The Lives of Others

Yes, I know it is a movie, and a very good one, and relevant to this conversation. Before I get to that, however, let me go back a bit. When I was a Senior in high school, I took all of the available AP classes. Liz and I were the only two people, however, who elected to pursue AP Chemistry. The coursework was grueling, and we turned it into an independent study midway through the semester. Before that, however, we spent about six weeks learning the complex calculations of chemical reactions…and doing four hours of Chemistry homework on Saturdays, at Starbucks.

One such Saturday, we were each quietly performing our own calculations, when Liz raised her eyes to me and said, “Are you listening to those women?”  In fact, I was.  At the next table, a woman was discussing the particulars of her divorce with what seemed to be her lawyer, or another such dispassionate compatriot. We listened to their entire conversation.

It was a small incident, of no more than passing note at the time. But I have hearkened back to it as I have gotten older, as I have accumulated other such incidents and pieced together a trend in myself. I watch other people. And I listen to them. I have called it “compulsive eavesdropping”, this tendency I have to find words in the whispers and low conversations of other people. I do not generally hear well, so often these conversations present themselves as merely a puzzle. By the time I assign a picture to the pieces, I am interested to see how the image will turn out.

Beyond that, however, I do find other people fascinating. When I worked at JavaVino, I would make up backstories for my customers. Even the outfit a person is wearing can pique my curiosity. I want to hear their thoughts, their histories, their opinions. I want to write them down, the substances of these strangers. So I listen. Given the opportunity, I ask. I watch other people and long to know their lives.

Fairly soon, you will see Emily Blunt headlining the forthcoming adaptation of The Girl on the Train, based on the novel, one which we read in book club a few months back. It is about a woman whose life is in shambles, who develops a peculiar fascination with a couple she sees every day while on a commuter train in England–a couple that inhabits the house in which she used to live. She also develops a story for this couple, assigns to them personalities, feelings, and decisions, based solely on routine glimpses of them.

When you see the film (which I hope you will, as it is an excellent cast and sound source material), I hope you will not so easily arrive at the same conclusion as my book club. Everyone reading the book considered it manifest that I was the main character, Rachel, an unemployed, alcoholic slob of a woman primarily controlled by her feelings. Although some points were disputed, I found that I did identify strongly with Rachel, especially with her attachment to the strangers she witnessed and to whom she ascribed whole lives.

When I was younger, I always used to stare at people I passed on the street. I was, of course, told that it was rude to do so. I have decided that this is a reasonable policy, as a stranger can never know why you are staring, and can too easily derive judgement where none is intended. But I would caution against judging those who are doing the staring. Some people just want to watch others as they go by.

Thankfully, I have an outlet for this tendency in my role as storyteller. I like listening to the stories of others, telling them, and writing them down (with permission). All of these people I have observed become ideas and characters and stories in my head, parts of the human experience from which I draw to create. And I can invest in those stories in a way I never could with all of the strangers who interest me.

I promised I would come back to The Lives of Others. For those who have not seen it, it is a movie about the Stasi, specifically, about an agent assigned to spy on a man in East Germany, 1984. Through a routine of near-continuous observation, he becomes invested in the life of the man he is watching and develops an emotional connection to his subject. This is what happens to the watchers. Given time and access, we grow to be personally affected by those who pass under our gazes. Although circumstance does not always afford that time and access, I use my creativity to populate my interior life with rich characters derived from passersby, from casual acquaintances, from chance encounters. And thus I am able to connect more deeply with the casual world which I have the constant privilege to observe.


#dfw2lax, Through the Lens of the GoPro…

So…people have been clamoring for #dfw2lax pics. This is the first round–various locales across the West, as seen through the odd lens of the GoPro (not mine–didn’t know how to use it–sorry about some poor framing :P). The truth, however, is that pictures could never possibly capture the things we saw on this trip. I stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and my own eyes could not appreciate the height and depth and diversity of the landscape. No postcard could do it justice, let alone a hasty snapshot taken from the side of a trail. Nonetheless, I tried.

In Nevada, we went to the Valley of Fire, about an hour outside of Las Vegas. We climbed on some of the rocks (although I was a wimp and eventually sat down to read my book, not yet having recovered from hiking the Grand Canyon). The colors here looked like casual splashes of rich pigments on an otherwise bland and scrub-dotted canvas.

Finally (for the nonce), we tried to hike up to the Hollywood sign. Unfortunately, the trail was closed. We were, however, able to go to the observatory (featured in Rebel Without a Cause!) from which one may view the sign. We caught it at sunset, and it was lovely.

So that’s all she wrote (for now). I hope you enjoy some of these. 🙂


I’ve been asked how many times I’ve cried in front of other people.  It’s surprisingly few, but it made me think about the types of crying that I do.  Weirdly, I found a lot of categories, and I’m going to describe a few.  Fyi: this is not a sad post.  I’m not generally a sad person, and I haven’t been crying an inordinate amount lately (mostly); I just like to share my thoughts (obvs: I blog).

I Just Don’t Know Why I’m Crying: Of unknown origin.  You might be sad, but you can’t be sure.  Or you might just need to squeeze out some tears.  Who knows?

Click for scene.


Happy Crying: Things are so unbelievable good.  You feel relief.  The fear is gone.  There are so many wonderful things that can bring us to tears.  Sometimes life overwhelms you with goodness and grace.  And that’s the real beauty of the human condition.


HappySad Crying: “I’ll be right here.” “‘Mo cushle’ means, ‘My darling.  My blood.'”  Sally Field at her daughter’s grave (see Gut Crying, below).  Christian Bale yelling for the American plane.  ‘Although I will be lonesome for you, even in Heaven.’  You do it at movies.  You do it at lines in songs.  You do it at the funeral that punctuates a long illness.  You do it when forgiveness washes away a bitter period of resentment.  It’s those incredible moments when hope breaks through tragedy, when life is hard and good, and when you are reminded of the incredible power of love.


Church Crying: Go ahead.  You can let the tears drip.  People will assume you’re overcome by the power of God or that you are deeply convicted.  It doesn’t matter what you’re crying about.  And you don’t have to hide.  Just get it out before the sermon starts.


Stoic Crying: Those tears will not fall.  Your throat closes.  Your eyes, open as wide as possible, start to burn.  You can barely talk.  You will not let them see you cry.  You will not deny your pride.  If the tears start to fall, you get angry; you beat your eyes trying to make them go away.  You stare at a fixed point on the wall.  You’re not okay, but you’re not going to show that.



Sad Crying: The most common type of crying, this one is pretty straightforward.  It has a specific catalyst and tends to be pretty rational (as outpourings of emotion go).  Something happens.  You cry.  It subsides by itself.  You don’t cry about it again.  It’s just a way to process hurtful events.

Buffy has the saddest cry face. When she cries, I cry.


Public Crying: Yeah, you’re pretty sad.  No one is around who will ask you what’s wrong or about whom you care.  Life is overwhelming sometimes.  Common locations include the therapist’s waiting room, public transit conveyances, and fast food establishments.  Have some more fries.  Life is worse than calories.


Shower Crying: This is pretty pitiful.  You may just be trying to hide the sound.  Or you may have been left alone with your thoughts (speakers not loud enough), and the tears have finally come.  Either way, you’re doubled over or sitting in the tub, and you’re…real sad.  It’s a tough one, but it’ll pass.


Shocked Crying: I think that this is most common with an unexpected death or life event.  You’re not ready for the pain, but, more importantly, you’re not ready to process something like this.  Tears are an automatic and cathartic response.  They may not be connected to any real thought or feeling.


Gut Crying: This one is the worst.  It can stem from a chronic pain or from a deep wound with no immediate balm.  Eventually the tears just aren’t enough.  Your stomach twists, and you feel like your body is trying to force your guts out through your throat.  You are probably doubled over, hacking.  The tears may even stop.  Your body just needs to get the feelings out–do anything to stop the pain.  It will not subside quickly, and it may be accompanied by small showers of tears afterwards.  I am so sorry for your pain.


Misery Crying: Everything is simply awful.  You may have clinical depression; your life might suck right now; you could be a tragic figure; or you may be worried that consumption will get you before you can get all of your beautiful words out.  I won’t tell you that it gets better.  I will tell you that the prayers of the saints are with you.  Be blessed, and may you know peace.


Wow, that actually was kind of depressing.  Maybe this will help.

Click for scene.

Life (Well, Winter 2012) in Pictures

I’m starting to think it’s the worst idea in the world to organize my pictures by which iPhone I took them on.  I guess that, when I set up the system, I was mentally organizing the phases of my life by which iPhone I had.  That was stupid.  I should be doing them by year.

I wanted to find an amateur photo shoot I did while at Treat Design Group of Cheryl’s diamonds stacked with tile samples for the guest-house bathroom.  All I could remember was that I’d taken the pictures in late 2012, so I decided it was just time to sort through iPhone pictures from late 2012.  What I found was a section of pictures completely devoid of Carmen, and suddenly I saw a part of my life completely devoid of Carmen.  It made me think about what defined my life in that odd period between when my life in Houston changed and when I moved my life to Austin.

1) Different people, different places…Let me be clear: A lot of the people in these pictures were friends with whom I already hung out.  But I found that the nature of my relationships changed.  I mended old wounds and pursued people more deeply.  I made my home in different houses.  And I spent a lot of time with my bosses, whom I adored (and still do).  I knew that I was on the verge of leaving, but I also craved social relationships, some of which I knew I would not maintain.  I branched out while disentangling my roots.

2) Christmas, Christmas, Christmas…I threw myself into making homemade coasters for everyone.  It was one of the most fun, most exhausting, most satisfying projects I have ever done.  Here is some of my work, which I want to one day sell on Etsy (yeah, that’s its own thing.

3) Those two actually pretty much cover it.  Sorry, but I have to get back to work.  😛  …Oh, wait!  Here’s a link to my diamonds photo shoot, among other things.