Monday, October 25, 2010

Say What?

Post by Jenny

A couple of weeks ago, I was inspired by the UK project bugged , where writers were asked to eavesdrop and write something –a poem, short story, flash fiction, or a 5-minute-long script—based on what they’d heard. (Find that post here.) I wondered if eavesdropping would spark my creativity, so I made a point to listen in when I was out and about.

The first thing I discovered is that I’m not very good at it. My mind wanders or is easily hijacked—by elevator music, for example (darn you, Neil Sedaka!). But once I got in the habit, it was a fun challenge. I stood a bit closer than necessary at the deli counter, I lingered at the library, and I even briefly stalked strangers I thought might have something fascinating to say.

In general, I was disappointed. If I were to judge my fellow humans based on what I overheard these past two weeks, I’d have to say we aren’t a very interesting lot. This is no doubt due to the fact that I didn’t seek out good eavesdropping venues. The grocery store and orthodontist don’t really compare to a college bar or bus terminal. I did hear a guy order exactly eight slices of bacon from the butcher—“enough for two sandwiches”—which shows admirable restraint as far as bacon is concerned. And of course I perked up my ears when one of my neighbor’s landscapers upbraided his partner, but then the guy started laughing. Darn the luck—it was just a joke.

The conversations I enjoyed listening in on the most were those of my sons and their friends. As pre-teens, they don’t quite have their “parent filters” firmly in place. They talked loudly and freely about a wide variety of topics, including a scenario that involved me fighting Elmo the muppet. (I’m pretty sure I could take him.)

I didn’t happen across former CIA agents or Elvis’s second cousin twice removed. But that was okay, because the exercise sharpened my powers of observation in other ways. I looked at people more closely than I have in a while. I paid attention to their expressions and mannerisms and clothing—the stuff from which real people, and believable characters, are made.

As far as memorable quotes go, the best I can offer today is something I heard a while back from a man on his cell phone in the grocery store: “I told you, they don’t have any (bleeping) artichokes! Oh, wait. There they are.”

What did you hear? And where did you hear it?


Megan K. Bickel said...

I found that I was easily distracted by my own life. I go into my own head a little too easily, it seems! My favorite though, was when I was at the Indiana State Museum looking at an iron lung machine. A group of teenagers was off to my side. One asked what that thing was and the other replied, "it's a tanning bed." "Really?" "No! What's wrong with you?" It cracked me up.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I eavesdrop all the time, looking for cool quotes for my characters. This week, of course, I heard nothing of interest. It's like everyone in town read your post and finally realized people were out there listening. :)

Jenny said...

Megan, that cracked me up, too! Thanks for sharing.

Pat, I'm sorry to say it's just coincidence. :-)

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