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Apr 6, 2011

Learn from Experience

Trawling through The Guardian's website one afternoon, Laura Griffin found a series called "Experience", where people are invited to share their unique (read: weird, and often wonderful) stories. It's a kaleidescope of human experience.

Trawling through The Guardian’s website one afternoon, I found a series called “Experience”, where people are invited to share their unique (read: weird, and often wonderful) stories.

Take the most recent story: a 91-year-old body builder, shown puffing out his chest under a tight, white shirt and wearing weightlifting gloves. It highlights what’s best about this series: Charles Eugster amazes not only with his story but his life-hardened honesty.

He talks about realising, at 85, that he was an old man: “I looked at myself in the mirror one day, and saw … [that] I was overweight, my posture was terrible and there was skin hanging off me where muscle used to be.”

Or the story by a woman whose boyfriend is a registered s-x offender. She talks about meeting him and growing to love and trust him. She later also reveals she was a victim of s-xual assault as a young teenager.

She trusts her partner’s claim that the assault arose from a misunderstanding and that he only pleaded guilty on his lawyer’s advice. And she understands that “[w]hen I tell people, I see a flicker in their eyes, as if they are trying to make up their minds about him”. Least of all the police, who check in on him and with whom they have to register if they go away for more than three nights.

Another man describes the 3m by 2m concrete cell he was locked in alone for 29 years, for a murder he was cleared of in 2001. He calls this kind of sensory deprivation “torture”, which he knew he would only survive if he kept his mind active. So he traded tobacco for the ingredients of praline, boiled the toffee in a drink can atop a toilet paper fire and smuggled them out. Or, he made a chessboard out of toilet paper on his cell floor and call out moves to other inmates.

From stories of suffering with a very rare kind a synesthesia called mirror-touch (meaning the woman literally feels others’ pain) to a woman who’s eaten nothing but BBQ potato chips for over a decade, to a man who woke up with a Russian accent or another who hasn’t slept in 37 years,  it’s a kaleidoscope of human experience.

The stories first appear in the paper each Saturday, and to date there are almost 250 available online. You can snack on one experience at a time. But chances are that these stories, that pushed me to consider what our bodies and minds are really capable of, and of withstanding, will pull you in for an hour or two.

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