I just started a new kind of notebook (as if I needed one). It’s one of those marbled composition books that I like, but it’s purple instead of black. Here, I’ve decided, is where I’ll put my collection of people.
I’m a people collector, you see. On the first two pages of the notebook, I’ve made a list of people under various categories: in my neighborhood, around town, at work at the grocery store, people from my past and present. These are people that I find odd, interesting, inexplicable, quirky, or just plain unique. If I don’t know their names, I’ll describe them: Sad Girl, Chinese artist guy on Main Street, bag lady on the bike (and I mean this literally-she wraps plastic bags around her clothing with masking tape), dirty joke guy, etc. Friends and familiars, old and new; old boyfriends and lovers; any one in my life, in other words, past or present, I’ve noticed or have made an impression in my life.
My goal is to describe these people, as much as possible, with concrete detail-physically, their clothing, their expressions and gestures, words they say, how they inhabit their particular space on earth. No judgment or opinion on my part; that’s not allowed (although it will probably leak in now and then).
I’m not quite sure what to do with these people. They jostle and shout for attention between the purple covers. Maybe some will find their way into stories or essays or blog posts. Mostly, it’s just practice for me, to learn to really look and capture the details of people. Not “He’s crazy,” but “He marches up and down our road everyday, engaged in animated conversation with someone who is not there, complete with urgent hand gestures and sudden angry outbursts; I wonder who he sees in his mind’s eye.”
It’s so easy to make quick judgments about people: he’s a jerk, she’s weird, he’s gross, what a bum, I hate her, what’s wrong with you? Easy to dismiss the homeless person, the drug addict, the indistinguishable man in the three-piece suit. Easy to forget that every single person on this planet is just like me-a human being with a life, with wants, needs, hopes, dreams, a past, a present, an unknown future. The star of their own movie, whether a it’s a tragedy, a comedy, a thriller, or love story.
This notebook is my way of taking a peek at these stories around me, of acknowledging them and saying, Yes, I see you and you’re interesting to me.