The Hunt for Tragedy

courtney avatarToday, as I took my lunch break out in the sun, in the city square, a man came over and sat down beside me. He was an older gentleman, sporting white hair and a salt and pepper beard, and he carried a camera. The large kind, with a fancy lens. The kind you only carry if you’re a photographer, which of course, he was.

He told me he was out taking photos of people for a collection he was putting together, and, seeing me sitting alone, he thought I might have a story to share. I guess it could be called a coincidence, that of all the people in the square whom he could have asked for stories, he chose a writer.

Unfortunately for him, I don’t think my brand of storytelling was quite what he was after. He didn’t want fiction. But nor did he just want to know where I grew up, if I liked my job, or my opinion on the recent election, he was after a very specific kind of story. He wanted a tragedy.

“Did your mum kick you out, maybe? Or perhaps dad’s got a girlfriend he’s been keeping secret? Maybe your partner died last week, or your dog got hit by a car?”

Strange questions to be asked on a sunny afternoon. However, his casual smile and joking tone kept the impromptu interview from becoming uncomfortable.

“Sorry,” I replied with a shrug. “I’m actually having a pretty good day.”

“Well that’s disappointing.”

I don’t think I’ve ever been told that my having nothing to complain about was a disappointment before. We parted with a handshake and a laugh, after he promised to go and find someone with a bone through their nose, or a missing leg.

My photographer friend was in search of human-interest stories, that much was obvious. Talk to anyone long enough and you’ll find something of interest. You have to look a little harder to find something interesting and tragic. Because that’s what he was looking for; that, exclusively.

It struck me as a little dark, and a little cold, that a happy story wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted something bad. The more I thought about it, the more I realised, why wouldn’t he?

Succeed at something, and you can expect a round of applause. Fail spectacularly, and you’re famous. We, as a race, love tragedy. We seek it out. Perhaps it’s a way for us to feel more content with our own lot; knowing that someone out there is worse off. Perhaps it’s more basic than that; a primitive urge to feed on carnage.

What’s more, I know that I am no better. For I am a writer. I content myself with the notion that the tragedies I seek are fictitious in nature. It’s ok, they’re not real; no one was really hurt. But even when spun from imagination, a tragedy is still just that. And the truth is, I dedicate myself to inventing people. I give them lives; hopes, dreams, fears, flaws, friends, and families. I give them achievements. And I give them tragedies.

And I love it.

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