I just returned from a college reunion. We get together for a weekend of total chaos once every five years, and when I say “we,” I mean everyone. I believe the semi-official rule is that you’re invited if you spent a semester at the program. And when I say “chaos,” I mean meetings and classes and shared meals and dancing and lighting fires. And, two nights ago, an impassioned speech about fundraising by a dude a greatly admire, who happens to have been my adviser (poor guy). I actually teared up. It was nuts.

One of the many things I fucking love about these reunions is the level of discourse. Not that we’re all highfalutin philosophers (though some of us are), or that we all sit around chatting about global politics and social justice (though some of us do that, too). But at breakfast yesterday the three-and-a-half-year-old son of a friend came up, looking for something.

“Here’s my theory,” said my friend. “I think you and Dad walked back to the room, and you left it there accidentally. What do you think?”

I spend the better part of five years listening to people say horrible things to their children. Or about their children.

(At In-N-Out a few hours after that, the guy in front of me said to his friend, “Oh, he’s just being a whiner, I’m not gonna play his little game.” I looked around to find a little six, maybe seven year old kid, looking dejected. “Go sit over there. Do it. Now.” I thought parenthood would make me more merciful of other parents, but the opposite is true. I work my ass off to not be a dick to my kid because I owe her that. Other parents? Nah, mostly I think we could all serve our children a lot better than we do.)

Once every five years I go to a place where people talk to their kids like they’re people. It’s great.

I love writing dialogue. Reading bad dialogue can ruin a book for me. If the dialogue clanks, or if the attributions don’t jive, or if the language is too formal and it doesn’t fit the characters (or not formal enough; I’m shit for reading extreme dialect, though that’s not always the author’s fault)–those are deal-breakers.

I’ve had a reputation for eavesdropping all my life. I want to know what people are saying. I want to understand what they mean. I go back to Reunions and listen to everything. I love it. Standing in line for food the first night, I was surrounded by mini-reunions, by people exclaiming each other’s names, asking about other people, asking after partners and children and professors.

“Have you seen David? I thought for sure he’d–”
“He was in the ice cream line a few minutes ago, but maybe he wandered off?”
“No, I just saw him. He had coffee in his hand, he said he was going to look for–”
“Oh! There’s Alice!”
“And she found David. Wait, is that Alex with them? My god, what happened to his hair?”

I have no idea who any of those people are, but I delight in listening to them talk.

We hold a Reunion every five years, and it fills my cup. I can sit in a room full of mostly self-identified queer folks, and we talk about poetry, and politics, and we fight respectfully about marriage equality (this year I felt old, no longer the young radical pissed righteously about fighting for marriage when, as one pointed out, we are dying). I try to listen more than I speak. I’m a sponge, among people smarter than I am, more clever, and yet I come out of it feeling clever and sharp by osmosis.

I’m not sure there’s a better fix for the nosy among us than large groups of interested/interesting people. I’ve filled dozens of notebooks with quotes and stories and snatches of conversation. Eavesdropping is one of my major skills. I should list it on my CV.