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People Watching

Coming to you live from the top of a double decker in London. I love riding up here. It reminds me of Dead Poet’s Society — the scene where Mr. Keating has his students get up on his desk, explaining that they should constantly look at the world from a different perspective.

This is just like, that but on a greater scale. I think this view is far better and more interesting than looking down from a window in a tall building. From there, you can see the big picture, the context, the other buildings. From here you see the small, but to me more import, picture: people. It’s almost like watching a play: you’re removed enough from the action to observe the scenes unfolding, but close enough to still feel like you’re part of the action.

Of course, you only get a cursory view and judgement is completely superficial and based solely on a brief view of people’s appearances. But still, you see how people dress, how they walk, how they interact with each other. You get to be super creepy and blatantly stare at all the pedestrians, under the guise of politely looking out the window.

And because you’re surrounded by people, sitting very close to you in a contained place, you’re afforded another, equally intriguing, opportunity to observe people. You have to be more careful not to stare too blatantly at your fellow passengers — it gets super awkward if they look your way — but because you’re so close, you get to overhear lots of interesting conversations. Did you know British people actually say “bloody hell” and “cheers”, just like in movies? They do. They say both of these things in the same 3 minute phone call.

Whenever I have to chance to creepily watch people, I love entertaining myself by imagining their back stories. Are the married? Do they have kids? Are they school? What do they study? What kind of job do they have? Where are they on their way to? What’s their relationship with the person they’re with? Are they happy?

This probably makes me sound like Briony in Atonement by Ian McEwan — not believing that everyone else is as alive as me and making up my own stories about other people and such. But, it’s not like that. Really. I know I’m only getting half and quarter stories. I know that whatever I think of these people is biased and may be wrong. I have no faith that the stories I tell myself about them are real.

But, regardless of the flaws in the ideas I form, I cannot deny myself this pleasure. I’ve always loved looking around at the people around me. Perhaps it’s because I’m “a writer”. I guess that’s a pretty writer-ish thing to do. Observe the human condition, report it back through your own lens.

But that’s not why I do it. I do it because I just can’t resist. People are interesting. We watch plays and TV and read books to be entertained, but just sitting around listening to and watching real people can be even more entertaining.

Also, as opposed to Briony, who knows that everyone isn’t just as alive as she is, but just doesn’t feel it — and determines not to — I find this very obvious fact to be incredibly intriguing. Imagine, a whole world full of people who all see the differently from their own perspectives. Imagine getting a bunch of those people all on a bus together, all going their own way, subjectively stuck in their own heads, but doing so together? It’s invigorating. Everyone has their own story and to them, their’s is realest.

That’s my side of my story, anyway. What’s your side? Am I the only one who does this? Or are there other people who do this too? Come on other people like me, tell me I’m not alone.

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About Elizabeth Anne

I’m obsessed with novels, short stories, poetical works &c., and my family has refused to put up with my ranting and raving about these things any longer, so I’ve decided to ramble to you, the internet.

4 responses »

  1. That is a very writer-ish thing to do. I never do that, and is probably why I’m such a terrible writer. I’m great with ideas. I’m constantly getting ideas along the lines of, “wouldn’t it be cool if…” And then I go to actually write my characters and make them do things, and it just doesn’t work at all. Although I am fascinated by the whole “to each person, theirs is the realest story” thing. Hope you’re enjoying your trip!

    Reply
    • I completely sympathize with the whole, get an idea then try to write it but my characters won’t cooperate thing. I find I write best when I start with the characters and then let the ideas come, but that’s not really a normal thinking process (or at least it isn’t mine) — so this normally works best when I start with a writing prompt. (Which is not to say I do that very often, although generally I think I write better, and come up with more interesting ideas, when I use a prompt)

      Reply
  2. Yes, I like to wonder about the people I observe. I only wish I could write as well as you do.

    Reply

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