Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nuances on the Train

-Some people, during idle moments in their conversations, will tap their fingers rhythmically, even if they’re not listening to music.

-People sitting next to each other on a train rarely make eye contact while conversing, especially if close friends. Obviously, cause it’s awkward to have your head turned sideways the entire time. They’ll usually stare at an angle toward the other person. And if they’re lovers, they’ll gaze downwards rather than straight ahead. Strangers are more likely to glance at each other more often (unless of course you’re absolutely threatened by that person. In that case, you’d probably face the opposite direction)

-Some people will shake their heads when talking- even when they’re not negating anything or talking about something objectionable.

-When women read books, they’ll usually start with their heads tilted and then sit erect with their necks straight when they feel uncomfortable- never the other way round. Maybe men too, but I’ve only noticed women doing it.

-Sometimes, when people have conversations on the phone while sitting between strangers on a train, they’ll stare evilly out the nearest window and mutter. Like they’re performing the Confundus charm or something (yes, a Harry Potter reference).

-When you can’t find a seat on the train and you have to stand, and you’re standing close behind a seated passenger, they will give you at least 3 furtive glances per minute, and won’t stop. [It’s true. I might have terrorized an adorable lanky old man (with a cute little satchel) just by standing so close behind him].

-Some people will fiddle with the hair on their eyebrows when they’re idle (I know, ew.)

-When people are really really sleepy while traveling seated, they will sleep in the most awkward and uncomfortable positions- compared to moderately sleepy people, who’ll just tilt their heads against something. [I know this to be true. I’ve had exhausting trips to and from India lately. And by the third flight (which is usually the shortest- like 2 hours at most), I can’t take it anymore and I will creep out the passenger next to me if I have to in order to get my sleep.]

-A lot can be said from the back of people’s heads.

A lot of these seem obvious and I probably knew it all along. But noticing something and having a subconscious knowledge of it are two vastly different concepts.

I’ve been commuting for three weeks now, to and from NYC. Long commutes after long days of work. And I usually only have the energy to plop onto the window seat (IF I can get a seat, that is) and plug into music and tune out the flurry of people around me.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized, and smacked myself on the head for realizing so late. There are PEOPLE around me. Even if I can’t bring myself to take out my sketchpad in the crowd (although I did yesterday), I can at least put my people-observing skills into practice.
Apart from honing my ability to pay attention to details, all the endless rotoscoping is hopefully giving me a subconscious sense of how athletes move, although recently, I’ve been outlining quite a lot of blur. But still, there’s a lot to learn!

Looking at ordinary people do ordinary things can sometimes surprise you too. A lot of the things you’ll notice are obvious things, like I said. But really, if you think about it, they’re the essence of human behavior. Something like tapping your finger on your coffee-to-go can communicate much more than waving your hand violently when giving a political speech (Don’t ask- I spent 3 hours of my life I will never get back watching a Bollywood film about politicians, and subtextually, about bad acting. Anyways…)

I don’t think there’s a better place than stations of to really look at these subtleties come into play. They should make an Encyclopedia of human idiosyncrasies. Maybe it does exist, and maybe I’ll look for it when I can get a hold of something more advanced than dial up Internet.

But for now, I shall feed myself with my own list of nuances.


  1. That's totally awesome. I've been doing the same thing too. I have a little notebook just for things I learn and observations about things that would be out of my artistic ability to capture. Maybe some day I'll start posting the little things I notice.