Things I notice

I’m beyond tired of writing about gloom and doom, depressing thoughts, so I turned to Plinky for a little help. Plinky asked, “What are the first things you notice about people you just met?”

I’m so glad you asked, Plinky. It’s Bonnaroo week in my hometown. At least 80,000 strangers have invaded. No doubt about it. I’m going to meet someone new this week. Yeah! New people = new stories.

The first thing I notice is what people are wearing. I prefer clothes. But being Bonnaroo week and all, that’s not always the case. Point is, it’s just plain awkward for a clothed person to interact with a non-clothed person in a wardrobe-expected environment, and it’s near impossible for the clothed person not to stare. Staring is just not cool if you’re trying to be polite.

Other than nakedness, nothing really fazes me. I’m a teacher. I’ve seen just about everything—every color of hair and lack of hair and every clothing style from skirts on males sitting in my English class to chainmail on females perusing the school library. I’ve seen some of the most unusual piercings and tattoos and feathers. What really matters to me is what’s on the inside of the person.

I’m always intrigued by people who aren’t afraid to be themselves, so if a person is wearing something really unique I’m going to notice. I like unique—especially if it’s colorful and mosaic. When I see it, I drift away into my dream world and wonder WHY—why THAT outfit, why THAT color. Why, why, why. The more I learn about writing books, the more I learn about character motivation.

Of course, character motivation is something I deal with every day. Every 45 minutes or so, 25 or more characters file into my classroom. I have to be on top of my game and anticipate what they’re up to next so that I
can prevent them from carrying out random acts of stupidity—like launching a pencil across the room (past dozens of eyes) or cheating on a big test and risking immediate failure.

So, Plinky, I notice the outer human being. I just want to be careful not to judge. I am a conservative person—most of the time. But just as some people can go to the far extreme of being free (and clothingless), sometimes people can be so restrictive that they try to rope others and drag them into their tiny boxes. When the roped try to get out, the noose around their necks will tighten, and they’ll get lynched. Mercy and grace. Mercy and grace. When I see something I don’t understand—or like, I pray for mercy for my condemning attitude so that I can offer grace. (But depending on what my snarky meter says that day, I may not make it without letting a comment or two slip. I’m working on it.)

More importantly, what I notice above all is a person’s eyes—the windows to the soul. I warm up pretty quickly to kind eyes. I stay away from arrogant eyes. Mischievous eyes are like the Pied Piper. I can’t help but fall under their spell. Do the eyes show compassion? Then I’ll probably edge a little closer. Do they show ill intent? I’ll mosey on over to somewhere else, not that I want to be rude. It’s hard for people to lie with their eyes, but some
people are better at it than others. I don’t think I’d be a good poker player. My eyes give me away every time.

Of course, a person’s smile is just as important as the eyes. I definitely take notice. Is the smile plastered on? Perfunctory? Fake? I don’t like fake. Flash me a fake smile, and it’s sayonara for me.

All of these things, clothing, the eyes, the smile, are visual elements that either draw or repel two people. There are four other senses, five if you count intuition, a woman’s best friend.

What do people sound like when they talk or sing? What type of music do they listen to? Are they physically distant? Afraid to shake your hand or give you a hug? Too touchy-feeling? Do they invade your space?

Speaking of touch, what do their hands look like? Sounds like an odd question, but for a writer, it’s an important one. I once worked at a soup line at the Rescue Mission in Nashville. One thing I noticed as I was serving the food was that some of the men had hands that could almost be described as smooth—but with callouses. They were musicians, just a little down on their luck once arriving to town. If I had time to talk, I’m sure I would have discovered some real stories there, heartbreaking, I’m afraid.

As for taste or smell, that’s a little too personal, even concerning my new Bonnaroo friends.

But, concerning my new Bonnaroo friends, I think I’ll head on down to the big W on the edge of town and do a little people watching. There’s bound to be a great story or two out there.