Too often, we forget that strangers around us are the protagonists of their own stories, and we take their presence in our lives—as random background characters—for granted. (In his “This Is Water” speech, the late David Foster Wallace considers this in a supermarket setting.) When you’re tired and frustrated or just want to get to where you’re going, it’s easy for other people to become obstacles; faceless, nameless jerks who seem to exist solely to get in our way.
One of my (Pixie’s) favorite things to do when I travel—to fight traveling nerves and to keep from getting bored—is to create fictional backstories for the people around me. I started doing this when I was a teenager stuck in the backseat while taking road trips with my parents. I’d watch cars pass us on the highway and start imagining where the passing car’s occupants were headed, or where they were coming from, or what led them to choose an orange Jeep, of all things! I’d wonder what songs they were listening to—if they were listening to anything at all—or if their car smelled like stale french fries or coffee. Sometimes I’d take a cue from a bumper sticker and come up with an elaborate history of how the car’s owner came to believe that to “EAT MORE KALE” was a good idea, or I’d notice a dent and create a play-by-play description of how the accident happened.
This week, we want you to pay attention as the world speeds by you, whether you’re on the train, on the bus, just walking around, or in a car (only as a passenger, please—if you are driving, pay attention to DRIVING!). Try to imagine the life of a person who passes you by. Where are they going? Where are they coming from? What are they thinking about? Are they late for something important? Are they going to meet someone? Remember, this is fiction: There are no rules. So is this person a secret agent? A superhero? A ghost? Anything is possible. The most important thing is to think about what the world looks like through someone else’s eyes.
Gather up all of your ideas and send them (along with your first name, last initial, age, and city) to [email protected] with the subject line “Creative Prompt” by Monday, October 5 at 6 PM EST.
Last week, we asked you to visualize what an emotion might be like if it had a physical form. Here’s what you imagined rejection, longing, love, and other feelings would do if they could contend with the world as independent beings.