Friday’s Essay – Is It Eavesdropping or Observing?

A nice pub

A nice pub

I am single, introverted and consider myself a writer.  I spend a lot of time alone in pubs and coffee shops.  I am beginning to fear that I spend well too much time in pubs since I read that Florence Welch (of Florence + the Machine) likes to be slightly drunk when she writes.  I mean, she’s pretty brilliant!  In any event, sitting and writing, or attempting to write, in pubs and coffee shops means I’m overhearing people’s conversations.  Like right now, I’m listening to two young women discuss the merits of Kevin having left Erin and the fact that Erin is doing pretty well for herself now.  This afternoon I was listening to some professors chat about their research, though they must have started talking about something else soon after – no one laughs that much about research into financial systems.  Because I consider myself a writer and like to go to pubs and coffee shops to write I tend to get distracted by others’ conversations and then use them as fodder.  I made notes about the looks on the young fellows’ faces as they listen to the old-timer wax nostalgic about his time with the railroad.  They seem interested, but at the same time they’re hoping the old-timer will clock out before the cute chicks start showing up.  Is it rude? Is it eavesdropping? Which I was taught is rude.  Or is it observation? Which is an important skill for a writer.  As a writer I never know what might make for an interesting scene or poem.  The human condition is an important topic, perhaps the important topic, for a writer.  What else do I do, but report on the human condition in all its glory?  Which is, I suspect, why many writers are introverts.  I don’t mind heading to a pub by myself and being slightly detached from the activity.  Instead of looking to engage with people and be part of the action, I sit apart and observe and eavesdrop.  I like to know what people talk about.  What is important to them?  Over what topics do they get into heated arguments? What makes them laugh?  I like to imagine what brought them to this place.  Like these young Irish fellows at the pub.  What could have brought them to this little landlocked city in the middle of North America?  Do they come to this pub because it’s the only place in town where they pull a proper Guinness? Or is it close to their apartment?  How much of this will I want or need to capture in another piece of writing? Will a character have some workers in to replace a broken window?  If so, the workers will definitely be these young Irish fellows because they’re both real people and colourful characters. (An Irish accent always makes someone a colourful character.)

In conclusion, yes, it is eavesdropping and it is observation. And, it’s perfectly acceptable if you’re using it as research for something you might write in the future. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)