Like most people, I enjoy my routines; a long walk in the morning before settling down to a day of writing, then another walk, some yoga before dinner, candles and a glass of wine with dinner, reading or a movie after. But I’ve had jury duty this past week, forcing me out of my normal routine. Sometimes having to do things differently for a while can reenergize even the best of routines.
For the past week, I’ve been getting up early (6:30 is really early for me!), taking the dog for a quick walk, then catching the bus downtown and spending my usual writing time in a jury box. It’s been pretty interesting, actually, hearing how different people perceive and interpret the same incident. A very good lesson in point of view. (As with anything, everything, in my life, I can’t help but put this experience into the context of writing or a writing metaphor!)
The thing that has really shaken me out of my comfortable arena has been taking the bus everyday. Lots of people ride the bus, but I usually chose to walk. Riding the bus is a very different experience than walking. Sitting and watching what is happening through the window of the bus is a very different experience than walking through the action. It’s much more passive and has made me think about psychic distance; sitting inside the bus, watching what is going on outside is a much ‘cooler’ experience—there is a definite emotional distance between the observer and what is being observed. It’s a somewhat similar experience to reading a story told in distant third. But once I get off the bus and walk back through the street scene that I’ve just observed from the bus window, I find myself much more emotionally engaged; I become part of the scene. I’m in the action along with everyone else walking down the sidewalk. (Okay, so you might be thinking, ‘well, duh.’ I know. But sometimes I need this kind of real life experience to thoroughly understand something. Like the link between psychic distance and emotional engagement.)
If I change my focus to what’s going on inside the bus, suddenly I’m in the middle of a myriad of stories. Where else do you get dozens of strangers, all with their own agendas, on their way to their personal destinations, crammed into a relatively small space? The space is an emotional smorgasbord; it vibrates with all seasons of weather systems brewing under the closed faces of people hiding inside their iPod earphones. Each passenger has a story, is on a journey, stepped onto that bus for their own reason: going to work, going to school, going home, going to visit someone, going on a job interview, going to a hearing, going to report for jury duty. School children with their backpacks and freshly scrubbed faces, ancient women carrying shopping bags laden with vegetables, dried fish, smoked duck, and pink boxes full of pork buns, business men in expensive suits, shop girls on their way to work the cosmetic counter at Macy’s. The concept of personal space is non-existent on the bus; heading through Chinatown on the 30 Stockton, everyone gets squeezed on all sides, pressed into the bodies surrounding them. If you’re lucky enough to find a seat, you can expect someone else’s back end to be inches from your face. Many passengers compensate for this invasion of privacy by turning inwards focusing on the phones, music or newspaper.
Even I can only be an observer for so long until I start singling out a few passengers as possible characters in a story of my own, imagining who they are, what they want, what they need, all of the reasons they can’t have it and what they might be willing to do, against these obstacles, to try and get it. And then instead of being lost in earphones and music, I’m off in my own world of make-believe. I can't help it; it comes with the territory of being a writer.