Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Value of Mundane Activities

I love to imagine all the things the moon sees through windows as it treks the night sky.
I always make it a habit to observe people and read their stories.

It makes the time pass, first of all, but even better, it gives me things to use in my writing and a chance to play around with conflicts, characters and dramas in my head.

I've done plenty of lining up, queuing (whatever you want to call it), over the years. Whether it's recently for the reams of paperwork required to get you a job in another country, for a geeky panel at a convention or just to buy the monthly bout of groceries, there is a lot of waiting to be done.

What I've come to learn through all of it has nothing to do with patience, though I will admit I probably have spagetti strings more of it than most people simply because I can occupy myself for hours picking apart people's stories.

What the lesson does have to do with anything, is realizing a great value lies within the mundane. Well, the publicly done mundane things (I have yet to understand the value in laundry or heavy cleaning. The most I get with homey mundane things is baking, because, well, it's a giant learning experiment when you use recipes as guidelines rather than rules. Chemistry is useful for something).

The value of the mundane is this:

If you look at life as a never ending sequence of observational periods and outcomes of experiential learning, or in other words, you look at life as a lesson planned by your universe, then even your grocery trips will never be dull.

There are a million things I've picked up about humanity from observing them during these mundane moments, but seeing as that could take a whole series of books to get through, (I've got notebooks full of odd things), I'll share just a few tidbits right here.

As you stand, waiting for your turn to present your problem, to buy some clothes, hand in a form, you are taught that human nature is full of errors.

It is impatient.

Lines are the best places to discover the rude sides to humans. They bring out the huffy growl of a suit, one ear on a phone conversation, the other on the airport employee warning of the plane's delay in landing, for the fourth time in six hours. They bring out the flowers and lace woman with fifty's style spectacles, who butts in the converged group in a police office (because apparently small towns don't do line ups), when the woman who was unanimously noted as next doesn't realize it was her turn because she was is busy sniffling and staring at the floor mumbling about how an officer had assaulted her the night before.

It is needy.

Lines always make people blab to strangers. I've come down to pinning it on a desire to rant, to compare or just to share because waiting allows for a lot of space for too much thinking, no matter if you're in the line or the one dealing with things at the end of it. That gets exhausting too. This blabbing lands on the grocery clerk in the form of a mother with a baby carrier on one arm, wielding her credit card in another and shouting at her other two children to stop running relay from the end of the check-out to the optometrist store on the opposite end. It comes out in an elderly secretary at the city hall who just dealt with a loud and grumpy couple debating a building permit as she sighs and asks what I'm there for and I land on the receiving end of a tale about her sweet and talented granddaughter who is currently teaching in Dubai, but had spent two years in the UK before that.

But sometimes it is kind.

Waiting for things often inspires a ridiculous amount of opening doors and phrases like "no you go first," "be my guest," or "would you mind watching my stuff?" These are always met with "thank you's" and "certainly's." Also smiles. Lots of smiles. And then no other exchange happens after. It's just too strangers continuing on. Yes, more often than not, this happens in the aftermath of the lines when you leave the buildings you were waiting in, get off the planes or what have you, but sometimes people band together when that same plane takes eight hours to show up before you can get on it, let alone getting off. The best come at conventions, where everyone is there for the same geeky reasons and everyone is waiting in the same long line ups. Which brings me to the next highlight of lines.

It can spark temporary companionship or long friendship.

It has generally only been by waiting at conventions that I've managed to discover people who are now long distance friends, there is plenty of temporary companionship to be had too. Like deep conversations about travel and business dreams bouncing between a ponytail and shorts girl and a young man in a suit jacket and jeans after the he asks if she'd mind watching his stuff while he pops off to grab a snack. They spend the whole eight hour wait for the plane chatting, negotiating seat switches with various people once the plane arrives, chat for the whole flight and they walk off together after landing. A deep discussion over the merits of coconut yogurt versus Greek yogurt gets volleyed back and forth between a dreadlocked university student and a guy still in a construction vest for the five minutes of a grocery line. They end, shaking hands and wishing the other a good day, going off to separate lives with their respective grocery bags.

I cannot say enough how fascinating watching people can be and how much you can learn from it. Plus, there are often times when you are just confused by it and you save the bits you pick up for later use or mulling over of.

I got on a bus once, most of the seats were full but nobody was having to stand yet and a scraggly bearded man with a toque and a box still covered in post stampage and tape kept muttering "nine-hundred and ninety nine stars. The sun is burning." Over and over and over. He sat there muttering this for the ten minutes I was on until he got off at his stop, walking as straight as anyone.

Other times I've been witness to hushed phone arguments between couples, or the excitable hand-waving of tourists from the top bus window who thought double deckers only existed in England.

The next time you are waiting for something. Watch the people around you. You might learn something about humanity, or yourself, or pick up a fun conversation starter, or writing prompt. You don't even have to wait to do so. Find a busy spot like a food court, a harbour, a tourist area, bus stops, ferry terminals, airports, parks, beaches or even wandering the streets and drink in it and all the people, with all your senses.

You might just be surprised with how fast the time flies.

Always observing from corners and high perches.

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