October 28, 2010

Inveterate Snoops

What I’m Reading Today: My friend David Abrams was a finalist on the Salamander prize. I WISH I were reading his short story “Known Unknowns”!

Our four-year-old twins have started swimming lessons. Before this, we’ve taken them to the Rec Center to swim, but it’s been just enough to make them overconfident in their abilities, which is very dangerous. So they’re taking lessons so we don’t have to worry (quite so much) about them drowning.

It’s a hoot. My son very seriously watches the instructor and tries paddling his feet and waving his arms, while my daughter wanders here and there, like a distracted butterfly, and returns every once in a while to ham it up at the instructors. They’re both doing great, though. My husband and I both come to these things, something I’m very grateful for.

Us parents sit jammed together in deck chairs along the side. Last night, the father of a boy named Aiden in the twins’ class sat next to me. We chatted a bit to introduce ourselves. Then, throughout the lesson, the father wrote in a notebook. It was with blue pen on a college-lined notebook. He wrote with his left hand in that crunched uncomfortable-looking way lefties do. He filled page after page, front and back, the crunch of the pages as he turned them and smoothed them over to the back side of the notebook and then flipped it so he could write on the reverse side. His paragraphs were four to six lines long in full sentences, and he always put an empty line between paragraphs, rather than an indent. In other words, he used block formatting.

I tried to read what he wrote. It was in English, I could tell that. The reason I would think it wouldn’t be is because the man spoke English with a hint of an accent. He looked to be of southern European or Middle Eastern descent. Wyoming tends to be pretty homogenous, not much diversity, so when someone is not caucasion who speaks with an accent, they are usually associated with the university ~ a professor or student.

It might have been fiction, I don’t know. It wasn’t notes for research or anything like that, and the way he thought and then wrote, thought and then wrote, also made me think it was fiction or narrative nonfiction.

We are inveterate snoops, aren’t we? I know I am. I try to keep it within the bounds of propriety, but I don’t feel bad about eavesdropping and this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve tried to read what someone was writing.

Once I heard a man in a restaurant talking on a cell phone say in a hushed and frantic voice something like, “Mom, I don’t care if you’re naked. You have to unlock the door and let the police in.” Wow. I’ve always wanted to write a story about that but haven’t yet managed.

We need a healthy curiousity about the world, and not just us writers. The more we can stay childlike while remembering those lessons on good behavior we learned in kindergarten, the better place the world would be.

(I don't always feel this way, but today I do!)

Questions of the Day: Have you gotten good material from eavesdropping? Do you feel bad about it?


Pembroke Sinclair said...

In one of my undergraduate writing classes, we had an assignment where we had to sit in a public place and listen to someone's conversation then write a story about it. It was supposed to help us with dialogue. I do that all the time: eavesdrop on people and see what I can get out of it. I, too, am a very curious person!

I find it funny that you watched a guy doing that at swim lessons. When my son was taking them, I would take my fiction and work on it. It's a great time to get stuff done!

Tamara said...

Ooooh, yes! It definitely helps with dialog, doesn't it. Plus, it just helps to be listening to the world, you know?

That's true. I don't think I could get away with it with Steve there, but it is very relaxing.