Saturday, January 17, 2009

Human Nature

Yesterday, I sat crowded in a cheap plastic chair among many in a line. I was in a holding pattern for upwards of two hours, so I'd brought my manuscript to edit. Highlighters hooked to a bungee clamp, fifty inner pages cinched by a binder clip, blinding goggles on to the outside world, I plunged in.

As I worked, I noticed a closing distance between others gathered to wait. Soon, every chair was full, some double parked for groups preferring chit chat to isolation. They crowded my scant light, spoke of crock pot recipes while the Madam in my story collected the previous night's wood tokens for sexual favors, and swallowed my personal space with each passing moment.

An hour in, it happened. An interruption of such magnitude, I tossed the pages to the chair and scrambled away in haste. Though I am an eternal optimist and firmly believe in other's inherent ability to be good and decent, I would almost never leave my purse behind and trust it to strangers. I even take my laptop to the bathroom with me when I'm writing at a coffee shop. Imagine the interruption what you will. Perhaps the parking brake on my Toyota finally gave. Perhaps a blood-curdling scream ripped out my name from beyond my post. Imagine what you will, but it was immediate and important, and I fled for the moment.

Mini-crisis ended, I returned to my spot to find the woman in the next chair leaned over at a back-breaking angle to read my pages. She could not have violated me more had she slipped the credit cards from my wallet. For all that I can think to say in retrospect now, words failed me at the moment. I simply gathered my things in a huff and left, my greatest capacity for confrontation, as always, on page.

Later, I revisited the page she'd read-the one I'd carelessly opened to the world before it was ready. The truth is, the scene is almost unsalvageable, on the chopping block of worthiness in my plot, quite possibly some of the worst dreck in the entire novel. Had the woman picked up on my self-reproach in my scribbled margin comments: better dialogue, deepen, word choice, better, not in character, better? I know what I mean by better. I have faith in my ability to polish a turd.

The woman, however, I'm sure had misgivings. Would I have felt differently about her curiosity had she read my best? Is nosiness flattering when it meets with pride?

Part of a writer's defense mechanism is to be guarded. So much of us is exposed on the page, we nurture a fierce streak of protectiveness that may seem neurotic, at times, to others. Peer critiques become an exercise in trust. Agent submissions become an intricate ritual of letting go.

Trust. Fear. Protectiveness. All as inherent to human nature as curiosity.

All as much a part of the woman's story as my own.


Charles Gramlich said...

The first step in getting a fan is arousing their curiousity. You did that

Marilyn Brant said...

Charles makes a good point, and I agree with you that curiosity is an inherent element of human nature. As is self interest. I'm always a bit disappointed when another's fascination is not what I'd have it be. When I feel (self-righteously) that they're focusing their curiosity on the "wrong" thing.

For me, that's where I've had to separate the work, and the process of creating it, from the image/illusion of a finished product as a symbol of me. I created that product, perhaps, but I'm not that product. Nor is ALL of me subject to the judgment of others--positively or negatively--based on that product. I can't be responsible for other people's interpretations, only certain that what they've determined is an incomplete picture.

My 2 cents :).

Miladysa said...


LOL - word verification = swines ;D

the walking man said...

I have a more lackadaisical bent, never take my laptop with me when I have to go to the washroom and I always leave my purse at home.

I'm mixed about the strangers reading, while I agree that something gone public to early can make me lose my desire to work on it.

On the other hand curiosity is a basic part of our nature and I would have wanted to know her thoughts on what she read.

But then I haven't been in an airport, train or bus station for travel in about 15 years.

Middle Ditch said...

Why didn't you engage her in a conversation? You never know you might have found a very interesting person there. A moment wasted I say.

Anyway, three familiar names here.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Charles...good point.

Marilyn...I love your thought process here. Idealistic, though, as I've had the experience of a "fan" reading *way* too much between the lines and acting crazy. I know that's what makes me more guarded. I believe in the inherent good in people, but there are also a lot of whackjobs out there.

Miladysa...{{{hugs back}}}

walking man...I'd love to go back to being so trusting. Maybe a small town where I can keep my doors unlocked. As it is now, I've had someone rob me in the past year. Gotta love the city.

Middle're right. A missed opportunity. I *was* flustered from the interruption, so probably wasn't in the right frame of mind for chit chat. Also, she'd sat beside me for almost an hour and I hadn't engaged her in conversation. Some days my introverted nature is extreme.

Thanks so much for the visit :)

Disney Diaries said...

Speaking of out-of-context wordsploitation, why did you only twitter once, in July, and then no more?

Barbara Martin said...

For the fact the woman was leaning awkwardly to read more of your story is as Charles put it, you had her attention. Whether or not the writing was your best, you had her undivided attention and she was willing to read on. I'm sure you can salvage that portion of your story.

laughingwolf said...

you trust more than i, lam... that's why i don't have a laptop... and only i can decipher my handwriting... often, not even i :O lol

Vesper said...

an intricate ritual of letting go ... I like that...

In a way, I was expecting you to tell us that everybody around you was trying to read over your shoulder. It's normal human curiosity. I can understand though why you were upset to return and find the woman reading your pages. I also agree with the others who said it was after all not such a bad thing.