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.