The last line of the book says it all: “We are all in this together.”
That’s the message that Brandon Doman is sharing with his new book, “Don’t Talk to Strangers.”
Since July, Doman, 23, has been collecting stories around Ann Arbor, where he lives, and Grand Rapids. His favorite destination is a coffee shop, because employees don’t mind people staying a while as long as they’re buying coffee, he said. He brings along three unlined notebooks, some pens and a hand-written sign inviting people to share their anonymous stories.
“Hi there,” Doman’s sign reads. “I am collecting your stories. Please stop by and share or say hi and ask ‘what for?’”
While Doman attracts people eager to tell their story, he has also come across some who aren’t so sure.
“Sometimes I’ll get a group of younger males who look like they’re seniors in high school or freshmen in college and they look like they stop by intending to write something sarcastic and not take the project very seriously,” Doman said. “Then they sit down and read some of the other entries and end up sharing some actual stories that they have.”
Doman said that females seem to be more interested in participating than males, but that the ages of participants vary, with the youngest being 7 and the oldest being in their late 80’s.
With more than 150 stories in the book, it’s obvious that people want to write, but sometimes they just want to talk.
“I’ve talked to 1,400 or 1,500 people since July,” Doman said. “Around half of the people actually write something, and around half just stop to ask about the project. Some people have given very long stories and haven’t written a single word down.”
Doman doesn’t relate such stories in his book because he feels that it wouldn’t be the same.
About two months into the project, Doman also started accepting stories online so people who aren’t in Ann Arbor or Grand Rapids could participate.
Although most of the people Doman talked to were strangers, several of his friends contributed their stories as well. Due to the anonymous nature of the writings, Doman doesn’t know what his friends wrote.
Stories in the book vary in length. The themes are different too, such as lost love (“Over 600 miles ago I saw and felt her everywhere. Now that I’m in the last place I knew she was, she could be anywhere. I still feel her.”), travel, parents and pain (“I feel like giving up. Too many signs are coming my way. I say less. I see nothing good for me. Rough patches become more and more permanent. Sorry mom, dad, sister.”)
“There’s a lot of loneliness,” Doman said. “There’s more negative stories than positive stories, unfortunately. One group of stories I was really surprised by is the amount of drug use, especially around the Ann Arbor area.”
One such drug-related story said, “I’ve lived on the streets for five years now, surviving by begging and selling drugs. I try to be the best person I can, but I’ve made my fair share of mistakes.”
With such personal stories being shared, Doman said it’s not unusual for people to show emotion while reading what others have written.
“There are definitely some moving entries, but they seem to be very individualized,” Doman said.
Some entries might not be as moving for everyone, such as the one that reads, “I went to Bonnaroo and got hit by a golf cart. It. Was. Awesome.”
Doman has done similar projects in the past, including one he called ‘After the Beep,’ where people could call in and leave an anonymous message.
“I think I’ve just always had an interest in the root idea of these projects, which is sharing information and stories,” said Doman, an English major who graduated in June from Central Michigan University.
Doman transcribed all the entries, usually while at coffee shops waiting for others to write theirs. Doman didn’t leave all the writing to other people though.
“I have one entry in the middle of one of the books,” Doman said. “I knew that at some point I would add something, but I tried not to premeditate it too much.”
Doman hopes to publish more books of this nature, as long as people want to share their stories.
“I’ve always seen an inherent creativity in people that not everyone has a chance to express. Most of the people who stop by to write in the journals don’t write other things,” Doman said. “This gives them an outlet that they don’t have in their day-to-day lives and they write some really beautiful, raw stuff. I’ve always enjoyed seeing what people can do.”
Doman is self-publishing “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” It’s available for purchase on his Web site: http://ehdom.com