Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What have you heard?

Overheard at the Kroger deli last week:

"I. do. not. have. time to worry about something like that. You will earn your-self an ulcer if you think that far ahead."

Deli Lady was cutting sandwich meat for me, and her speech matched the cadence of the machine she used to slice my Ovengold Turkey. She was talking to a Timid Soul who had been stocking potato salad. I don't know what Timid Soul had been concerned about.

I do know that if I had a lapfull of trouble, I might visit Deli Lady and tell her about it while she cut my sandwich meat. Even if it took ten pounds of Blazing Buffalo, the conversation would be well worth it. She had one of those warm, sensible faces that suggested she would listen well and quickly dispatch any nonsense she encountered.

But I digress.

The point is, I think listening (even eavesdropping) is a lost art. Oh, the things you hear when you sit in a crowded place with your earbuds in- and the volume off.

Or you can just walk around and make a point of listening.

"I've lost 20 pounds. But the best part is, my man LOVES it!"

~ That was a grocery store, too.

"Her art is ... amazing. She uses eggbeaters and ink."

~ While waiting tables. (I cannot begin to communicate the mixture of reverence and pretension in the speaker's tone.)

"I told that bartender she sucked at her job and she should just quit if she always had an attitude like that. You know I always say what I think. Rob just laughed. He's used to me."

~ Spoken by a young women with matching attitude. Loudly. Into her cell phone. As the plane was boarding. This former server wanted to jump a few rows and suggest several reasons why said bartender might have had a poor attitude.

I could go on and on. I found the Slushbusters by eavesdropping on Michelle and Steph talking at an SCBWI meeting. At writing conferences, I stay on the edges of the folks that mob the agents/ editors/ authors. I can't think of an intelligent question to save my soul. So I let other (better) people do it for me.

Besides, as a writer, I need to listen. I already think far too much about:

1) the words in my head

2) how to get them on paper,

3) how many words I put on paper, and

4) were the words any good?

And then you add blogging to the mix? Good grief, it's way too easy to pay attention to moi (as Miss Piggy would say).

Listening demands that I take a vacation from myself. It reminds me that each person I see has their own story. (Even if it involves eggbeaters.) And it often helps with that whole putting words on paper/computer screen that we writers think so much about.

So I'd love to know: What have you heard? Do you ever use what you hear in your writing?

I'm all ears.


Tess said...

What a great topic - and fun, too.

What have I overheard? Hmmm... well, today I heard my 10 year old son say, "I'm pretty sure it would kill you" as he was walking out the front door with his friend.

Now, what could those boys have been up to???

Anonymous said...

Oh I absolutely do! Since I write YA, I use a lot of what my kids say. Sometimes it's almost as though they change persona's depending on who they're talking to. I guess we all do that.

I always carry a notebook with me and pull it out to jot down things I've heard. One stray sentence can inspire you to create a new character, or even an entire story.

I'm an artist as well as a writer and I think the artists eye I developed serves me well in writing too. When you really start to work at your art, you learn to look closely at things most take for granted. That's a very handy skill for writing too.

Sarah said...

Tess, that takes the cake. I'd love to know what they were talking about!

Wendy, such a good point about just being observant. I'm amazed at how often I'm unaware of the world...

Lisa said...

Oh, I love eavesdropping! I do it every chance I get. I also love to listen to random people I meet who want to talk...store clerks, the landlady, the old man I meet in the hardware store. So many people just want to talk, and I learn so much from stopping to listen.

Yesterday I went to look at an apartment, and the landlady talked for about half an hour. I learned all about her grandchildren (10 boys, 10 girls) and her great-grandchildren (2 boys, 2 girls). If I had been in a hurry, I might have been annoyed and made greater effort to extricate myself from the conversation. But I had time.

Everybody's got a story.

Michelle said...

True! Eavesdropping on kids is fun too. When I was teaching preschool I overheard a conversation about where babies come from:

Boy: I want my mom to have a baby sister like Nick's did.

Girl: She has to get married and go on a honeymoon first.

Boy: She already married my dad.

Girl: But to have a baby they have to get married and go on a honeymoon again. That's how it works.

Boy: I'm going to ask her tonight.

You can bet I was laughing under my breath at that one, relieved that no one asked me, and surprised at how they were so close, yet so far from the truth!

Lisa said...

Okay, this isn't exactly eavesdropping, but since we're talking about kids, I have to share something my son said today.

He's 2.5 and very interested in dirt and poop and distinguishing between the two. He'll look at a dirt clod on the sidewalk and say, "That's poop." And I'll say, "No, that's just dirt."

So, today at dinner he looks at the sausage on my dad's plate, blackened on the bbq, and says, "That's not poop on there."

He's learning!

Michelle said...


That is hilarious!