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“He has kind eyes.”

“He’s high. He has high eyes.”

His eyes are so blue and so pink as you look at him standing there looking at you with his head tilted to the side. He’s wearing some weird hat and you assume he’s gay because he’s slim and neat and showed up with some other man who is slim and neat.

It is dark and the people are cold; the group closes in without noticing, huddles together unconsciously, forms small packs of humans, tiny false families.

“I’m a filmmaker.”

“I’m a writer.”

“What do you write?”

“I write about you. And I write about nothing. And I make things up that never happened. But it sounds better later, if I edit it, if I add in things. If I knew at the time what to say.”

The little families are not all false. These people love each other, I just don’t know them. I don’t know them as a family, who loves who, or who hates who occasionally, or what happened that one time on the beach last weekend.

Time goes by, it gets lighter and warmer, and different people sit on the same benches and form similar friendships. The man, who is not a boy, as he’s an eighties baby, and not a child, might have worn that hat again. The woman with curly fairy hair has sobered up but kept the light in her eyes. The little families separate and draw in again, accidentally and on purpose.

Every Friday my neighbors, on the other side of the fence, whom I have never seen, have a barbecue. They are loud and the air smells like smoke and they play good music. They are young, or so I imagine, and they clink their beer bottles, or so I imagine, and they grin into the fire and the light glints off of their eyes and off of their bottles, and they talk loudly about their jobs and their girlfriends and their rent, or so I imagine. It is dry and dusty here, and quiet, but at night you can hear more somehow, maybe because there is more noise. People have time to gather together and speak and make noises and drive their cars past my house and roar their engines and love each other.

Every night the woman comes home from her job. She works hard five days a week, for too many hours each day. At home is her dog, who watches her leave every morning, lays on the rug in the afternoon, and plays fetch with her at night until they go to sleep after watching a few hours of television. Sometimes this little family gets larger, when the woman’s son comes to visit, and brings with him his son and his wife. But they leave again, and the woman and the dog stay.

The girl with curly fairy hair was humming to herself as she walked next to me. I listened but ignored her, in a way, as I didn’t turn my head to smile, or to acknowledge I had heard her. Eventually she stopped, and laughed, and she said to me, “I’m bored!” It was some attempt at friendship or fun. When I had just met her, before I even knew her name, I had told her her hair was beautiful, in a sort of blunt, honest way that happened too early on in the meeting-someone process. But it had worked out somehow, and so there she was, humming next to me, making something, at least for the length of a walk.

 

 

 

In our hectic, ever-changing, let-me-check-my-calendar lives, it’s easy to forget what’s around us. Literally around us. Like, the tree next to your driveway, or the elementary school in your neighborhood, or the cat across the street that always watches you when you go to check your mail. And it’s no surprise that we do this. Everyday things don’t matter so much when they’re always there, and you’re always running around them trying to get those calendar tasks completed — swerving your car to miss hitting the cat, stopping for those pesky elementary school busses, etc. Slowing down is not usually in our schedules. But today, it was in mine.

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Today I went somewhere in my city that I’ve never been before. You could call it exploration, and maybe it was, but this was different. As part of a community design workshop, I was told to go observe. To sit, quietly, and listen, and watch. To look at a place of my own choosing and think deeply about it. To really look at it. To examine my surroundings.

I was at a local park, one that is mostly abandoned and overgrown. The spot I chose was close to a former golf course, near the club house. I sat down near the building on a cement staircase, put away my cell phone, and took out a scrap of paper. I listened. I heard, first, the sound the branches of a nearby tree made in the wind. I heard birds chirping, and cars passing by on a nearby road. I looked at the shadows the trees made, and compared those to the shadows made by the handrails of the staircase.

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DSCN3541I watched the journey of an ant across the step I was sitting on, and drew an ant on my scrap of paper. I looked at the boarded up building and thought about how I, sitting on this staircase built into the side of a hill, was looking at a small example of humanity. I could hear the buzz from one of the still-functioning security lights on the building, and when I walked over for a closer look, the sound from the light drowned out everything else.

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I then made my way to the golf course itself, tramping through long tangled grass and pits of dandelions. Observing was different while moving, I found, but wandering through such a strange place and really looking at it still made quite an impact.

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I also remember looking at the trees — how they had been, many years before, placed with golfers in mind. Today, they stand awkwardly apart; the maples and the cherry trees natural decorations of the past.

The last thing I spotted before heading back to the workshop group was a sign, placed far out into the wild, overgrown, dandelion plantation. Plodding out past the decorative trees, I came to the sign for hole 2. The painted map, faded and peeling from the weather, showed what the space use to look like.

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Stumbling over more dandelions, I made my way out of the golf course, past the buzzing security light, and up the cement stairs. Only it wasn’t just an overgrown golf course anymore. It wasn’t just another park. It was different. I understood it a little bit better than I had before. I had given 30 minutes to this place and had taken away a greater understanding of not only that ant on the step, or that annoying light, but also about interaction with space in general, and how people tend to move through their lives without really looking.