How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.
– Wayne Dyer
People fascinate me. Some people irritate me at the same time.
I’m a people watcher. Everywhere I go, I’m on the lookout for something that strikes me, something I can use in my writing. I have mini-notepads filled with descriptions of people, settings, and situations. Colorful people, people who fade into the background – doesn’t matter which. What struck me about them? What life circumstances might make them who they are? How are they dressed? Do they walk with a swagger, or do they shuffle? How do they treat the people they come into contact with?
I’m also a people person. I can talk to just about anybody, and often do, much to the dismay of my children. I genuinely like most people I meet. But recently I’ve had the. . . experience, let’s say, of meeting people circumstances dictated I immediately dislike.
One older gentleman was tall, distinguished-looking, and well dressed. He seemed very personable, speaking to a number of people who approached him. Another man, near the same age, was dressed well but more casually than the first. He held a young boy in his arms, obviously a doting grandfather. Across the room sat a woman whose face reflected years of a hard life. I couldn’t help but wonder how three siblings could seem so very different.
If I had met these people under other circumstances, I would have thought good things about the men and worried about the woman, wishing I could somehow make her life easier. But looks can be deceiving. Their actions prior to our meeting have colored my perceptions of them. There are two more where they come from; two who made less of an impression on me. I don’t know anything about their formative years, so I can only speculate what drives them. They appear to be selfish and motivated by greed, only looking out for numero uno.
How do I know this? Actions speak louder than words. While their father was on his deathbed, they expended energies on belittling his wife (not their mother), vowing to remove her from “their” property, and threatening to take items that don’t belong to them. When her father’s wife referred to all of us as “you people”, the hard-looking daughter demanded an apology. It was simply a figure of speech, nothing more. We witnessed that same daughter’s son stealing from his dying grandfather’s garage – while she watched and did nothing to stop him. The tall, distinguished-looking gentleman called the county housing authority trying to prove his father’s house was not up to code – hoping to get the wife evicted. The doting grandfather said, “Right now, I’m worried about my dad. But there will come a day when I’m worried about me.”
Their family is obviously very different from my own. I started thinking of them as villains. My mind races with questions. What motivates these people? When will they come to their senses – will they come to their senses? Where did they get such bizarre ideas? Why are they behaving this way?
Can I use these experiences in a good way? Yes, I can. Instead of letting them get to me, I can write them in to a book; I can give my characters the passions I feel for people, for situations. Or I can explore characters with opposite beliefs. What might I learn by doing that?
The writer in me is always on the lookout for story ideas. Characters, settings, situations – the world is full of inspiration if only we are open to it. Even if inspiration is sometimes closer to us than we might like.
Are you able to use such experiences in a positive way? How?