I want to start a journal of just quotes from Billy. I forget the circumstances, but the other day we were chatting and he asked “Did you feel your bed moving last night?” I said I hadn’t, and he replied, “Good, because I was doing a shadow puppet show to some music and I was afraid I was moving around too much.” I was amused but not altogether surprised when he then said “I really want to get into shadow puppets.” 

I’d like to remember little gems like this, funny and thoughtful, for Billy is often both in the same breath. Some time ago, he mentioned that he hadn’t anticipated how much he would miss eavesdropping on conversations. It was funny because it was ridiculous; of all the things to miss about home, eavesdropping came to his mind. Reflecting upon it, though, I hadn’t realized how much I miss eavesdropping too. 

Listening in on conversations between strangers is perhaps the closest we will come to complete invisibility. When people are engaged in conversation, you become a figure in the background, something to fill the space, and direct the eye to the focal point. Truly wonderful eavesdropping reaches that pure invisibility. You leave the background figure that is your body, and your imagination walks into other people’s lives. Who then can see me using the scraps of conversation to create a limp outline of this person’s life? I’ll remain just as unseen when I inflate that outline with imagined details, until eventually I have a tangible figure, who takes up space in my mind. 

Becoming obscured, that is easy. Simply sit quietly while others around you speak. Becoming invisible, however, requires people to speak in a language you understand, so your imagination may have free reign. The common language gives you the outline, without it, you have nothing to begin building the replica of a person in your mind. 

This realization that you have no starting point is, as Billy mentioned, one of those unexpected features of traveling to a new place, and it bothered me until I changed the way in which I eavesdrop. With no starting material, the imagination does not have to be concerned with the possible, and can build a person from nothing, totally independent from the actuality of a person’s life. It is the difference between being given a set of Legos with instructions, and being given a tub of Legos of all shapes and sizes and being told “Have at it.” 

I cannot make a value judgement on which option is superior. Both have their merits and drawbacks, but I can say that I’m enjoying telling my imagination to have at it. 


3 thoughts on “Eavesdropping 

  1. Ok. So first I have to ask – how close are your beds? Then I can agree with Billy on how I enjoy hearing what other people are saying also. Of course I don’t know that I always have to hear what they are saying. Just sitting in a McDonalds parking lot enjoying fries with your mother while people watching is a good time for me. Of course I know now that what you can build out of a tub of Legos would be far greater than the usual person.


  2. @Lizzie. I remember those afternoons in the Danbury McDonalds’ parking lot. I think eavesdropping is one of universal guilty pleasures. And then inflating the limp outline into whatever you want. I hope we don’t lose this pleasure to our constant focus on our phones. (Crabby Great Grandmother of the future: “I remember when we used to have imaginations! I remember when we didn’t shut out the world by staring into our phones all day! I remember when we had to walk uphill both ways through three feet of snow to and from school every day!”)


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