I’m not a people watcher. Couldn’t care less. Can sit in an airport or train station and never see the people around me. But I am a people listener. I hear the conversations behind me, in the stall next to me, at the table down the aisle. I listen, picturing how the people speaking could be in a novel, a play, a movie–what their whole story is and what moves them. I’m listening, empathizing with their plights, cheering their successes. I listen to people when I run, loving our new (if temporary) digs along the waterfront because I run and listen in on dozens of conversations from walkers, cyclists, and joggers.
And I have never, in decades of listening, experienced anything like this week.
Every single voice I heard, amongst those explicitly not talking to me, was talking about the economy. Every one. The ladies walking on the levee, the businessmen at the cafe, the family at Fleet Week, the couples holding hands at the library. Every, single non-me-focused voice is talking about the shitstorm that is our economy. How did we get here (that one I know…traunches); what is happening next (that one I know…massive recession); what is the government going to do (that one I don’t know…depends on the election, and neither option will fix things economically). And the people on whom I’m eavesdropping aren’t even in New York, looking at this.
It’s amazing to hear, for the first time, an eerily similar conversation from EVERYONE. (And really good for my novels, because people walking around just paralyzed with fear make for really good characters. I’m sorry we’re all hurting and scared. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s a major boon for my fiction.)
Check with The Fourth Turning, btw. This, even more than Sept. 11, puts us in another Crisis period; which puts me, as I’ve always suspected, with the Lost expat writers of the 20s. Our current generation of Hemingways and Steins and Fitzgeralds and Nins is working right now. And watch out–they’re listening when you go Rollerblading on the levee.