Confessions of an Eavesdropper

I am the person sitting at the table beside you, listening to you talk. I might be gazing down at my plate or into my steaming cup of mint tea, but really I’m committing your words to memory. In a few moments I’ll find an excuse to look up around the room. My gaze will fall on you, linger until you look up and see me looking, then I’ll glance away at some new random thing as if I’m lost in thought—but of course it’s no accident. I’m just putting your words to a picture so I know how to describe you later.

As I confessed in this post, it’s a great way to collect characters, or details to color other more fictional characters later on.

I confess to having “borrowed” from friends, acquaintances, coworkers their:

• Mothers
• Patients
• Dentists
• Baby-sitters
• Ex-boyfriends
• Imaginary friends

…to name a few.

And I’ve borrowed overheard conversations—who doesn’t? Makes you careful what you talk about in public, that’s for sure.

Sometimes I wonder if my imagination is too confined to the tangible. Like I have to see something grounded in real life before I can expand on it in fiction. It really limits what I write about. Maybe this is why I don’t write fantasy (or read it). I should close my eyes sometime and invent.

I guess that’s why the current project I’m working on is giving me trouble. I don’t know these people. I close my eyes… see nothing. Listen… can’t hear them talk. This makes me worry about the outcome, a lot.

The best thing I’ve ever stolen from life were these crushed and crumpled letters I found early one morning scattered near a trash can in a desolate park in an East Coast city that’s not the one where I now live. These letters were from someone in prison to someone on the outside. They were pretty shocking. I can’t recount them here or else you might be inclined to steal from them, too. I have a story I’ve only started that features these letters—someday I’ll write it.

I’m not the only writer who does this. We all do, don’t we?

When I was at a writers colony I confided in another writer how freaked out I was by the total darkness that descended on the property at night—no lights anywhere, how walking back alone to my studio at night scared me, a grown woman, like I was still five. We were just talking, I thought. But a week or so later when he had his presentation I came up. Apparently, my fear of the dark, and other quirks of my personality, had inspired a character for his current play. What do you do in that situation, ask to take it back?

I guess we all write about each other, you about me, me about him, us about them, them about us. We can’t help it. Or I can’t help it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop.

, ,

%d bloggers like this: