Peering through Windows

high school in the 80s
high school in the 80s

My dad and lived in the boondocks. A road cut through the front yard and on the other side of the road was a lake filled with catfish, alligators, and snakes. To the right of the house was a cow pasture that rolled out for miles. In back of the house were more cows and Highway 27. To the left of the house was a field. I spent a great deal of time in the house alone.

I was 16, and if I turned up the music and danced, who was ever going to know?

I didn’t hear the knock on the kitchen door. The boy I had a crush on walked around to the side of the house and pounded on the window. I stopped in mid-spin and my insides contracted. I hoped it was my friend Jan and her sister Marie. When I opened the side door, spider webs stretched out and tore along the frame and a moth flew in. The boy had come by to return my camera. He didn’t say if he saw me dancing.

When I’m writing, if anyone walks by and looks at what I’m doing, I get that same jerk and twist to my insides as if I’m doing something wrong. Or if not exactly wrong, not quite proper.

Where do you write? Do you have an office or a sofa? Do you need silence or noise? Do you want to see people walking by, cow chewing grass, or a blank wall?

How do you feel if someone peers over your shoulder? Do you try to hide what you’re doing or do you move so that they can get a better look?

13 thoughts on “Peering through Windows

  1. I feel exactly the same way. Exactly. You describe the feeling perfectly, a jerk and twist. I have to choose the moment. If I’m caught in the act of writing, dancing, singing, I feel guilty. Even when my daughter reads web pages over my shoulder.

    Now how do we prevent that feeling of wrongness?

    1. I can’t answer your question. My son already feels that way and he’s only 6. I can’t figure out what happened to create this feeling. It is almost like it is in our genes and some folks have it and some folks don’t.

  2. Okay, seismologists will register it if I dance, so I avoid that one. I sing pretty freely. Once upon a time, I had a great voice. Not so much anymore, but once. And as for writing — I don’t feel that jerk-twist unless I’m at work (which is to say, infrequently, being unemployed and all). I have complete support and an ideal reader (my loving wife) who WANTS me to write, wants me to be creative, and the only guilt I have about it is due to not having a job. I always feel I should be job-hunting, not writing, no matter the hour or the day. So nothing’s happening now.

    But I don’t mind being spotted writing. I don’t let anyone read over my shoulder, though. I hate that.

    1. I don’t think you should let seismologists stop you from dancing, and how could you lose a great voice? Maybe you need to sing more.

      My husband supports me. I don’t know that I suffer from guilt or what it is exactly–I just don’t like to be seen too closely writing. Now, I can write in a coffee shop, but no one there pays me any attention and I write with my back to a wall. I do feel uncomfortable if I think someone at a nearby table can see my computer screen or paper.

      And my husband can tell you how much I hate for anyone for any reason to read over my shoulder. Not that it stops him.

  3. confession: I am not writing right now. If shelly wants to know why I am not commenting on his posts, it’s because I am hiding out of guilt.

    But I wanted to share a similar story with you.

    Senior, or was it Junior? year of HS, my bestfriend and I had just finished taking the SAT at the school down the hill from her house. We both went to school many miles to the south, at an arts school, so nobody knew us at the SAT place. Leaving the test, she was very disheartened and depressed, fearing that she’d bombed, so as we walked up the long and lonely hill to her house, we started singing a silly children’s song, at the top of our voices. John Jacob Jingleheimer Shmidt.!!! Half way up the hill, and a couple of rounds into the song, a bicycle rides by… then circles back.

    Who is it? My serious HS crush. I mean I was in love with this guy. I don’t actually remember what he said. Probably something about just taking the SAT and going to visit a friend. It was inconsequential. Then he moved on. And we continued our trudge. Me, with my heart in my throat.

    One more embarrassing detail. My crush was a voice major at our HS and sang like an angel. I had been screeching like a cat, even though I actually can sing. Just remembering this whole thing makes me shake my head. Your story reminded me. Totally caught.

    1. Seems like everyone has a caught story. If you don’t, you either aren’t living or you’re too sneaky for comfort.

      Anyway, go sing and dance. And don’t hide. Guilt is not your best color.

  4. When I was 16 and cleaning the loft of a family for whom I also baby-sat, I got caught dancing to Steve Winwood’s The Finer Things by a friend of that family who had popped in to say hi. Um, mortified. The music was blasting, I was waving the feather duster in the air, and didn’t hear him for a few minutes. To this day I wonder what was going through his mind while he watched. He wasn’t creepy. I’m sure my 16-ness must have given him a good chuckle.

    Writing – I write on the couch and shut out the noise of the house. My laptop warms my lap and keeps me in the present. The only time I care about others in the same room is if they interrupt me. I HATE BEING INTERRUPTED MID-THOUGHT!!!

    Reading, however, (including editing) requires a quiet atmosphere. Quiet atmospheres are elusive in a house with two young boys.

  5. I’m pretty much totally paranoid about the looking-over-my-shoulder thing. Depending on what I’m working on, and where I am in it, I may turn my chair to carry on a conversation, or might just turn my head and talk over my shoulder — the point being, I’ll have a conversation, one way or the other, but I don’t want to be observed in the act of writing.

    You know what a keylogger program is? It’s a little bit of software which can be used to record all the keystrokes (and sometimes mouse clicks) which a computer user makes during a given interval of time, and either viewed in one form or another or actually played back. ALL the keystrokes — backspaces, deletes, cuts and pastes, and so on. This can be abused — by hackers, and Big-Brother management types. But I’ve also wondered recently what a keylogger would tell me about my own writing sessions. How often do I stop and jump back to a previous sentence? How much on average do I use the backspace vs. delete keys, and what proportion of my original keystrokes are wiped out by later deletion?

    So yeah, I’m curious about that and can imagine actually trying it. But if you put somebody behind me, looking over my shoulder, and writing down little tallies or tick marks on a pad while doing the same thing as a keylogger, I would freak.

    Another software thing, you may already know this one — it used to be called the Boss Key, and it became popular when people started getting computers (especially Windows-based ones) on their desks at work. The idea was that you might — even might often — be playing a game or something on company time. The Boss Key was a magic keystroke, like Ctl-Alt-? or something; when you hit those keys all at the same time, your screen would be filled by something vaguely work-ish — like a pie chart and spreadsheet. Whether you ever heard of or used a Boss Key, you can probably guess why it was called that.

    1. Almost 13 years of marriage and I still freak out when my husband looks over my shoulder–even when he isn’t wearing his glasses and can’t see. Where does this feeling come from?

      1. Just before Christmas, I finally broke down and got a Webcam. I can effectively use it only when I’m in Windows (which is rarely) instead of Linux, or when I’ve arranged specifically to get together with one of the sibs. Your comment made me wonder how I’d feel if I just turned on the Webcam and recorded 5-10 minutes of me at my keyboard, writing.

        Except I pretty much know how I’d feel: majorly self-conscious.

        That may be where the freakout comes from. For me, anyway, writing has to occur when I’m not really thinking, I’m writing now. When I’m writing deeply unaware like that, who knows what I might be doing? Sticking a pencil in my ear; picking my teeth with a business card, nodding off for 20% of the time I’m at the keyboard… and I don’t want to know that I do those things. The knowledge will be just one more obstacle to staying un-self-conscious.

        Something like that, anyway.

  6. I think it comes from how vulnerable we are when we write. It’s like being naked on the page, so why wouldn’t we feel exposed? Wanting that kind of psychic privacy seems perfectly natural.
    I used to not be able to write if anyone was in the house, and I still unplug the phone. These days I can sometimes even write when someone else is in the same room, but of course it depends on the person- it has to be someone I trust.
    Singing and dancing? Having done both both privately and in performance, I just don’t really care who sees or hears me anymore. Having raised two kids through adolescence helped me with that feeling of not wanting to look foolish. Seeing them needlessly suffer from social anxiety made me feel so sorry for them, and for my own adolescent self, that I began to not care anymore what people think of me when I’m expressing myself creatively, or just being silly!

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