There are few more delightful privileges in life than being the proverbial fly on the wall. When I can, I enjoy these moments with relish—the odd conversations overheard at coffeeshops while faces contort in frowns and wide-mouthed guffaws; the pensive student tucked into his bus seat, head against the window, sighs punctuating each stop. What are they all thinking?
Very truly, these are the moments when I re-realize my passion in life: people. It is beyond a fascination for me; people with their quirksome habits and creative foibles are of such intense interest, I often write stories about them. I will usually make them up, but they are nonetheless rooted in real people I have seen do real things—simple things, like laughing and sighing.
This insane curiosity inevitably leads to self-evaluation, which often starts in the middle of a late-evening bus trek in the dark. Its backdrop is the music of Loreena McKennitt, or perhaps Kate Rusby—you know, the kind of contemplative songs that make you think about deep things. Like life, and love, and why. And it continues with sideways glances to those next to me, themselves lost in thought and worry. I become absorbed in all the difference that surrounds us, all the boundaries we build—and how I might possibly tear them down.
Don’t you wonder similar things? I’m not a social creature, so it’s not in my nature to go up to strangers and begin conversations, but it’s a particularly advantageous character trait in this case. It lets me think about a drastic change from the norm. I interact with people I don’t know everyday. For the most part, though, I set myself apart from them. If I have no personal or professional reason to engage them, I won’t. And I expect them to do the same.
But I still wonder, sunk into a fuzzy chair and a morose refrain, if a conversation might not lead to deep connections. I don’t think about hobbies that I would share with the person sitting next to me. I don’t consider their political affiliations or their socio-economic status. I consider that they’re human—the baseline. And from there, I begin to make assumptions: there are things in life that make them sad, things that make them happy, things they struggle with, people whom they love. I also know those things. So why not learn about new visions of happiness, new forms of love? Is it crazy to want to be more human than my own personhood allows?
In the bravest moments, I actually ask prying questions. Mostly, though, I continue to stare into the dark distance, soaking in Loreena and wondering. I make up questions in my head and I play out scenes. I create backstories and histories. I compose biographies.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks these things, but I believe that I think them more often than most. Is it an obsession? Should I act on it? Or should I let my mind carry me, loving the way it wanders and wonders? I’m not quite sure. Invariably, I will write about it—and you will hear the semi-polished forms of these things roll out in story after story, poem after poem.
But I wish the sharing were more free, for reality is far greater, far more satisfying than fiction.