"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came. We imagine we have discovered a treasure trove of wonderful treasures, and when we get back into the daylight again, we see we have brought up only fake gems and pieces of glass. Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka

Friday, August 17, 2012

What I learned on my summer vacation


Most writers tend to be solitary, introverted types and even if you’re not, the work inherently requires long periods without contact from the outside world. We write and we spend our free time with family and friends, many of whom may share our habits, experiences and views of the world. Every life can become somewhat sheltered and there are dangers to staying in your homogeneous group, never forcing yourself to confront “the other.”

I just spent seven days on a cruise ship with 2500 others. We were crammed into the long hallways, queued up in the buffet line, streamed into an Egyptian-designed theater for a musical tribute to New Orleans. And there are some things I learned about people (or at least was reminded of), and the ways we’re different and the ways we’re the same. Here are a few:

1)      Some people like to get up early and go to bed early. Some like to stay up late and sleep late. Some people sleep too much; some sleep too little.
2)      Some people are able to eat sweet n’ sour chicken and egg rolls at 10:30 in the morning and swallow it down with a mug of hot chocolate.
3)      Some people haven’t put on a swim suit in a very, very long time.
4)      Some people prefer to whisper, hunched over a table. Some people are more comfortable hollering across a crowded dining room to let their husband know they will be out by the dome pool.
5)      Everyone thinks their child/children are the funniest, cutest in the world.
6)      Most people are indulgent of other people’s children, to a point.
7)      Some people dance like they don’t care if anyone’s watching.
8)      Most people stare and wish they were dancing.
9)      Most people are long overdue for a good laugh.
10)  Some people will talk about anything that occurs to them, uninterrupted, in a nightmarish stream-of-consciousness fashion, if you let them.
11)  Most people have a hard time saying no to dessert (myself included).
12)  Some people are very anxious to put on a full body snowsuit, even for just a day of glacier viewing, even when it’s only in the forties or fifties outside, even when they won’t actually be coming into contact with snow.
13)  Some people have very attractive feet. Or hands. Or figures. Or hair. Some people don’t.
14)  Everyone appreciates a stunning view (except children).
15)  Some people like wet, cold climates where other people can’t imagine living.
16)  Most people are afraid to speak up.
17)  Everyone is willing to help, if you ask them.
18)  Some people will give up their seat for an elderly person. An elderly gentleman will give up his seat for a woman.
19)  Most people probably aren’t entirely themselves on a vacation.
20)  Most people are very happy to return to their homes after being away.

I found it alternately comforting and daunting, the variety within our species. But as a writer who enjoys, first and foremost, writing about people, the experience provided fertile ground for character farming. The woman who threw a fit because she had to remove her silver bangle bracelet for security. The man with the long ponytail who danced alone to a Michael Jackson medley. The older man who stared at the rugged mountains and green-blue water, jotting things down in a notebook and mumbling to himself. Watch for them. You never know when they may appear again.

1 comment:

  1. Wow very interesting observations! I have never thought of half those things like you have. I was just looking up Alabama vacation rentals, and came across your blog. Now when I go to AL in a few weeks, I feel like I'll need to people watch. Thanks for sharing!

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