LONER : Chris

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My Date with an Antihero

Downtown Brooklyn. October 2014. I wander into an urban park, flanked on three sides by busy streets that come together at vertices forming an isosceles triangle of green. Sturdy benches line the narrow entrance to a paved opening where mature trees hover over a helicopter parent lingering under monkey bars, while his four-year-old chases mischievous leaves.  A caregiver tightens a crocheted blanket around the shoulders of a wheelchair-bound matriarch who gazes upward to an opening in a stunning canopy of red, orange, yellow. Although I am not close enough to see the details, I imagine that the light is hitting her face at just the right angle, performing age-defying magic on her wrinkles.  And I think for the one-millionth time, how is it that in the midst of nature’s most dazzling theatrics, light manages to upstage all of it. Every. Single. Time.

When I spot him, I immediately get that fluttery feeling in my solar plexus that means I’m about to make a move of socially risky proportions. In an age where you’re more likely to consult a Smartphone over a pedestrian for directions, walking up to a total stranger and asking him to share a story is a big deal. What feels like Russian roulette for the ego is the prospect of being chased off, told off, or worse — ignored. Before every Human Frequency approach, I have a moment of self-doubt. And even as I check the battery levels on my sound recorder and camera, thoughts of self-preservation crowd my mind.

Jeans, black hoodie. No backpack, shopping bags or books. “He may be homeless”, I consider briefly. And whether this is true or not, there’s something about a young, city-dweller hanging in the park without a whole bunch of stuff that renders this potential interviewee desirable. I decide that his lack of accoutrements gives him a compelling vulnerability. I need to hear his voice.

Before I’ve made my pitch, I’ve taken a seat across from him in a concrete alcove that houses two facing benches.  I’ve assumed a certain comfort level with this man whose name I have yet to learn. This always surprises me.

“Hi, I’m a filmmaker from Toronto. I do these little street documentaries with strangers… although I don’t believe any of us are truly strangers. Would you share a story with me?”

The gleam in his eyes confirms what I felt when I saw him across the way. Chris Bxrtley is a sensitive, deep-feeling artist who has endured his share of life’s struggles.  He’s a writer, who only two years from the day we met, was living in subways, on streets and in shelters. “I like alliteration”, he explains, as he shares his story of locating a sense of self within the system of social welfare.  It was on the streets and in shelters that Chris connected with what it means to be a member of a community. Chris’ experience in this very community of the displaced and disenfranchised brought him face to face with the ultimate protagonist on whom he’s based an entire philosophy, blog, and non-profit organization called The Antihero Circle.

He launches into a fascinating dissertation about the stages of adventure encountered by the Antihero.  The excerpt below is from Chris’ introduction at http://antiherocircle.com

“You’re the incredible leader without any followers, because of the “irreconcilable mistakes” you’ve made. You’ve gotten fired from your job: Embezzlement. Excommunicated from church: Sex scandal. Kicked out of home: Disrespect. Expelled from school: Drugs. Perhaps you’re the cocky young guy who hasn’t been caught yet and thinks you can get away with anything.

 The Circle is about shifting your story paradigm to move beyond your shameful past and embrace your honorable future–and then you learn how to share it to inspire others like us.

 …with shows like Breaking Bad, we still think of antiheroes as fictional characters. But what happens when an antihero exists in real life? Who does that look like? Lance Armstrong? Tiger Woods? George W. Bush?

 It looks like you.”

I feel myself leaning in to catch every word coming from this soft-spoken, bespectacled philosopher.  As he walks me through the stages of the Antihero’s journey, he’s making it clear that these are the very stages that saw him move from shame to honour.

A breeze brings a chill over us. The sun is setting and as Chris shivers and tightens his hoodie around his still gleaming eyes, I can sense the intensity of a light that was almost extinguished.  I sense in his voice a persistence, a faith, a resilience that undoubtedly sustained him during his lowest moments.  And as another breeze rustles the leaves overhead, I can’t help but imagine the heroics required to thrive in a world where a many-hued canopy of trees, like the one we now sit under, is the only shelter.

As the time code speeds by on my recording devices, a squirrel darts from behind a tree into my camera’s frame. “That’s him!”, Chris exclaims. This is the squirrel Chris referred to several minutes ago when explaining that the singular and often solitary act of writing is something he’s been called to do.  He likens his creative process, indeed – his life’s work – to that of the squirrel, now burying a secret treasure a few inches below the fallen foliage of the day.

Other links:

The Apology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xioznKwXAwY

Twitter: https://twitter.com/antiherocircle

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