On The And

I recently discovered The And, an “interactive documentary” created by The Skin Deep, in which couples—many of them romantic partners, some not—sit down for tough and honest conversations prompted by questions written on index cards. There’s a lot to say about this series as a look at human nature and emotion, what makes a relationship good or bad, and the different ways we connect at different stages of our lives (there’s a conversation between two high-school sweethearts that’s a particular kind of sad, if not the most harrowing of the clips). It’s a kind of cousin of Humans of New York, one that pulls you in a little deeper and feels, perhaps only semi-correctly, less mediated. (The hand of the video editor can manipulate more invisibly than that of the interview transcriber, after all.)

I wanted to draw attention to one secondary feature of The And, one of particular use to fiction writers. (I’ll acknowledge here that it’s not the most noble impulse to mine others’ emotional catharses for craft techniques, but there you have it.) In addition to being moving, it’s useful and interesting to see such a huge diversity of reactions to, and ways of expressing, strong emotion. Watch these interviews and think about, for example, which lines of questioning make some people cry and not others; the way those tears bring different people to laughter, happiness, embarrassment, anger. (Tip of the hat here to Julianne Moore in her interview on Alec Baldwin’s WNYC show Here’s The Thing, for noting from an actor’s perspective the myriad ways that someone crying can make everyone in the room feel variously uncomfortable.) Some of these people hang on their partner’s every word; others attempt to affect nonchalance; still others seem genuinely detached. In showing the bedrock similarities and the enormous diversity of responses to emotional conversations, The And strikes me as, among much else, an excellent addition to a writer’s toolbox for imagining lives and exploring characters different from oneself.