by Lillian Csernica on August 22, 2017
What is that skill? Eavesdropping.
An eavesdropper was someone who stands at the eavesdrop (where the water drops, i.e., next to the house) so as to hear what is said within. The PBS documentaries, Inside the Court of Henry VIII (April 8, 2015) and Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace (June 30, 2013) include segments that display and discuss “eavedrops”, carved wooden figures Henry VIII had built into the eaves (overhanging edges of the beams in the ceiling) of Hampton Court to discourage unwanted gossip or dissension from the King’s wishes and rule, to foment paranoia and fear, and demonstrate that everything said there was being overheard; literally, that the walls had ears.
I recently made the observation that cell phones have taken all the fun out of eavesdropping. When I said this, I was referring to texting. People have all kinds of conversations that people nearby can’t overhear, aside from the clicking of the keyboard.
A friend of mine pointed out that I was quite mistaken. He lives in San Francisco and makes frequent use of public transit. This gives him the opportunity to listen in on the amazing variety of really personal subjects people discuss when making actual calls on their cell phones.
Good point! This makes me feel better, even though most of the conversations I do overhear aren’t worth the time or attention.
Eavesdropping is like panning for gold. You have to sift through a lot of mud before you see the gleam of real treasure. That one gleam can spark an idea that makes all that mud worthwhile.
When my younger son was little, he did what all little kids do, which is eat with his hands. At that time we had four cats in the house. Put these two facts together, and you get the day I heard myself say:
“Don’t get the cat sticky!”
People say the most absurd things, especially when they’re trying to be clever. I was sitting in the local Italian bakery on Sunday, writing in my journal while I ate a Lobster Tail. (I know, it’s not on my diet. I was celebrating my latest sale of a short story.) Two women came in and studied the goodies in the bakery cases. One said,
“The gelato is good, but the pastries are just a little too Italian for me.”
Sorry? What? If she didn’t like Italian pastries, why on earth had she come to an Italian bakery? Questions like this can get your imagination fired up. I could brainstorm ten crazy answers to that question. At least one might be worth building into a new story.
One of the greatest proofs of the value of eavesdropping is Harlan Ellison‘s short story Jeffty is Five. Mr. Ellison has said that the title came from a conversation he overheard. The actual statement was, “Jeff is fine. He’s always fine.” By hearing it as “Jeff is five. He’s always five.”, Mr. Ellison found the seed of an idea. It flowered into a story that went on to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award.