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Monday, May 21, 2018


Have you ever felt like someone is staring at you in a public place? Making your private conversation into a three-way party? If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been the peeping person or the eavesdropper.  I know I have.

As I write this, I’m sitting in Ronald Reagan airport after attending Malice Domestic. As posted in Gloria Alden’s blog, it was a wild weekend, but so is being in the airport.  In the main aisle to my left, a rather rotund man, the lines of his rugby shirt making his stomach seem even wider when contrasted to the tiny badge dangling against his midriff, is standing three steps up a five-step green ladder trying to reset one of those giant TVs that constantly blasts news and advertisements. Surprisingly, it appears that the reset button is like the one at home I push when my husband falls asleep on the remote and wonders why the power connection to his favorite television isn’t working right.

The reason I’m staring at this man and wondering what other high-level maintenance jobs he does at  the airport with his ladder and backpack, is that I don’t want to turn around. There is a coach, in a blue shirt with a National Science Bowl emblem on it, admonishing the three students whose seats back up to mine. I snuck a peek a few minutes ago, but don’t dare look back again. He wasn’t smiling as he bent near the boys, who wear the same shirt as him. Each student appears to represent a different nationality. All seem like typical teens – earbuds and either a telephone or some other handheld device. He’s telling them “I expect you to act appropriately. You represent the school and yourselves. We’ll talk about this more when we get back, but in the meantime ….”

I wait until he leaves them sitting there before I glance backwards again. He’s moved a few seats from them and still is glaring in their direction. One has popped his earbuds back in his ears and one is playing with his phone, but the third boy is sitting rigid, staring at an unseen object straight ahead. The side of his mouth that I can see is frowning. Is he being wrongfully accused of something? Being put in a position to take the fall for someone else? The guilty party? Mad at the coach? Guilty for what he did? I don’t know.

What I do know, is both the maintenance man and the boys and their coach have given me gems of ideas that may end up in stories. That’s the beauty of being a writer – we can take the things we see and hear and make up the most bizarre things about them. Sometimes, we even get paid for our embellishments. What more can we ask?

Excuse me if I don’t write more. Another plane just landed, and one is getting ready to take off. I’m not sure what stories those arriving or embarking passengers will spur, but I bet the lady holding a purple wallet who is dressed in flip flops, green skin tight Danskin pants, a multi-colored muumuu top, and a scrunchy holding a pony tail that reaches to her waist will end up being filed away in my brain for a future work.



Annette said...

Aren't airports the absolute BEST place for people watching??? If you don't come away from an airline experience with a notebook full of interesting stories, you just aren't paying attention!

Jim Jackson said...

Early in my writing career, I took careful notes of encounters such as these. Then, I discovered, I never referred to those notes, although the most memorable did appear in stories. Now I pay attention to other people with the belief that if I need their actions, or reactions, or gestures, my brain will pull them from storage at the appropriate time.

KM Rockwood said...

I'm fascinated by the differences in people. I try to get into places where I can fade into the background, like a biker bar or a block party, and just observe people in their own world. Of course there are places where I just stand out too much to do that.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

People watching! I do it all the time, and like Jim, I don't write down my observations. When I need a character, one always pops up in my mind. Wardrobe, hand gestures, regional speech mannerisms.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Margaret and Jim, I'm like you in trying to commit as much to memory or as an impression -- and these things do come back. Annette.. it is a fascinating place and so much fun! Okay KM,you win! I'd like to be the fly on the wall watching you observe in a biker bar. Unfortunately, even as a fly, I'd be obvious.. but oh, the delight of the observations before I was swatted.

Kait said...

What fun. I remember reading in MM Kaye's autobiography that when she traveled she filled notebooks with her impressions, thoughts, and the scenery. At the time she was filling the notebooks she was basically collecting information as one would in a journal, but when she decided to write her India books, she looked back on her journals and everything she needed was there, right down to the posters in the train stations.

Writers are sponges, at some point, we squeeze our brains and release the stored images!

Grace Topping said...

I once was on a ship and overheard two women talk about murdering someone. Of course, my ears immediately perked up and I began to wonder whether I was going to have to run for security. As the conversation went on, I realized that one of them was plotting a mystery and was throwing out ideas to her companion.

Warren Bull said...

Airports are wonderful places to watch families as well as individuals. Which child is leading the pack? Does he or she march on oblivious to those following or is he or she glancing back frequently to be sure of the path ahead?

Gloria Alden said...

One day I was sitting in a booth in a restaurant waiting for my sister to come, and the two women behind me were having a conversation. What they had to say stuck with me. It wasn't all that important, but I did use it in one of my books.

Another time I was at an event at the college I went to where there was a band playing and some people were dancing. A mother with a young girl came in and looked around and then sat down and I could tell by the way she looked at each young man who came in with a look of hoping he would ask her to dance. I included her in a short story I wrote.

I have a way of talking to people I'm sitting with while on an airplane and have learned a lot of interesting things about the passengers I sit next to. Sometimes I write down what I learned about them after I get home, and other times I don't and they disappear from my brain. It would be awkward if I got out my journal and wrote down what they told me then.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

As writers, it is amazing what we absorb ... and what we use.