amazon Prime is winning.


And thank you to everyone in the industry whose hard work has brought television into a shining new era.  Thank you, too, to the people who are still making great movies.

short term 12

Short Term 12.  Watch on Netflix.

And, as ever, I wish that Jack Dawson would go around the other side and get on that door.  I am sure he will still die before fifty, but his cause of death will be something other than stupidity.titanic

Have a Merry Christmas everybody!  And watch any of these shows (or movies).  😉

Tourism

“Of course I don’t believe in ghosts.”  That is what I told my friend, and it is true…mostly.  I do not believe in plasmoidal, discorporated spirits that walk the earth after the deaths of their respective bodies.  But I do believe in the soul, in a God, and in supernatural power.  And I have always been fascinated by the premises of ghost stories–derivations on the idea that a being with unfinished business can leave his or her soul behind to complete its purpose.  And, a few weeks ago, I found that I very much believed in the notion that a place could be haunted–perhaps not by bodily ghosts, but by the people who have passed through and the tragedies that have been witnessed there.

On Moreland Avenue, south of the Starlight Drive-in and well within the city of Atlanta, stands an abandoned honor farm, consisting of nearly 500 acres of rolling hills and a few prison buildings.  And, a few weeks ago, I went there with some friends from Atlanta and some friends from Rice who came to visit for the weekend.  The buildings have burned twice, and the evidences of fire are still heavy in parts of the main edifice.  There are various artifacts, such as a room of smashed toilets, and vines twist from the ceiling to greet the plants that have settled in the foundations.  Most strikingly, however, there is graffiti covering every available inch of the walls.  The place is truly remarkable–a living installation of art and obscenity splashed across a canvas of history.

What I was unable to photograph, however, was one particular hallway, which contained the solitary cells. The first area we explored, it was dark and chill, lit only by a vent at the end of the hallway and one or two doors open at the back of abandoned cells. People had graffitied the insides of the cells–one artist drew an inmate over a cell’s bench, with a speech bubble holding the words, “Mama tried.” As we made our way down the corridor, stopping to look in each cell, I was struck by the impression of the people who had passed parts of their lives there, who had probably been lost to loneliness in those rooms. The debris of beer cans and post-prison trash told, also, of the people who had passed through since, tourists in the darkness and loneliness. And the ever-changing graffiti speaks to another kind of tourism, leaving a bit of oneself in that place to join the souls that were lost there.

I became anxious at this point, keeping one friend in front of me and one behind. As we moved through the rest of the prison, I stepped cautiously, but I inevitably broke tiles and displaced the dust. I was anxious not to leave any of myself behind, but such a goal was impossible. I was also tourist in a world that was clearly haunted.

“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape, condemned to repeat itself, time and time again until it rights the wrong that was done.” This quote, from 2013’s Mama, is one of my favorite characterizations of ghosts. But I actually think that haunting has more to do with history than with anything else. As people come and go through places–especially older places that have already borne witness to the course of history–they leave bits of themselves behind. Another crack in the tiles, a cigarette butt among the shards–these are the ghosts that remain. The Atlanta Prison Farm is haunted, I do not doubt, but not with ghosts. It is haunted by the weight of all the of the people it has witnessed, the layers of art on its walls, the curiosity of the myriad tourists, ever coming and going.