Paying attention to what goes on around us is a favorite past time of writers. We tend to stare. We might look as if we’re eavesdropping (likely). We will carefully work our way towards something that looks out of place when others might head in the opposite direction. You could say we’re something like stalkers. We make an effort to notice the unusual, and yes, even the ordinary. We do this because everywhere are valuable nuggets of human behavior and useful scenes and they come about in many ways. If we see them, we might take them and plant them into a story.
What we study could be as simple as watching a father and son purchase a fishing pole, and the father says, “I never had one of these growing up.” Wouldn’t you wonder why? Later on, we might see how a cashier interacts with a customer, annoyance on a woman’s face as her items are dropped carelessly into bags. What’s going on in that cashier’s life – or the woman’s? At a restaurant, a family of five, operates on the short side of patience at the slow service. The husband is silent, angry looking, refusing to acknowledge his family around him, while the wife is doing her best to put on a happy face, the kids look uncomfortable. A marriage on the brinks?
Even in the simplest interactions, writers might take away an idea and find something of use for the future. The other day, I decided to focus a little more than usual on my surroundings, from morning to evening, just to see what I might miss had I not made the extra effort:
Here’s what I saw/overheard:
- A possum walking along the foundation of our house, tail curled around a bunch of landscaping pine straw. Her belly hung low, grapefruit sized, filled with babies. I stood still, and true to the saying they can’t see, she couldn’t see me, but she could smell me. She lifted her head, nose twitching, and scurried back along the foundation.
- An old man, jaws and cheek bones sunken because he has no teeth, riding his pale blue coated with rust, screeching bicycle on his daily trek to the store.
- A bumper sticker on the back of a white Ford 250 that said “Mean People Suck”
- A small boy of about four squatting in the middle of the aisle at Food Lion. His mother rushed over, hissing, “Bradley! No! Damn it! How many times have I told you to tell me when you have to go potty!” (I thought he was looking at a bug or something)
- Three to four people, all appearing to be from the same family, standing in line at The Dollar Tree buying nothing but toys and candy, while a slew of kids ran circles around their legs, acting jacked up on sugar. (already!)
- A young man in gray sweatpants and a white t-shirt, walking along the main highway, headphones on, something obviously wrong with him… his legs are huge, each thigh the size of an average size man’s torso. Walking looked particularly difficult for him, but he plodded along, head bopping to whatever he had playing.
- A stray dog running down a side street, KFC bag in his mouth.
- The wind blowing out of the north, steady enough to make trees bend, branches snapping and littering the ground around the bases
- Four robins clustered together, mid-air, screeching, flying kamikaze style, a territorial Spring avian battle fought each year
- An arrest, right in front of the house, two police men wearing dark green pants, black vests with large white letters, POLICE, putting a handcuffed man into the front seat of an unmarked Expedition.
It seems like nothing, but ordinariness, the normal, the mundane, (except for that last one!!) yet, from this list are endless possibilities.
Can you see them?