Eavesdropping, me?

I am optimistic as I settle in to write. I flip open my computer, but after three sips of tea I realize it’s doomed. Behind me,  occupying a circle of soft chairs are a dozen males and females in their 30s and 40s. Their conversation gallops apace. TMI is their destination. As I swallow the fourth hot sip, the details of one woman’s abusive 7-year relationship reaches my reluctant ears and the stench of triumphant psychoanalysis taints my tea.

I am slap bang in the middle of a Woody Allen movie. But I’m Irish. We don’t do this. Don’t do this to me!


Terms and buzzwords are volleyed back and forth: communication breakdown, submissiveness, baggage, youngest sibling complex, therapy…A man describes his last relationship as the most narcissistic he had ever known, but he couldn’t leave it. He’s in the mood to share why.

Oh God. I drop closed the lid of my computer, repack my bag and shift myself and hot beverage to a table up front. His loud voice insists on accompanying me. Determined to trot out conclusions about the woman’s responsibility for her dysfunctional relationship, he says, “Yes, but don’t you find it interesting that you..?”

The others are engaged in drawing their own conclusions. He will not be overlooked. Overheard, yes, but not overlooked. He presses on, repeating himself till the woman, who has moved on to discuss overeating as a means of coping, looks his way. He has everyone’s attention.

“Well, I don’t think it went as deep as that,” she responds uncertainly.

He raises his eyebrows and shrugs as if implying she may not have made as much progress as she thought.

“Stop minimizing,” instructs one lady.

“I do internalize a lot.”

You most certainly do not.

I sit fuming.

This is not eavesdropping. That would require some stealth on my part and therefore give me more satisfaction. No, I’m sitting minding my own business; it’s you that is not minding yours.

In AA rooms, surnames are not supplied. Meetings with therapists are generally one-on-one and confidential. What part of the healing process advises shouting your problems en  masse across a crowded downtown cafe over the hiss of the espresso machine?

I come kicking and screaming into your confidence.

Right, that does it. Your dirty laundry is ripe for my picking.

I will steal your innermost heartache, your most pathetic experiences, your lowest low, your bitterest spells of loneliness, your lousiest insecurities. You don’t deserve privacy. Your past salty tears will add the flavor to my fictional characters. Your realness will dress my artifice.

Ha! Read it and weep, people.


My first novel set in the international fashion industry is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.


  1. I can’t write in a noisy environment. Just can’t focus. People. TV. Music. None of it. Give me silence in the deep dark recesses of my screaming mind.

    • Sometimes I use SimplyNoise from the internet which provides a sort of white noise background. I like being in cafes precisely because it feels I’m not locked away but that can sometimes backfire, as in this case 🙂

  2. I was having lunch in a cafe in Sausalito a few days ago and one of these tech people thought it was a good idea to carry on work interviews right there. I spent the whole lunch forced to listen to this moron ask questions, some rather private, and I was mortified for the poor candidate. Since when did public spaces become kosher for private endeavors? Had I been the candidate, I would have walked out.

    • I have sat next to interviews too in cafes. I’m always cringing for both sides. Watching an interview is an uncomfortable thing, reading between the lines, deciphering the jargon…and it makes you wonder what’s wrong with their offices if they need to stake out in a cafe !

  3. When I was in Egypt I met a handsome Australian. He told me that what he didn’t like about most Americans was that they were loud, and externalized their thought processes. Over the years, I’ve come to realize how spot on that description often is!
    Also, office walls are going down all over NY in order to cram more people into less space. A generation is being bred of folks who don’t know what it means to have a private conversation.
    Great writing, Jackie.

    • Thanks Julie. There is certainly a difference in how we do things across the pond–at least how I was brought up, I should say. Things have probably changed now as we live in one big global community. But my mother to this day is mortified and manically shushing me if I talk even-voiced in the street to her about anything that’s going on in the family. “Will you wait till later, people’ll hear you!” 🙂

  4. What a day — welcome to NYC at its best! XO
    Time to stake out the Library at Bryant Park!
    Crowded, but reasonably quiet.
    Use the material — there is a reason that it was given to you. 🙂

    • Maybe I was presented with that group for reasons I know not yet… Are the plot gods of fiction trying to tell me something..? Do I need to be more open to a different storyline..? Is my current one flawed…oh cripes!
      Maybe a change of scene to Bryant Park is needed!
      Hope you’re staying cool…well, you’re always cool, but you know, of the unperspiring variety.

      • I just read this after working out and biking home. Let’s just say that I don’t perspire — I glow…(If you believe that I have a bridge to see you in Brooklyn.) 😀

  5. I think that’s part of this self-confidence, overreaching and over dramatizing Americans have somehow developed which we couldn’t help but observe during our stay. I swear, I have never been to noisier cafes than in NY – sometimes even passing outside made me wonder. And here is a Greek talking 🙂 On a positive note, I agree, involuntary eavesdropping can add that extra something to your stories and you don’t even need to do research; it’s all right there at the next table!

    • It sounds like you have conducted quite a deep anthropological study during your stay.as well as seeing all the sights of the Big Apple 🙂 I’m sure NYC cafes are particularly noisy because NYC is about crowing and preening and generally behaving your most alpha.The Big Alphas of the Big Apple 🙂
      I think in Seattle, it might not be this way…Could you go on holiday there next and continue your studies and report back please? 🙂 We could do a joint blog post…
      Hope you had a safe trip back

      • Haha The Big AA! That sums it up so well 🙂 You know in a previous life I used to work closely with Seattle but never been there physically. Felt like speaking to Canada (am I even allowed to say this?)… that’s how different I think it is 🙂 Good idea about a holiday! Trip back was safe and as noisy as a NYC cafe…

  6. I’ve noticed there is no secrecy anymore. Dirty laundry is aired and there is no pride left. 😦

  7. Nice piece, Jackie. I can only write in a silent place. It has to be very quiet for me to get any sentence down. Keep up the good blogs.

    • Thanks Colin.
      I like to go out sometimes as the sense of purpose of leaving the apartment to sit with my computer makes me work. I get distracted at home. I swear by SimplyNoise but some people don’t like it.
      Hope your writing is going well.

  8. Ha, well I’m glad their annoyingly public self-revelations weren’t all for naught.

  9. I’m with you on how the anonymous should stay that way but it’s all grist for the writer’s mill, as you say. On a sadder note – I recently listened to a panel of people talk about AA which included a renown addiction specialist and he spoke quite eloquently about the limitations of the only game in town if your an addict model that is AA. It keeps not only addicts but the whole of the care community from being open to other ways of treating addictive behaviour. Why does it have such a hold, the commentator asked? Well, for one thing it’s free. Impossible to study, failure rates are very high – and what of all the people who are not helped by such groups? Lots to ponder.

    • You know I heard a similar interview on NPR about this. It’s strange such a worldwide problem and only one avenue to follow. While its roots are noble enough, its failure rates can’t be ignored. Maybe this is the dawn of a new school of thought on this sad condition. I hope so as it’s heartbreaking to watch someone fight and think they have no chance of victory.

  10. Laughing away to myself here, that really does sound like a Woody Allen movie 🙂 I must try that in a Galway cafe one of the days and see what happens… Still don’t know how that woman didn’t slap him.

  11. It’s not exactly the Irish way, is it? 🙂

  12. Fair game is what I say, preening narcissists deserve everything they get. If you’re trying to concentrate on getting something else done it may be verbal diarrhoea to be countered by white noise, but for a novelist it’s pure gold, all the more reason to write in cafes. OK, it messed up today’s word quota, but think of the gift you’ve been handed. All you need do now is master the technique of reading confidential documents upside down when they’ve been left sitting on someone else’s desk…

  13. Oh I feel yaaa! I had to get use to the noise at work. I work for an advertising agency and they play house music all day long. Annoying:).

  14. I’d be sitting there scribbling every tasty morsel flung my way. Reminds me of a story about a writer who was speaking to an old lady who lived in Soho..every morning she went down the alley ways and cleared them of used condoms with her silver sugar tongs. When asked wasn’t she concerned she said ‘Why should I – I never have sugar in my tea….’ xxxxx

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