Friday, November 12, 2010

The Secret Lives Of Others...

Bus Passengers
George Segal

Have you ever sat on a bus, or in an airport waiting room or a restaurant and looked around at the other people and wondered what they were thinking?  Everyone seems to be staring off into middle space, and I sometimes wonder what secret lives are going on behind their vacant stares.  Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to listen in? We all have rich interior lives, and perhaps only a small percentage of what we are actually thinking makes it to the outside world.  In that way, we never really know each other.  We are our own best-kept secrets.

Rush Hour
George Segal

We have all experienced the elevator syndrome.  Elevators are small, confined spaces, holding sometimes 15 people or more, everyone intruding on each other's personal space. Conversation is kept at a minimum because the enclosed space gives a feeling of personal intimacy that makes us feel uncomfortable. We don't wish to talk to the stranger who is standing three inches away. So instead, we look at the floor numbers, hoping the elevator will get to our destination quickly. What are we thinking about, and what is the stranger next to us thinking about? Perhaps they're remembering a book they read the night before, or wondering if they remembered to turn the stove off before they left home. Or maybe they're late for work, and they're wishing they could tell the boss to take the job and ...

Street Crossing
George Segal

One of my favorite things to do is to sit and have a coffee somewhere, and try to guess what folks are thinking. Sometimes I will see a couple having a conversation, and I will imagine what they are saying.  There was a wonderful scene in "Date Night" where Steve Carrell and Tina Fey were having dinner together.  They were choosing random couples in the restaurant and inventing what their conversations might be.  I laughed because I didn't realize other folks did that too.

Usually the secret lives of other people are much more interesting than their exterior lives.  I work with a woman who is the epitome of grace, good manners, refined deportment ... and yet quite frequently she comes out with some particularly sarcastic and offensive comments that completely bushwhack the people they're directed at.  I hear the comments, and I wonder who is the real person living behind the pleasant facade this woman shows the world.  What is the secret life going on inside that causes her to be this way, and which of these personalities is the real person?  We never really know, do we?

Do you have a secret life?


Rosaria Williams said...

We are complex beings, with many facets. What we see is just a slight perspective of the full range of emotions and beliefs the person feels.

myletterstoemily said...

brilliant! it is your imagination and
seeing eye that makes you such an
interesting writer.

i loved every line of this innovative
outlook on people we pass on the
street or subway.

my take is a bit different. i am often
bombarded by the depth of hurt i
encounter from the wounded souls
with which i brush shoulders.

i find myself praying for people i do
not know and needs that i could never


budh.aaah said...

You did it again Jo. trust you to take some ordinary topic and turn it into a great read.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I love your line, "We are our own best-kept secrets." So very true. I also wonder about the concealed inner lives of other people and sometimes invent whole stories about strangers with whom I share space through no one's choosing.

My own real self lies pretty close to the surface as I usually lack subtlety or subterfuge. I understand subtlety -- I am simply incapable of playing my cards close to the chest, often to my own detriment. My daughter has often remarked that my face gives everything away.

Anonymous said...

Oh, you know.....thinking about nuts.

Bruce Coltin said...

Yes, those figures almost scream the word isolation. Hard to look at with out actually feeling a sense of aloneness.

Single and Sane said...

Apparently this behavior starts very early. I had lunch at a restaurant last Sunday with my family, including my niece's 8-month old daughter, who looked around the restaurant. Her eyes kept landing on other tables and she seemed to study the people at each table very closely. I wished there was a way to get inside her head to find out what she was thinking.

Of course she was probably wondering if they would share their food, because we weren't sharing ours. ;-)

Kathryn said...

No, we never really know. Sometimes i think even with the folks closest to us.

I love people watching. It is very fun to go to a mall or somewhere (but NOT in the holidays season) & just watch folks as they move in their own little worlds.

On the other hand, the fact that so many folks move in their own worlds can be so frustrating. My favorite grocery is not very big. And the isles are not as wide as i would like. It seems every time i'm there, someone is lollygagging, blocking the entire isle, completely oblivious to the fact that i really would like to get past them.

I try to be kind & patient. On occasion i find myself doing the same thing - but on the whole i try to be more aware of my surroundings.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't do this often because I have enough trouble figuring out my own thoughts. I do, however, see an old house in the mountains or swamps and wonder what I'd be like if I'd grown up in that place.

Alicia said...

My sister and I do this when we're together. We wonder what people at the other table are talking about or what they were thinking walking out of their house dressed like We humans are an inquisitive bunch.

Pauline said...

"Do you have a secret life?"

Yes, but it's secret.

I often wonder too, what others are thinking. Wouldn't it be fun to read minds?

Charlene said...

We all have secret personal behavior; per Charlotte on Sex in the City.

I don't wonder what people are thinking. I like to watch people interact with others. I suppose that makes me a voyeur?

Kathy's Klothesline said...

People watching isone of my favorite hobbies!

Katy said...

I love doing this, and honestly I think its why I hate the idea of twitter and facebook...

If people tell you EVERYTHING it runins the mystery.

Donnetta said...

You bet I have a secret life. And it so rich and interesting. Too bad I never share it with anyone! D

DJan said...

Very interesting post, Jo. I too look at the other passengers on the bus and wonder about their lives. And queuing up in line always gives me time to sneak looks at the others waiting with me, and sometimes I will actually start up a conversation! It is amazing how the facade of a person often doesn't match the reality, and I discover this often. It makes me realize how much I categorize and judge people by their appearance.

Canarybird said...

I miss sitting on buses sometimes but I make it up somewhat by observing people at cafes and restaurants. Or in a lineup at the supermarket casually looking at their selection of food and trying to imagine what they will make with that combination. Cat or dog food?....If so then they are residents here. Brown German bread, wurst, English cucumber, unsalted butter..they are probably visiting Germans. Several bottles of wine or Spanish champagne, salty chips and snacks, chocolates and whipped cream....someone's having guests over. Silly I know but I make those conclusions even without realizing it.

Mia said...

I always talk in elevators. If I'm talking to somebody and they suddenly stop because another person came in I'll ask them why they stopped talking.

Anonymous said...

I love to watch people. And while I don't try to guess what they're saying, I'm very curious about who they really are. Even the most ordinary looking people have probably had some extraordinary experiences. Everyone has a story. And yep, I have a secret life.

david mcmahon said...

Really enjoyed the reflective quality of this post, Jo. In my twenties, as a globe-trotting sportswriter, I spent plenty of time in airports - and always wondered what stories people would tell if they could.

I think you did really well to get three answers out of five in the ``powers of observation'' image I posted on Red Bubble!

Linda Myers said...

It makes a great writing exercise - to sit in a coffeehouse and watch two people at another table talking, and imagine their relationship based on their body language.

My son used to be embarrassed when I'd strike up a conversation with a person in line at the grocery store. "No one cares, Mom!", he'd say.