It almost goes without saying that overheard conversations are a fantastic place to poach material for writing. Why? Because they’re authentic, real, they’re the turn and tumble of how we really speak to each other (or, in some cases, to ourselves). Listen carefully and they can reveal the truth of deep churning feelings spilling out over the words people use to hide behind. I have files stuffed with clippings of news stories that caught my eye because of remarks that read like the tip of an iceberg, with some monumental (horrid or glorious) story to be told waiting below the surface. And I have envelopes filled with overheard exclamations and explanations and declarations scribbled on the back of receipts, napkins, ripped edges of paper shopping bags. I’m going to start recording them here. I usually share them with OH. I’m entertained by sharing these convo gems with him and then us talking about what could have been meant or what Might Happen If…
He knows I love this. He gets me.
On a road trip recently OH marvelled at how we can talk about anything. I wonder if I take it for granted because my response was, ‘well, yeah. We always have. That’s why we were such good friends before anything else.’ But it’s nice to know I can bring all kinds of weird or amusing, banal or subversive stories home to him and he will hold them, consider them and remark upon them in such a way that shows appreciation (and shared enjoyment?) for my love of collecting snippets of human life. (Personal Projects, remember?) It’s also my job, but it’s fun.
Would you change how you speak in public if you knew a writer could hear you? I’ve worded that very specifically. Because of course you’d change how you speak depending on who you knew could hear you. (Your dad, your ex, your boss, your daughter…). But would it matter if an anonymous writer jotted down a line or two? Would it bring out the entertainer in you or make you worry you weren’t very interesting? In psychological studies we have to be careful about the effect the observer has on test subjects because it can dramatically skew results. People change their behaviour when they know they’re being observed. Performance anxiety or a desire to please seem to be the two biggest influencers. The best place to observe natural behaviour and a great place to pick up candid conversations is out in the wild because people talking in public, for whatever reason, don’t generally think about an audience beyond their immediate convo partner.
So what have I overheard lately? Here’s a few (names removed), and I’ll keep adding posts with collections in the future. Oh and does this come under the curiosity/stalking stuff I wrote about in On A Night Like This I Write? I wasn’t listening in on purpose, these things just landed in my lap. As a writer I’d be crazy not to collect them up and keep them, jangling around in a little writers’ bag-of-tricks to be used in the future. These are mostly the one-sided, slightly-too-loud phone convos on trains:
‘Tonight it’s gin. I know you don’t like cider, babe. This night’s yours.’
‘Finding time to make up a story like that. I don’t know. It’s no wonder he has weeds in his lawn.’
‘Rudy told me Helen won’t come. No she won’t. Rudy said. Rudy knows Helen. I don’t know her as well as Rudy. Rudy said Helen won’t come. Do you think I should ask her anyway because Rudy doesn’t think she’ll come.’
‘Proper, proper fucking job, she is. He can’t stand her but her head’s so far up her arse she doesn’t see. Stay well clear, mate.’
‘Mum’s in the toilet and she’s been in there ages. No I don’t want a Burger King. I said I’m not hungry.’
‘I want to be known for things like that. We’ve got to be known for something right? Otherwise we’re boring, right? Don’t you agree?’
‘Why would I buy anything from a place like that? They won’t have even heard of the brands I buy.’
‘You do my head in. I’ll do it, but…’
‘Do you know what I think? I think when he said he wanted to go into London with her he was just trying to make her stop asking. That’s why he kept telling her he was busy when she asked. He went with (someone else) though, did you notice that? I don’t know what they did.’
‘This is the way I do my hair all the time now. I like your hair but not your eyebrows. More natural is better. Did you ever want to grow your hair longer though? That might be nice if you could but I know not everyone can. Don’t bother with extensions though they’re just naff.’
‘I left it plugged in by the side of the bed. Can you just check? No you need to check now everyone will get there and if they go in the bedroom just check now because I know it’s there I think I can’t remember but I’m pretty sure I left it plugged in just check will you?’
‘Buy him for what he’s really worth, sell him for what he thinks he’s worth.’
‘They had the money they knew what to do but they weren’t pulling it off.’
‘Charlotte hates chocolate covered ants.’