They say that the contents of a woman’s purse say a lot about her. Leaving the obvious gender stereotyping contained in that statement aside, I think we can see an underlying truth: the things that we carry around with us do provide windows of insight into our lives. Some of it comes in really handy, some of it weighs us down, and some of it is just plain funny. For instance, as the parent to two small children I can’t count the number of times I have reached into my own purse in search of my phone or my keys, only to lay fingers on a small toy or balled-up napkin that some child slipped inside.
On a morning last week, I found myself at the grocery store bright and early. And as I looked around at my fellow early morning shoppers, it struck me that in much the same way that the contents of someone’s bag may reveal something about them, so too do the purchases one makes at the grocery store at 8:45am on a weekday morning. For instance, there was the mother with the baby in the stroller, emptying a couple of dozen items from the underbasket on to the conveyor belt. I imagine that she had already been awake for at least a couple of hours, and thought that she may as well go shopping while the store was still quiet and her child was in a good mood. I smiled sympathetically at her, because I have been in just that place myself.
A crow outside the grocery store works for its breakfast
Most of the early morning shoppers around me weren’t loading up on groceries, though. Like me, they were there in search of just a couple of items, like the young man who was buying a small box of Cheerios and a half liter of 2% milk, or the young woman behind me who was buying half a dozen eggs and a liter of skim milk. They were people who realized that they had nothing on hand for breakfast, and so they made a quick trip in for provisions before they started their day, drumming their fingers restlessly while they waited in the checkout line.
One of the things I’ve been working on, as a writer, is honing my observational abilities. I want to actually see the world, not just inhabit it. I look for clues about the people around me – clues like the kind of shoes they’re wearing, the way they’re standing, the people they’re with, and the groceries they’re buying. What kind of person is this? What are they doing and why? I’ll never have all the answers, but I like to guess. It helps me form blog post ideas, and helps me develop as a storyteller.
Nanaimo bars in progress
As for me, if you’d like some insight into what sort of person I am, I will tell you that on this morning I was buying custard powder, rice flour and bandaids. And because I don’t like to keep anyone guessing, I’ll even fill you in on the backstory. The custard powder was for my first attempt at making Nanaimo bars, which I planned to try that day. It was the real reason for my trip. The rice flour, located directly across the aisle from that, was on sale, and I was running low so I thought I’d stock up. And the bandaids were something I bought just because I was already at the store. We were out, and when you have two kids you know that being out of bandaids is a dangerous thing.
As I carried my reusable bag to the car (another observation: most early morning shoppers who are picking up only a few items don’t bring their reusable bags), I thought about all the interactions we have in our daily lives in a large community. The people we stand beside at the grocery store, or pass on the sidewalk. The people in the car behind us, working out near us, riding the same train every day. All of these people who we know nothing about, except for what we can intuit by observing them. Our lives are intersecting without any real contact being made, but there are still all sorts of stories and imaginings. Like that woman with the baby in the stroller – I think I liked her, even though I will probably never see her again as long as I live.
I wonder what other people think about me – what kind of vibes I give off. What stories are people telling in their heads about me? I’ll never really know, but I like to think the custard powder kept them guessing. That last bit – keeping someone on their toes – the thought of it makes me smile.