Homeless people, travelers, strangers, grocery shoppers–when I write about people I meet, Facebook comments trend to: “You sure meet a lot of interesting folks,” or, more directly, “You seem to attract weirdos.”
They are correct. Hundreds of ordinary people pass through my life. It’s the interesting ones, the incomprehensible, the downright odd that make the cut for a story.
What sort of a read is an article about the woman ahead of me in the grocery line if she puts bacon, eggs, milk, and bread on the belt, pays with a debit card, and leaves? But if she had bourbon, Bloody Mary mix, bleach, extra-large trash bags, and a carving knife, that creates potential. And I’d probably start up a conversation.
Communicating is a skill honed by practice. From the people I see walking, staring at screens, it’s likely that communicating by spoken word will die out soon. All of us crave connection. We want to tell our stories. We want to talk to those most likely to advance our career, our love life, our goals.
In the streets of downtown Phoenix every day, I meet the day homeless who are waking up and getting ready to keep moving and the night homeless, who are looking for a safe place to bed down for the day. I walk past light rail commuters, dog walkers, runners, parents dropping kids off at day-care centers, school crossing guards, construction workers who are already busy. I probably pass more potential stories than the average office worker meets in a week.
Here’s the real twist: I’m not looking at a screen as I walk. I am not wearing earphones that block out noise and conversations. I see, hear, and smell whatever shows up.
Staying non-electronic has allowed me to meet the lady who thought I was a drug dealer because my sweatshirt says “Columbia” on it. (It’s a university in New York; the country with Medellin and Cartagena is spelled Colombia, and she didn’t know the university. Or how to spell the country.)
The homeless person at whom I smiled and said, “good morning,” was delighted she was visible. Most people ignore her, bump into her, turn their heads away, so she thinks no one can see her.
These stories and experiences change my view, enrich my life, and allow me to hear amazing stories told by real people with real, if not always happy, lives.
It’s not so much that I attract weirdos as I am willing to see everyone and listen to stories. When you stay off the screen, you develop communication skills again. Those lead to story ideas. Example: If my life shrank to a grocery cart of possessions, what found items would I keep? Yeah, it’s not a journal prompt you’ll get from your daily prompt generator, but your writing will get more thoughtful and colorful.
I attract stories of the heart, of the mind, and of the untethered soul. And I treasure them.
–-Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity instigator and creativity coach.