Reflections of a Serial People-Watcher

Sometimes I feel like Sherlock Holmes.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s a good thing. 😛

I mean, how normal is it for a nineteen year old girl to smuggle her pen and notebook into the symphony and instead of paying attention to the music, spend the whole night ‘collecting’ the musicians? (I’ll have you know I got at least five very detailed and promising character profiles out of that.)

Or how polite and ‘what people do’ is it to watch the waitress from behind your menu and try to guess her life story by the wrinkles on her face, the scars on her arms, and the tattoo just peeking out from under her sleeve? To stand in the checkout line and swallow back tears for the pale, dazed face of the toddler in front of you as his slouching, holes-in-their-jeans and cigarettes-in-their-mouths parents scream at the cashier? To find yourself smiling because you accidentally intercepted a gentle wink between the tall, skinny father of two at one end of the grocery aisle to his bouncy, go-get-’em wife at the other? To bump into an elderly lady coming out of Walmart and drop your shopping list, then stand fumbling and staring and trying to come up with an apology while you’re staring at her eyes because so much depth and wisdom GAH m-must analyze must desCRIBE?

This is me. Just another normal day in the life of a serial People-Watcher. It’s become an instinct. It’s creepy (and awkward when people notice) but I have a good excuse.

I’m a writer. (That is excuse good for just about anything, honestly… ;P ) Which means I’m also a connoisseur of life. Yes, I’m collecting people. Yes, it’s a practical way to find inspiration and to populate the blank pages of future novels. But at the same time… it’s more than that, because ultimately a writer is more than that.

It reminds me to have compassion.

You can’t keep your eyes open in this world for long without seeing a lot to disgust you, but if you keep your eyes tight shut and ask God to give you His, you notice things you never would have before. The bruises on the arms of that girl slouched in the corner with ripped jeans and too much mascara. The red eyes and damp cheeks of that guy that bumped into you on the sidewalk and brushed past without apologizing.

You learn to see with your heart as well as your eyes. It reminds you that the countless lives (dramas, comedies, fairytales, tragedies) being played out around you are all of equal importance and worth to their Creator. Every face has a story. Before you can find it, you must be willing to look for it, and only compassion can look that deep.

It keeps me humble and reminds me not to rise too high in my pursuit of ‘greatness’.

Let me tell you, when you spend a lot of your time absorbing and observing the lives of others, your own life gets pretty insignificant pretty fast. 😛 It keeps me from becoming arrogant in my work; because after all my stories are written for people. Not to impress them, but to touch them, and hopefully bring them a little nearer to God.

As writers of truth, there’s always the temptation to become high and mighty and go for the sweeping allegories, the world-shattering themes, the stories that span the ages in timeless epics because you want to rock the whole world to its core. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I find, for myself, that it makes me forget the power of the tiny things. The love story in a father’s eyes as he looks for the first time on his new baby. The raw, ragged edges of a smile that shines through tears. The sheer, priceless wonder of a child’s eyes the first time he sees the stars.

To bring Sherlock Holmes back into the picture…

To a great mind, nothing is little.

If I may be permitted to adapt the quote… To a great heart, nothing is worthless. We write for love, right? Mostly just the love of words. But when was the last time you challenged yourself to write because you love the people you’re writing to, and have compassion on the age old story of humanity you’re drawing from?

That more than anything is why I became addicted to watching people. To realize, discover, and remember. What better description of the heart of a writer’s calling? So many stories are lost in the crowd. If I can teach myself to see them, and recover just a few, I’ll be happy for the rest of my life.


34 thoughts on “Reflections of a Serial People-Watcher

  1. WOW . . .

    You seriously touched my heart here, girl. This is incredibly impacting . . . and just so true. We all need to put this into practice. Then maybe the world could truly “know we are Christians by our love.”

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this!


  2. I love people watching too!! Sunglasses help it not be too creepy XD I like to remind myself that everyone has a story, and to base my judgements of people based on maybe what i think they’ve been through, not just how they look on the outside. 🙂 well written, my fren.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Two of my favorite things: Sherlock Holmes and people watching.
    I think this is my favorite blog post ever. *grins*
    (Also, apparently this site has cookies now? Can I request chocolate chip please? XD )

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Truth. *wise nodding* But seriously this is exactly how I feel and I don’t even have the excuse of being a writer. So many lives, and so many STORIES. So many people who need compassion.


  5. Wow, Kate… Um… Hu… Not sure what to say…
    I’ve learned more recently that the judgements we make are often so shallow and based on assumptions.
    One of the guys that comes to our martial arts class had a shirt on a few weeks ago that said: Love all , Serve all. It made me really think about how we treat and think about people.
    Wonderful post m’dear


      1. Yep! both him and his older brother seem like very nice ,
        good guys , and they can’t really hide their gentle sides.
        Having a Christian martial art studio is pretty awesome.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Wowzers. Thank you for the reminder and for letting God speak through you.
    It really is an important thing that we tend to forget–remembering that those small parts of life and stories really show the power of an all-loving creator.
    Thanks so much for doing this post!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is one of the reasons I love working for the orchestra: I get to sit through the majority of most rehearsals (when I’m not out copying stuff they should have had. . . again) and see how they work as a team (or don’t) and respond to stress and what their catchphrases are and who banters with whom and so on. And there’s quite a range of ages, and people sometimes come straight from work and you get to see the various social classes represented, and whatnot.

    (Also it’s nice to see a lot of artists working together on the very same piece of art, which is something writers hardly ever get to to, and I’ve found that inspiring, but that’s not the same thing.)

    Another good place is the big open spot in the middle of a bunch of buildings, connecting most parts of campus, and through which pretty nearly everyone at the school comes sooner or later. I have so many borderline-creepy or plainly and simply creepy observations from people-watching there. It’s always nice to remember I’m not the only one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Someday I’m gonna take a whole week and just go sit in the town square of the nearest city with a notebook and see how much wiser I am when I come back.
      Or how many times I get arrested for suspicious behavior. :’D

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This was really good to think about, Kate. Personally I am not a very avid people-watcher, but perhaps I should be. Reading this, I can see where I would gain a lot from doing so.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is really good! I also people watch a lot. I used be a fiction writer and that did sure help to build characters. Today I’m not much of a writer but I do love to watch people around.


    1. There’s always something to be learned by keeping your mouth shut and your eyes open. 😉 Glad you enjoyed the article. 🙂


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