A few thoughts about peoplewatching

Thank you for the book suggestions! I appreciate them all. As luck would have it, I’m not picking out books today, but I’m thinking of them as I write. Thinking of them a lot because I’m spending the afternoon in a library. Not mine, not the one of old chairs and old wooden bookcases and books I held as a child, but that’s okay. This one is also full of books, which really is the important part, is it not?

The thing about libraries is that they are quiet and full of books, but they’re also full of people, which makes it hard for me to work. People are rather fascinating, and sometimes hard to ignore, unless, of course, they’re members of my family, in which case I can tune them out like turning down the volume on a radio. Which isn’t, perhaps, something I should admit in public.

But about all those other people…the thing about them is that even when they are quiet, they are expressive. Even when they are still and intent and completely wrapped up in matters of consequence, they give parts of themselves away. Tapping, frowning, smiling, biting on nails (or fingers, apparently), how they sit (legs crossed, feet flat on the floor, chair legs pushed up a little…), how often and when they glance out the window…the list is endless. Our stories trickle out of us everywhere, in so many ways.

If you were watching me, for example, you would notice that I keep rubbing the inside of my ring finger with my thumb. If you were Sherlock Holmes, you might conclude that I’d recently been divorced, or was carrying on a torrid affair with someone who thought me unmarried.

The true, and more prosaic, explanation, is that I made pizza dough this morning in order to let it do a slow rise in the fridge, and I took my wedding band off and set it on top of the baking powder tin so that I wouldn’t get it covered with dough. Significantly less thrilling, but there you have it.

If you write, or daydream, all these little things–motion, emotion, dress, location, scent, habit–all these things are tiny little doorways that you can’t help but want to enter. Does the scowling woman scowl because she is unhappy, or because she is unfriendly, or does her mouth like to go that way and she would smile, fully, warmly, if I were to speak to her? Does the man rubbing his beard find it itchy, and wish that the weather would warm up so he could shave it off without fear of a chilly chin, or did his father have a big beard, and he used to rub it when he was small and frightened in the night, and touching his own beard takes him back to that place of feeling safe and loved?

It is rather distracting. It’s exactly why I don’t tend to write in public spaces–too rich, too full, too hard to stick to my own little universe. This is the sort of thing that happens when I do. There must be a solution, somewhere. Blinders, possibly? Portable cubicles? Aversion therapy?

Let me know if you find an answer. I’ll be your first customer.

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