Like a TV town by the sea, my own life seems populated by stereotypical characters who have their roles to play and know them off by heart. I have a role too, but I don't ever seem to quite learn the lines or know which door to leave by and when to come in on cue. Rather like the innocent niece or nephew on Murder She Wrote, sooner or later I find myself under suspicion, hoping for a kindly Aunt Jess to bail me out and explain it all away.
It's not just the people who can seem unreal: colours boost or fade, impressions of a familiar room change as the light is adjusted behind the scenes and not by any switch I can reach. Shadows disappear in a harsh light or gather in new places - how did I never notice before that dark gap between the cupboard and the door?
The light caught in the window, reflecting through this morning's rain, takes on a quality reserved for mystical waking moments, as if I never saw rain before.
I know people are real, I will have seen the gap before, I can look at rain and see water. But there is a kind of side effect, like an overspill, from using so much energy dealing with people in a way that makes them want to deal with me.
If you look at something hard enough you might start to see it differently, and so it is with people. If you watch them to see what they do, to see what you should do, to see how they seem to feel and if it relates to you, they become more than people. In the moment, they become A Study in People, and when you study something you're likely to get good at it.
Except that people are different. You study one, you hope to know them all. It turns out you know one, and then usually get it wrong.
Studying has the ironic effect of separating you from people at the same time as involving you with them. You are close enough to study but might forget to interact: being human, being yourself, is secondary to understanding human.
It turns out that studying yourself is much more reliable. Other people change all over the place and are unpredictable, whereas with yourself you know exactly how unpredictable you are and often see it coming. Knowing yourself first and others second means you can plan ahead too. So if the other person turns out to be difficult, scary, inconsistent, undefinable, you can leave the reasons with them and worry only about your own reactions, reasons, motivations.
You see lists there? The ways people confuse are endless, and the ways you can work out your own self are also many. Can you see how trying to cover both might end up in the type of overspill where others, and the world around them, seem less real, because your focus cannot cope with the constant moving between What are they going to do? What should I do? Where am I going next? What will happen when I get there? What should I do then? Why am I upset?
Also unpredictably, people turn out to be amazing and kind too. You tend to find these ones by focusing on being yourself and diverting the lens away from working out what everyone else is doing and why. By being yourself you find out who likes you as you are, and not because you behaved the 'right' way and kept your mouth shut/opened it at the 'right' times.
As for the unreal moments, I've come to accept those too. It can be quite good fun to be the innocent niece or nephew - they always win in the end. And that dark gap between the cupboard and the door? Life always has those, it's just part of the scenery.