Have you read those Sookie Stackhouse novels? They're by Charlaine Harris. Fun, light-hearted vampire novels that are the inspiration for the True Blood series on HBO.
In them, Sookie, our heroine, can overhear what people are thinking. She's not really psychic, she's more like an unwilling eavesdropper. That's how I felt during travel a couple of weeks ago. I didn't read anyone's mind. I didn't have to, people were putting their lives on broadcast everywhere I went.
Now, I've heard some authors say they love nothing more than to be the unnoticed fly on the wall during a juicy conversation among strangers. And, you know, I think I might agree with them. But, the truth of the matter is, like Sookie's overheard mental snippets, most of what people say isn't that interesting.
I travel alone most of the time. I am quite content with my own company, and aside from general pleasant and polite platitudes, I keep my mouth shut. I have books, an MP3 player, my Blackberry and an active mind to fill my silences. When I do engage in conversation (especially in public places) I am not the strident sail, I seek the attention of no one except the person with whom I am in conversation, nor do I share at length the banalities of my day or the privacies of my mind.
Apparently this puts me in the 99th percentile among travelers.
A philosophy professor of mine once said, "You can't learn anything with your mouth open." I took it to heart and attuned myself to listening, rather than being the one to spout off my "intelligences" to those who were only waiting for an opportunity to cut in and talk back at me. The quote has served me well over life, but there are times when there's simply nothing to be learned from someone else's open mouth.
I cannot tell you how many boring, go-nowhere, mean-nothing, fill-the-silence conversations I was party to while a captive audience at the airports and in the airplanes. It was enough to make me feel faintly homicidal.
Have you ever read a manuscript by a beginning author who feels the need to capture the reality of conversation? They don't use dialogue as a tool for advancing the story, giving insight into character or expressing a mood. Instead they put quotes around everyday conversation.
"It is nice to meet you. What is your name?"
"My name is Sara. What is your name?"
"I am Jackie."
It's English 101 taught in Herzegovina. And it's enough to make you slam the book shut and turn the author around for a good ass-kicking. That's what it was like traveling the weekend after Thanksgiving. I was stuck in six different airports and on five different flights at one-time or another, and I swear to Joseph, nobody had anything interesting to say at all, and every one of them said it at length.
My mother tells me I need to be more patient, she's probably right. But instead I would rather people just shut the hell up. If you don't have anything interesting to say, don't sit anywhere near me.
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