One friend to another: “Don’t be so characteristic of yourself!”
A mother repeating her daughter’s words: “My books are my boyfriends.”
A father discussing his son: “In my next life, I want to come back as Nick!”
Husband to his wife on line at a Monet exhibit: “We’ll do 10 minutes. Monet will never know the difference.”
To the casual listener: entertaining. To the writer: priceless. We scribes are shameless, gladly snatching inspiration from dreams, nightmares, news articles, a fleeting image, a snippet of conversation. An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser’s monumental novel, for example, was inspired by an item he read in his daily newspaper. But as many writers can attest, the most fruitful sources for story ideas and dialogue are often the conversations they overhear. In her winsome writing guide, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamotte says she makes it a point to carry an index card and pen with her so she can jot down any priceless tidbits that fall from the lips of people she encounters during her daily rounds.
And sometime, if we’re lucky, we can listen, without hearing, to the language of the heart. Just recently, I watched a mother and her infant son on the subway. With a sheaf of spiky black hair and a toothless grin that could have swallowed the sun, the little boy sat delightedly on his mother’s lap, grabbed her shirt, and brought his smiling face up to hers, nuzzling her cheek in delight. Gazing into his mother’s eyes with a smile of pure adoration, he leaned back and laughed, then reached up to touch her cheek with his toothless mouth once again. The love that passed between them could have powered the train we were on. Listening in with my own heart, I could hear their two hearts beating as one. What a beautiful moment to share!