I Spy

What do fellow people-watchers wonder about you?

What do fellow people-watchers wonder about you?

Miles run today: 5

Temperature at 3:45 p.m. (in January!): 63

Stars I give to Carrie Rubin’s novel, The Seneca Scourge: 5 (It was so good. I know, I’m late to the party.)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m a little miffed I wasn’t recruited for the CIA.

Back when I was 10 or 11, my friends and I often wrote up elaborate spy missions. We devised long forms with official-sounding terms: Location. Description. Activity. Conversation. Action to Take.

We brainstormed about who we could shadow; someone who, when overheard, would provide scintillating tidbits for us to scribble in our notes.

My sister, four and a half years younger than we were, was often the quarry.

We would crouch in the guest room, the one next to hers, waiting for her to say something. Anything. But as she was usually alone, the espionage forms remained blank for long minutes, and our legs developed cramps.

Location: her room

Description: age 6 1/2, brown hair, brown eyes

Activity: combing her doll’s hair

Conversation: N/A (I learned that one from my mom filling out medical forms at the doctor’s office.)

Action to Take: Find a new subject. Who says stuff.

By high school, we were more mobile.

We drove to the MARTA station and took the train to the end of the line: the Atlanta airport, one of the busiest in America.

Back in the glory days of air travel, random teenagers from the ‘burbs wandering through the terminals weren’t considered a security threat. Out of sheer boredom, we watched families arriving from Europe, couples reuniting after long absences, and business travelers in rumpled suits retrieving their suitcases from baggage claim.

Sometimes we would play, “That’s Your Boyfriend,” a game that today seems horribly cruel but provided us with hours of free entertainment.

You would find the most unwashed, outdated, grizzly man at the airport and present him to your friend as a gift. “Hey, girl, That’s Your Boyfriend.”

To our credit, we never pointed.

When my dad found out about it, he was horrified. “You do know that those men are other people’s fathers, don’t you? A group of teenage girls looking in his direction, giggling? The poor men probably think their zipper is unzipped or something.”

Now at the ripe old age of many of our “That’s Your Boyfriend” subjects, I still watch people and wonder about their lives.

People are curious about other people. It’s in our nature. And if you are a writer, you’ll understand that we want to know why, and how, and what makes her tick.

A few months ago, I was standing in line at our local warehouse store. The man in front of me, age 50, brown hair, mustache, stubbly facial hair, jeans circa 1995, logo t-shirt, was fascinating. I wanted my old Spy forms back.

Here is what he bought:

One case of Corona

One 55-pound bag of dog food

Two 20-pound bags of Dixie Crystals sugar

I’m sure you can imagine what I wanted to ask him: what time is the margarita party, and how many limes will you need me to pick up first?

Was the dog food thing just to put me off the scent of the real story here? I imagined a Mel-Gibson-in-Lethal-Weapon existence for him.

Or maybe he was lonely and baked homemade brownies for the homeless each Tuesday afternoon while sipping a beer.

Or maybe he and his dog filled up a plastic swimming pool with colored sugar water and splashed around on warm days in late fall.

Or maybe he baked large cakes for prisoners with nefarious tools hidden inside.

I kept my mouth shut.

But I am glad that I’ve found a career and vocation that allows me to ask a lot of questions and then write about the answers.

With each person I meet, with each person I interview, I find I gain no more insight into what makes people tick. But I do gain compassion: I never, ever play “That’s Your Boyfriend” anymore.

And I gain many more questions than I’m able to answer, which makes me happy.

Do you people-watch? Where is your favorite place to go to wonder about people’s lives? What was your biggest surprise while people-watching?

The Misplacements

Imperfect perfection.

Miles run today: 4.5

Words written in my novel over the weekend: 0

Fun days I had at the SCWW writing conference: 3

I have so much to report back about writing. I don’t yet have 20,000 blog followers or 50,000 people ready to laugh uproariously at my nonexistent Tweets. I am, however, writing a novel that has a rocking query letter and a bunch of revisions left to do.

But I’m not going to write about that today.

Today, I am going to write about how people who have it all together can get distracted and misplace things all over South Carolina. And then, my son, who was here in North Carolina, managed to “misplace” both an Aeropostale sweatshirt and an entire bag of gym clothes within five days.

Also, I wanted to report that there is a lot of good in the world, and we experienced it this weekend.

Observations:

1. When you write something, by yourself, for a very long time, and someone, someone like a real literary agent, says something encouraging about it, you are lucky that you remember how to walk.

I got to volunteer at the Critique Room at this weekend’s conference. For the uninitiated, the Critique Room is completely unlike the Champagne Room but involves some of the same elements: sweat, adrenalin, performance anxiety.

Everything that happens in the Critique Room happens behind closed doors.

And when the wrung-out writers emerged from the Critique Room with encouraging words to hash out over and over and over and over in their minds, they often did uncharacteristic things. Things like walking up the stairs in a zigzag line with noodle legs like one of my friends (no alcohol was involved).

Or another one of my friends, who kept misplacing her makeup, jacket, shoes, bag and other possessions at various locales around the hotel, condo or car. It was almost like she was saying to the universe, “I’m about to have a book published! I divest myself of all worldly possessions!”

2. When you have spent lots of time alone, talking to your own characters and world building in your spare time, you get a little giddy around other people.

Either it is a myth that most writers are introverts, or everyone went against type this weekend. After spending hours by myself in my desk chair like I’m supposed to be doing, people, it was like a wild festival of the senses to see and speak to so many other people who do the same thing.

I am not kidding, y’all. These people talk. They talk a lot. Not that I did, of course, but you know, other people had a lot to say.

And not in writing. Like, in real life.

3. When I meet other writers, it makes me proud to be a writer.

Writers, as a group, are funny. Even the ones who write about death and violence and murder and mayhem and vampires and sometimes fireflies made my stomach hurt with their wit and wisdom.

The keynote speaker was hilarious; the volunteers were funny; my dear writer friends, whose numbers keep increasing with each conference, made me double over with stories about mules and body parts (separately, of course).

4. Most people are mostly good.

I stand by my opinion.

Yesterday, my friend and I were driving home from the writing conference when nature called. We stopped at a rest area in North Carolina just off I-95. I took my purse into the rest area; my friend took nothing but her keys.

Fifteen minutes later, I got a call from another writing friend, who was driving home and was a few minutes behind us on the road.

She sounded as if she was notifying me of someone’s death.

A kind stranger had found my friend’s phone at the rest area, where it had apparently fallen out of her jeans pocket onto the floor.

We pulled over to the nearest exit and waited for the sweet family to pull up in their white horse SUV. They were so excited to drop off my friend’s cell phone. Excited and happy. To do something good.

In other Misplaced Things News, someone had put my son’s sweatshirt in the Lost & Found, and when he left his gym bag on the bus, the bus driver saved it for him and returned it, intact.

(He probably should have had to completely lose his things and learn his lesson. But sometimes, as a parent, you hope they will learn their lessons without it costing you a lot of money… a kind of free-to-the-parents kind of lesson.)

What about you? Where have you witnessed kindness and compassion lately? Does getting a positive critique make you act like you’re drunk? Do you like bunnies?