When I was in my early 20s I use to go out and watch people. I would take a book and go to a random place and create stories about strangers. Sometimes these stories would be intricate webs and sometimes they would be simple. I loved the simplicity and the beauty of creation that surrounded these complete strangers. I could imagine entire scenarios based upon a facial expression.
One evening I couldn’t sleep so I went to the Waffle House with one of my journals. As I sat there in the corner an elderly couple came in and sat down. I remember how quiet they were with one another. They hardly spoke at all. I wondered if they were happy together as I sat and looked over at them. There is something so very sad that comes with aging that we are all aware of. I sat and I wondered about their lives and as I felt sorrow overwhelm my heart I saw “the husband” reach over and cut “the wife’s” food up for her. It was a simple motion. He moved his hand over the table and dragged his knife across her food with deliberate precision. His eyes were lowered toward her plate the entire time. Once he had finished he pushed her plate back in front of her and went to his own food. This small gesture told me a million things. It was sad and beautiful mixed ever so gracefully all at once. I almost cried. I may never know their true story but I will never forget that moment.
I created my own techniques for watching people. Let’s face it people are the best characters in the world and they are everywhere! I wanted to share a few of my ideas with you. I hope that you will enjoy my crazy notions.
Look at what you see as a single frame of film. Take that single moment and pick out the focal point. Remember that a picture can be too dark, too underdeveloped. Faces are blurred. Feelings are not captured correctly. The overall frame is over-imagined. It can be filled in and incorrect. That singular focal point is the most important piece. There is always one there. As you look you will find it in every scenario. It will be the moment that has the purest emotion.
Watch them smile when you are invisible. Hear what they say when you are unnoticed. Be observant of their interactions with others.
Knowing someone means stepping into their world. You have to see them as a whole and not with holes. You can live in the shoes of every person you have ever spoken to if you notice the details and compile them accurately. Each person you encounter perceives you differently. Their perception is a part of them. Their perception is everything all at once. It is their mother and father. It is their pain. It is their happiness. All of these have been compiled together to create their way of interpreting the world around them. Everyone sees the same frame differently due to their unique perceptions. You, yourself, are a single frame to those around you.
Start small and work from there. Create detail from appearances and interactions. Focus on the emotions and imagine scenarios based on those singular moments. The small things contain the most meaning and truth.