I spend at least thirty minutes a day on the New York City subway system (usually the 7 local to Queens). Other days, I’m running to physician practices and taking other lines.
On long trips, I don’t generally take out my phone to play games or text (there is wifi in some stations and trains). Instead, I have been training myself to observe.
What’s really difficult is observing without any kind of judgement. Without conscious thought, my brain tries to categorize people with certain observations unless I force it not to. The pink suit looks ugly on that woman. I would look really pretty in that dress, but I couldn’t walk in those platform shoes. Those jeans with the back pockets somewhere around the knees look stupid. That man eating smelly food and dropping his trash on the floor is a pig.
So I force myself to take a step back. The teenager is wearing baggy pants, a red shirt with black lettering his hair in a natural afro. The woman in the pink suit has gold eyeshadow and every hair is in place. I find that I observe more when I get rid of the attachment to a value judgement, or try to personalize everything I see.
I hope this makes me a better writer.