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It Used To Be A Compliment

But You're A Writer Now, So Forget It

By Joe Guay - Dispatches From the Guay Life!!Published 4 months ago 4 min read
It Used To Be A Compliment
Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

It had started as a lovely evening with friends.

Dinner at a hip joint, followed by frozen yogurt on a starry night. I started recounting a party of theirs I’d attended, and I asked Danny how he came to be part of that particular circle.

“I’m not telling you.”

I was baffled. “Why not?”

“Because you collect information on people.”

Um….. what?

I was a bit stunned, thinking he was joking.

It wasn’t said in a mean or accusatory way. It wasn’t said angrily — just with a smile, stated as a simple fact.

I’d heard a variation on this before. Since high school, people have joked, “Well, Joe has a memory like a trap, so be careful what you say around him.” Now here we were again — with Danny perceiving me as someone to watch out for, to put your guard up around.

But it’s important to note— I wasn’t yet a writer at this point, just your run-of-the-mill LA actor and voiceover guy.

You may recognize this hesitancy in your own life now that people know you’re a writer.

By Luke Lung on Unsplash

What led to this statement?

I recalled a past meal with them a few months earlier when we were trying to discern the first time we’d met. I scrolled through my Google Photo library and found a picture from that 2007 first-time meeting and showed it to them. “Look, see, that’s when we met.” And we laughed and commented on how, yes indeed, we’d all aged since then.

I now recall him saying, “You just had that photo waiting there on your phone?” The answer is no, I had a photo of the event in the cloud, as it were, so I found it to aid in the discussion.

But to him, it seemed like a setup, something premeditated. And maybe that’s when this label was ascribed to me.

But here’s the thing — yes, I do have a good memory, but that’s not what’s going on.

I pay attention.

In conversation, I actually listen to people, have an interest in them, and care what they have to say. Is this collecting evidence? I think it just stands out as unique, for it’s certainly not the norm in everyday life.

By Hussam Abd on Unsplash

My friend, Stephen, is similar. He has a rapid-fire way of asking people questions about their lives to seek clarity. But the detail he asks — heads spin. People’s eyes are no longer glazed over as they realize, oh, this guy’s actually engaging with me, and why do I feel like I’m being interviewed?

He leans in:

“You went to London? Did ya love it? What airline? How much was the fare? Where’d ya stay? And why there? Was it a deal? Did you check a bag? Ever been there before? Have you screened the latest Oscar picture?”

All in one breath.

So I get it. To the uninitiated, Stephen and I may seem overly interested.

This all stems from everyone’s affinity towards — and my disdain for — small talk. It’s not that I have some stellar memory (Don’t be so mystified!) It’s about where I put my focus.

I’ve come to realize about eighty percent of people chat on autopilot, never really listening to what the other person is saying — just filling the silence in a social setting. Or maybe they’re too busy crafting a response for the moment they can interrupt and bring the conversation back to them and their experience.

By Shane Rounce on Unsplash

I pay attention. I give people the gift of my attention.

Is that so unusual? I’m not saying I’m right, and this is the way to be. Who knows? Others may get more done because they focus on themselves and their goals, while my brain is overcrowded with musings on how so and so is doing.

But, I do seem to stick out in a crowd like I’m an ambushing Barbara Walters, bringing up a musical they worked on 16 years ago but forgot about or recalling the name of an old flame they had in the ’90s. “Gosh, you have such a great memory. What the hell?” they exclaim.

Hmm, this may be proof that I’ve had a writer’s mind and sensibility all along, though never putting it to use in that way.

In her pivotal book on writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, author Anne Lamott opens a chapter by saying:

"Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on… we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.”

On more than one occasion when I was a teen, I recall my mother shaking her finger with a tinge of worry, saying:

“Don’t ever write about us. Don’t ever embarrass us.”

By Gabriel Vasiliu on Unsplash

Say what? Where did this come from?

I wasn’t writing much then or pursuing writing. I was fourteen and all about acting and the theatre. But even as a teenager or young man, something seemed threatening to her. She sensed the catching-all-the-details mind in her son and that maybe one day he’d become one of those dreaded things, a writer… airing perceived dirty secrets to a worldwide audience.

I don’t have a file folder on people, in case you’re wondering. It’s just how my mind works — I remember details, so I have something to bring up the next time I see that person because small talk ain’t for me. I reflect on conversations many days or weeks after the fac

Yet now that I’m a wicked writer with a writer’s brain… am I to be trusted?

I’m not some Agatha Christie villain intent on blackmail. I’m a guy who gives what most people don’t — my respect and attention.

Thanks for reading this story written by an actual human! This piece was originally published here on

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About the Creator

Joe Guay - Dispatches From the Guay Life!!

Joe Guay is a recovering people-pleaser who writes on Travel, Showbiz, LGBTQ life, humor and the general inanities of life. He aims to be "the poor man's" David Sedaris. You're welcome!

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    Joe Guay  - Dispatches From the Guay Life!!Written by Joe Guay - Dispatches From the Guay Life!!

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