When I was eight or nine, my parents bought me a Polaroid Swinger camera for Christmas. I hope I’m remembering the name correctly; it was a handful of black and white plastic that was generally shaped like an old Land camera with the bellows extended in front. After you loaded the film, you looked through the viewfinder, found your target and pressed the button. After a few clicks and whirs, a small (2 by 3?) photo would slide out the back. It was wet, the instructions cautioned, so hold it only by the edges.
The impressive thing was that the film showed nothing when first ejected. I would lay the film flat on something, weigh down the edges to keep it from curling up, and then the family would crowd around as we watched the picture slowly reveal itself. It might take thirty seconds or a minute, but the image which I had seen in the viewfinder soon materialized like a ghost out of the void. Afterwards, waiting the official time, I’d smear special gunk over it to stabilize the picture.
Other than my parents discovering that they had bought a financial liability (a youngster will take a picture of anything and everything, soon requiring more film), the camera was a true gift. Seeing the image appear turned out to be more fun than taking the picture.
People are the same way. If every person wore a checklist on their chests – vain, supportive, kind, angry, friendly, depressed, happy, smart, dumb as rocks, will let you down, will pump you up, conservative, progressive, talks too fast, doesn’t talk at all, loving, hating, great companion, snippy, perpetually critical, hates cats, loves snakes, genuine, false, simple, complex, shallow, etc. – with their true attributes checked, people would be a lot less interesting. We like interesting; we like finding out something we didn’t know; we like being surprised. We like someone being revealed to us rather than knowing everything when we first meet them.
As for ourselves, we like being interesting, and we like surprising people. We even like surprising ourselves. We also hope there are parts of us that people are either slow to figure out or never find out at all. And we like to change.
The next book you read, pay attention to the characters. See if the ones who are slowly revealed aren’t the ones you remember most.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.