On The Inside Looking Out

I suppose you’d say I was a voyeur, but there is a creepy overlay to that really isn’t there. I am just curious. When I lived in California, my favorite time to go for walks was dusk. The cement of the sidewalks radiated warmth absorbed from a day in the sun; the light was softer; there was no more expectation of the day—just a calm satisfying summing up.

People also still had their curtains open.

Home from a day abroad, people settle in, get a little dinner started. Perhaps turn on the tube. Open mail. And as I walked by on the sidewalk, I could see them do these things. And I would wonder—does she like those kitchen cabinets? Do they serve her needs well? Did she and her husband sit down with a designer and think through what kind of cabinet would make life easy in the kitchen? Or does she hate those cabinets, an inherited taste from the previous owner? Does she wish the kitchen were different? Or is she even cooking? Maybe she hates cooking but the half-hour in the kitchen is the only time she has to herself in her crazy day; she can have a glass of wine and ruminate over the fight she had with her husband in the far, less well-lit room. And such pretty hair she has. I wonder what she spends on it a month? Long layers and a professional color job (at her age it has to be)—what, say every 12 weeks? They must have money. I wonder what goes through her mind when she drops that kind of money—does her husband resent her for it? Maybe she makes the money and feels like she can do whatever she damned well pleases with it. Maybe he is having an affair. He seems handsome, from the little light I have to work with. Then again, perhaps they really love each other—truly madly deeply. And their church plays a huge part in their lives. But as the question pops in my head, I am further down the block, in view of another panoramic window.

Truth told, I don’t only do this on walks through softly lit neighborhoods. I can’t seem to stop the narratives in my head. I walk down streets, ride on trains, look at the passenger in the car next to me and off I go. Does she wear such heavy eyeliner because everyone had told her growing up that she had such beautiful eyes, and now she is desperate to make them pop? Girding herself against the juggernaut of age, if she can just make people realize her eyes, they’ll be distracted from the rest of everything else that she no longer feels in control of? And what does he find so satisfying about science fiction? The story is in reality ludicrous, yet he is riveted! Is it the utter total fantasy of it all? An escape into a world with another language of signifiers? A different code of worth, a meme that makes him feel so free?

Perhaps this is just a by-product of forty years of being on the outside looking in—or rather trapped on the inside looking out. Of feeling encased in a membrane that prevents me from fully engaging, of snapping into place with the world around me. Yet it may be a way for me to deal and process the hugely overwhelming amount of people, individuals, in the world. To wrap my head around the absolute fact that each and every person has a reality just or more complex as mine is mind-blowing. Perhaps by choosing to construct and deconstruct one individual’s narrative, I can find a release for the pressure of the collective experience.

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