the forgotten art of looking around

It was a busy Friday, and I was stuck in one of the backwards-riding seats on BART, the Bay Area’s mid-century modern version of the subway. I looked longingly at my oversized satchel of reading material – five magazines, two regular books, a loaded Kindle, and the phone that keeps me linked in to every breaking world/national/state/local/entertainment/sports/finance/business/health/lifestyle/science/technology/opinion/home/travel/dining headline, allowing me to remain minimally informed on a maximum number of topics, and dangerously chatty at dinner parties.

This was the reading material I had thoughtfully prepared to get me through this train ride, two airport waits, two five hour flights, and no fewer than a dozen cappuccinos. I know well enough by now that if I were to read something while riding backwards on the train, it would be a throw-up extravaganza like that time in 8th grade, or like that other time in 8th grade. With 19 stops still to go, I couldn’t let that happen, I was wearing wool. If you are traveling alone though, it is just common courtesy to read, or pretend to read, otherwise you are the creeper who keeps engaging others in “accidental” eye contact. Alas, short of closing my eyes, falling asleep and waking up in the wrong county and relieved of my purse and suitcase – I was just going to have to look around.

Not long ago, I wrote a post about the value of boredom – but looking around, my friends, is not boring, which I keep somehow forgetting.

You think reading is entertaining? (Oh, it is! It IS entertaining, I love it) but people are REALLY entertaining; what they wear, what they say, and what they are reading.

The sky outside was perfectly blue, the couple to the left was deciding what they were having for dinner, and the guy behind me was suuuuper annoyed with another guy at his job who quite frankly, did sound awful. The girl in front of me had her scarf tied just so….it looked fresh and whimsical like it just happened to come out that way, but I knew she probably recruited a boy scout or sailor to tie it. I tried taking a mental picture to figure out the knot. I thought about taking an actual picture, but that was potentially more disconcerting than unwelcomed eye contact, which did eventually happen. A few feet away, there was an older gentleman also looking around, and after our eyes met, he did not look away, and then he strained his neck to continue not looking away. I decided that maybe I should look out at the blue sky again, and assume he was also nervous about motion sickness.

When you are defiantly not looking at your phone, you start to feel condescendingly sorry for the people who are glued to theirs.  That poor guy with the messenger bag – think of what he’s missing!

I tried sharing with John my window inspired euphoria – “I looked out the window today, and it was amazing!”

“Wow, what was out there?”

“I dunno – cars and people and stuff.”

I spent some more time with the window over the next few days — New York is a great place to do that. Whether you wake up and peek in the windows of another tall building across the way to the early bird who spins his chair while he talks on the phone, or simply watch pedestrians hustle by below, wrapped in winter layers not often seen in California, everybody looks like they are doing something more important than you ever will.

My dad worked in a tall building when I was a kid, and on one of those school in-service days, it was his turn to entertain me.  It wasn’t hard, I sat in his window and watched people wander up and down Sacramento’s Capitol Mall, visit the hot dog vendor, go to the bank, and wait for the bus.  I wrote a poem about what I saw, and recited it proudly to anyone who would listen – I think it included a rhyme for “briefcase.”

One of my all-time favorite movies is “Rear Window,” the premise of which is fascinating and terrifying – you just never know what you are going to see out there. I thought of this in our San Francisco apartment years ago when we were newlyweds, so full of excitement about what lay outside! It was not Grace Kelly or Jimmy Stewart  I found across the courtyard from our bedroom window however, but an elderly couple eating breakfast in their underwear, fully aware that I could see them.

Give it a whirl. When you are done reading this (and only then), look out the window. If you are outside, go inside, and look at the spot you were just sitting. Tell me it doesn’t blow your mind, a little bit, if you wait long enough.

But then again, I’m pretty sure this hobby could also be the telltale sign of an extreme extrovert. Do you know how hard it was not to ask the couple what they finally decided for to eat for dinner, or pick the brain of the jaunty scarf girl (who also had a phone with a screen so cracked, it was barely holding together – seriously, how did that happen?). Extroverts are energized by others, but if that extrovert is fully engaged in the world around them all the time, their head just might explode. Others are everywhere! There were the girls who worked together in Saks then ran into each other after four years! The lady that thought/hoped the Starbucks breakfast sandwich was a cheeseburger. The girl nervous about a job interview. A German tourist with laryngitis, a guy editing a proposal, the couple from Toronto (she was waaaaay taller than he was), the guy who dropped his dry cleaning in the street, and Karl from the shoe department who has bad knees too. Where does one even begin? It took copious amounts of hand-wringing and concentration not to start conversations with every single one of them. I did talk to Karl, however, and recommended insoles if he was going to be standing all day.

It might just be better to return to my headlines, and leave all these nice folks to go about their day without a nosy lady in a wool coat watching them from the window.

The top pic is from our hotel in Murray Hill. The left photo down here is from one of my seats at Starbucks, 40th & Lexington, NYC, and the right is a lady reading on the subway platform, caught through two windows as the train passes between us.


11 thoughts on “the forgotten art of looking around

  1. ksgarvin says:

    Looking around is the best source for ideas for characters for writers or artists of any kind. Really, people do things you wouldn’t ever think up on your own! And how the clouds look, how the shadows fall on the building across the street; they’re the stuff of inspiration. Sometimes it’s just relaxing to put the electronics and books away and let your mind drift for awhile, too. Nice post!

  2. Simon says:

    I love that every now and then Freshly Pressed leads me to a great writer with real, funny stuff to say and not just a quiche with some kind of cheese I can neither afford or pronounce. Really good stuff.

    • The Fulcrum Chronicles says:

      Thank you…again! Thanks for finding this post too, and for the note that really made my day. What an amazing compliment…I may print this and carry in my wallet. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave me a note.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Love the blog; I also find that looking around and noticing things is so important and makes every experience richer. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  4. kcislander says:

    Such an honest observation. I have been known to talk to strangers in the grocery store, at the nail salon (how can you not when they’re sitting right next to you while your feet are soaking in the tubs?), etc. LIke the reader above, I thank goodness for Freshly Pressed putting up your blog.

  5. quirkymelbournian says:

    Lovely to read. I live in Melbourne, Australia and yes it’s not New Yory City – but I love that I get to live in a city that’s so facinating every-day and try and look around as much as I can. 🙂

  6. Find Focus says:

    I completely agree with the other comments! I don’t always look at Freshly Pressed stuff – even when I do it may or may not lead to a good post… but I love it when I find a writer with clever, interesting things to ‘say’ and a unique voice with which to ‘say’ them. Great observations! (And you’re probably right about the whimsical bow – there usually is a boy scout or sailor involved in perfect knotting like that.) 🙂

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