I'm sitting in a coffee shop attempting to get some last minute work finished right now. This is part of the new "Focus on Mothering Time While Mothering" and "Focus on Work Time While Working" pact that I made with myself...and my family.
I left home early to park myself in a coffee shop (since the library - my preference for a quiet working place - doesn't open until 10 a.m.! Who waits to go to the library until the middle of the morning? No one! Very inconvenient.)
Across the shop, I hear a voice that I recognize. I look up and can't place the face at first. Then I realize it's my neighbor. We know some of our neighbors very well, and others not as much. This is one of those not as much neighbors. We had dinner with them once right after Alex was born. So, it was almost four years ago, and I was in that post-baby fog. We always see the husband out and about, but the wife works a lot, and we never see her.
But sure enough, here she is. They are close enough that I can catch bits and pieces of the conversation, but far enough away that they can't see me watching. It appears to be a business meeting - although they are dressed in casual attire. And I'm learning a lot about my neighbor. How they came to live here...why they decided to have the number of children that they did, etc.
Is this terrible? Yes! I know it is, but all of my life, I've been a little too nosey for my own good. I can read lips, I have excellent hearing and I'm inherently interested in people. My husband hates eating out with me because inevitably, I have one ear on our conversation and the other ear on an interesting conversation at the next table or across the restaurant. Now that we have kids, I've had to grow a couple more ears because I need at least two for my husband and the kids' restaurant antics, but I still don't want to give up on some interesting tidbit that I might glean from the stranger two tables down.
Let me clarify a little bit. I do not hide behind couches and listen to people's arguments. I do not tap phone lines or even pick up secondary lines to listen to people's conversations. I do not rifle through people's things when they aren't there. I'm not that kind of nosey. I'm more the "If You're Going To Be Talking About Something in a Public Place then It's Fair Game for Me to Listen To" type of nosey. For some reason, I felt like I needed to clarify my voyeuristic tendencies so that you didn't think I was a complete freakshow.
I've alway chalked this curiousity (and nosiness) up to an extreme interest in people. As an adult, I've also called it an occupational necessity and an occupational hazard. As a writer, I need to know about people. I've found some great characters mopping the floors in Panera bread company or chatting on their cell phone in the airport. And by not engaging these people in actual conversation, I can take the bits and pieces that interest me and the characters can take on their own life in my imagination. I don't have to accept all of the baggage that comes along with a fully developed person - just the baggage that interests me as a writer.
But, this is the first time that I've spied on someone who I know. And I'll admit, I feel a little guilty. I was actually relieved when the espresso machine got louder so that I couldn't hear the conversation across the room. If I can't hear it, I won't listen. But as long as I can catch strains of information, I'm hooked. I'm realizing that I'm a lot better at this espionage stuff when it involves people that I don't know. If it's someone who I've never met, I don't feel bad about soaking in all of their torrid (or moreoften than not, everyday) events and letting them create a life of their own in my mind. But when it's my neighbor, it just makes me feel wrong. Guess it's a good thing that my spy games don't topple over into the realm of real life - that would be a slippery slope.