Thursday, January 7, 2010

I spy ...

Apologies in advance: this post will be on the short side. It’s 6pm and I’ve only just walked in the door from a two day sojourn to the beach with the family. The kids are smeared with sunscreen and sand and are way beyond tired. Lemonade iceblocks and a DVD are the only things holding them back from full-on cranky meltdowns, so I have to make this quick!

Our trip away was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and hugely relaxing. I was overly optimistic and packed my notepad and pens to jot down thoughts on revisions, or to make a start on today’s blog post … yeah, right. Should have known I wouldn’t crack that sucker open. Not once. Which is fine - enjoying time away with the kids is fun and so very important, for soon enough the time will come when the idea of taking a holiday with the boring, totally stupid parental units will make them want to slit their own throats. But I must confess, this “not writing” phase I am in (due to letting the SFD sit and percolate, and the holidays) is making my fingers twitchy. Heck, it’s making ME twitchy.

However, one of the perks of being a writer is that you can still work without pen, paper, or PC in sight. I know that I am not alone in being blessed with a vivid imagination (it’s occasionally a curse, especially when the cat meows at 3am, then stares out the doorway at NOTHING, just as the stairs begin to creak … ) and a healthy dose of curiosity (NOT nosiness, as some have so rudely and erroneously describe it. Ahem.) The odd and the quirky and the unique all tend to catch my eye, and never more so than when I people watch. I did a lot of that the last few days, being in a busy seaside holiday destination, and it was fascinating. Some of the human circus I observed:-

The balding, middle-aged man watching his kids swim in the hotel pool. He looked completely average, normal, vanilla … until he stripped down to his bathers and revealed the bling he wore around his neck. A triple rope of gold chain, with at least twenty gem stone pendants strung along each rope, each gem the size of your thumbnail … the bloke looked like a human Christmas tree, and I couldn’t help wondering, what was the story behind that? Why would a man who at first glance look like a mild-mannered accountant, wear a chain that even Liberace wouldn’t be game to wear?

Or at breakfast, the family who sat at the table next to us and did not utter a single word to each other. Silence reigned. What had happened? Had they had a blowup because someone took too long in the shower and made everyone run late? Or was that how they always were … and if so, why?

And the clutch of weather - and life - beaten guys, fishing off the end of the jetty, all of them looking like they’d not seen a toothbrush or a shower in a decade as they shared a bottle of cheap whisky at eight in the morning … how had this become their life? What had gone wrong … or was this how they wanted to live?

Life is full of moments and fleeting glimpses to file away for later, to muse upon and feed our stories. Scenes and dialogue and mannerisms snatched from real life can imbue the tales we tell with a reality and believability that sometimes rings more true than anything we can conjour from our imaginations. Which shouldn’t be surprising, really; the truth, after all, is stranger – and often much more fascinating - than fiction. I just don't know how I can fit my Liberace guy into my nineteenth century novel. But then again .... (g)

So, what’s the most interesting instance of human behaviour you’ve observed? And what results of your own “people-watching” have you ever incorporated into your work?


  1. Lol! I've actually given up being surreptitious with my people watching- now I've realised people hardly notice if you're staring them down, and even if they do they'll just think you're rude and move on. They'll have no idea you're mentally undressing your life and absorbing their personality into your internal record books (g).

    I was lucky enough (*insert sarcasm here*) to spend three hours last night in one of my all-time favourite people-watching places- the emergency room, after my mother cut herself quite severely and needed attention.

    It's one of those interesting places where you see people limp in and immediately speculate on what's wrong with them; then the overly loud triage nurse inadvertently tells everyone in the room what's wrong while she's inspecting the patient, so you actually get your answer. From a guy who fell off a ladder while changing a lightbulb to a police officer in full uniform who dislocated a shoulder while wrestling an arrest, there's nowhere on earth with more drama. And the family who have to wait outside- people still in their pyjamas, teen mums, feisty elderly people who don't want to wait... Oh, and then there was me, who had been called out to help in the middle of dinner, and so had brought my leftovers with me to eat while waiting, but had forgotten a fork...

    I've gotta say, I was proud to be with my mum- I bet everyone in there had her pegged as something super dramatic, since her whole arm was covered in blood and I'd managed to mummify her whole hand in first aid bandages. I wonder if a single person would have guessed she'd just broken a glass while doing the dishes, and took a moment too long to realise?

  2. Oh Claire, I hope your mom's okay! I've cut my hand twice while doing dishes, but luckily noticed right away.
    Ah yes, people watching... I think I must do it on some subconscious level by now, because I rarely isolate incidents of people watching with later scenes and story ideas. But, though it's not the most interesting instance, the earliest one I remember clearly is back when I was on the city bus, headed for school (grade 8? something like that).
    I think there may have been only two or three other people on the bus besides myself. One of the women got off at the next stop. And suddenly there was this line in my head "you know it's the ride to hell, because the red woman just got off."
    Do I know what that means? No clue! I've repeated it to myself on and off for years. Someday I might do something with it...

  3. Ah, spying, one of the hallmarks of a storyteller. Hehe, DH and I have season tickets for basketball. He watches the games and I watch the people. I tell you I was in people watching heaven when President Obama came to a game. Just to see how people reacted to him, like he was a king or something, was fascinating. :) And you so can too have freaky bejeweled, middle-aged man in the nineteenth century! Do it!

  4. I love people-watching *g*

    One time I was on a train and there was a guy who was a bit bogan-ish (flannelette shirt, thongs etc) and his phone rang. "G'day mate, how the f*ck are ya?" I kid you not. He was a character all right. Haven't put him in anywhere yet.

    Best one I _have_ included was the guy who tried to pick me up in a nightclub...first chatting, then when that wasn't working, he stood in front of me, started doing the old hip swivel, and slowly unzipped his baggy woollen cardigan. (Fortunately the cardigan was the only thing that came off). I kid you not.

  5. Claire - Oh, I hope your mum is OK. And I agree - the emergency ward is a fascinating place.
    My DH had the best experience there (she says with a hefty dose of sarcasm) - years ago, he managed to slice Child #2's wrist open with a pair of secateurs (don't ask.) Took the then pure and innocent 3 year old to emergency, just as they admitted a psych patient coming down from some kind of drug binge, who proceeded to scream the place down about how she was being abused by the nasty doctors and that they were not very nice people (just insert the "F" and "C" words and you'll get the picture.) This went on for a good thirty minutes, evidently, and DH came home crapping himself that Child #2 had learned a whole new bunch of words ... luckily, the distracting powers of Thomas the Tank Engine on the waiting room TV saved his bacon!

    Deniz - that is such a cool line! You just *have* to find a way to use it.

    Kristen - Oh, what a great place to watch the masses! And especially when Obama was there ... must have been reeeal interesting.

    Helen - ah, the bogans of the world are a constant source of interest. But the hip-swiveling, baggy-cardy guy? All I can say is eeew; and what a great character! (g)