When I was a kid, I loved staring at people. Problem was, my mom told me that it was rude. (To be fair, I’ve taught my kids that, too). Pity. So many interesting people in the world. So many stories to tell about them. Or at least stories to make up.
Don’t believe me?
Let me tell you about some of the people I saw on our latest trip to the zoo.
-A BIG Braveheart looking dude with tattoos of “Where the Wild Things Are” on his calves and big old gauges in his ears. That’s not the interesting part. It was the barrette and camouflage kilt. No. I didn’t ask if he was a true Scotsman (if you don’t know what that means, ask your mother).
-A zoo keeper who was, at the time, feeding the penguins (who were singing with joy at his delivery of fish). A calm man, this zoo keeper. He whispered to the happy birds. Pointing them to the spot where he meant to feed them. Amazingly, the went where he pointed. After he sat with them surrounding him, he seemed to coo at them as he handed them each fish after fish. What a job. Right?
-A man in the frog exhibit who, seriously, was very happy to be there. His Kermit the Frog t-shirt said it all.
-A tall woman who spoke to the bears as if they were her best friends. Asking them what they ate for lunch. If they were to warm. If they didn’t just want to get into their water and swim around for a bit. The bear whisperer.
-The young woman wearing sweat pants (SWEAT PANTS IN A DROUGHT????) and walking with quite the…ahem…hip swaying. On the tukhus, it read “Good” on one side and “Luck” on the other.
I could go on.
I just love watching people. Observing them. Staring at them.
Yes. It does sound creepy. Right?
But it’s how I find characters. How they laugh. Or hold their cigarette. How they talk to a friend, family member, significant other. If they hold the hands of their kiddos or let them run independently. How they flip their hair when looking for attention. And on. And on. On and On.
I’ve been known to stalk interesting people in the grocery store (the inspiration for one story). Or to wear my dark sunglasses so that my subjects have no idea they are being observed.
I admit it.
That does sound creepy.
But it is necessary.
Flannery O’Connor (one my writing heroes) once said, “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”
Well. Now you know.
If you catch me staring, I’m finding a new character.