For almost a week, there has been an argument above me. I don’t know who is living in the apartment above mine, but it sounds like their fight has lasted days. As the drama unfolds, I stay where I am. Doors slam as I brush my teeth. Feet stomp over my kitchen as I wonder if my pasta is still too crunchy. I hear voices in rapid succession, back and forth, back and forth. I stay where I am, as if I’m living underneath a stage during rehearsals for a three-act play. I don’t know the story, and I never will.
A part of me wants to know. I’m curious, because conflict sparks my interest. I’m rarely involved in fights. I’ve been on the exterior windows of confrontations looking in, but I tend to be non-confrontational, and sometimes, arguments feel to me like spectator sports. I want to know who started it, how it will resolve, who will win.
Writers sometimes steal from people they witness. Some go to coffee shops and plagiarize whole conversations, or become voyeurs at airports and hospitals. I will admit that I’ve done this multiple times. It feels sleazy, and it feels good. Some of my best poems have come from watching other people arrive and depart. Some of my creative nonfiction stems people enjoying music on a bus. Now, I’m exploiting the argument above me for a blog post.
I’ll probably always be only an observer of drama, never a participant. As a grad student, my life is secluded and interior, so I have few opportunities to engage in an interpersonal conflict. If I found myself in one, I wouldn’t know what to do, other than jot down the best lines, the best insults.
Maybe I’m not being fair to the people above me. Maybe I should let the drama unfold without a critic to misinterpret it. I’m sure, by now, I’ll never be involved in an actual fight. It’s not that I have any more integrity than other writers (I’m just as terrible and untrustworthy as the rest). But in this case, the footstomps and doorslams sound too shaky, too bitter. I don’t need to mine every observation for inspiration. Some things I can, and should, leave alone.