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Scavenged

dune-fenceWe set off on foot, the six of us, under an azure sky as big as the ocean. The breeze off the water smelled of salt and September, and the dune grasses bent toward each other, whispering the news that fall was coming.

It was a picture-perfect, precious August day, the kind of day that a talented someone with a camera might photograph and print onto a postcard, which someone else might then buy to send to a friend, to show how big the Maine sky can look over an endless sea; and how the line from the midday crowd snakes lazily out of the soda fountain, through a squeaky screen door propped open all day, in turn, by the backside of whoever happens to be waiting for service next; and the way the wild beach roses that grow straight out of sand, impossibly, cascade over a split-rail fence, tumbling like curls over a toddler’s forehead.

The idea was simple: Each of the three teams of two was armed with a single list of two-dozen things to scavenge from around the tiny seaside village of cottages and a few public buildings. Things as in things: a bit of beach glass ground smooth in the surf; or a bit of clothing lying abandoned on the beach, stiff with sand and salt; or a ripe rose hip, red as a miniature candy apple. And also things as in information: the year the Curtis Guest House opened for business, or the color of the roof at 18 Maine Street, or the first name of the formidable guy behind the tall oak counter at the post office.

Each team paired a grownup with a teenager (or near-teen), and so Rachel and I became partners. In some ways, Rachel, who is almost 13, and I, some 30 years older, we were a fitting pair. She and I approached the list seriously—and, I thought, intelligently: Scrounging the more common facts in a guidebook that we found lying around the house. There was an efficient economy to finding the name of the present village Association president as it was printed in the book, rather than, for example, having to step into the association office and actually asking.

And that was the downside, too, of Rachel and me as partners: Neither of us really likes to talk to people we don’t know, and yet here we were in a game that required us to stride into the town gift shop and ask the shopkeeper where she went to high school. I know that sounds simple enough, but when you are prone to avoiding conversation with strangers, it’s embarrassing.

I don’t know much about psychology, but I would guess that because Rachel and I are both the youngest in our families, we have been trained to hang back and let others do the talking for us. Of course, Rachel is still a girl, and she has plenty of time to change, I hope. While there are times as a grownup when you can’t live that way—when you have to, for the sake of ordering Chinese food or arranging for cable TV or mailing a package first-class or what have you… and so you have to deal forthrightly with strangers—I’d still prefer to avoid the whole business.

Which is why, when I found myself standing in the gift shop in front of the shopkeeper, who turned and looked at me expectantly, it occurred to me that I’d much rather send her an email or, at that moment, perhaps pass her a note across the glass counter. She could write down the name of her high school, and pass it back, and then Rachel and I could be on our way.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be a grownup so I wouldn’t have to do things I’d rather not do. But then you become a grownup, and you realize you have to do more of those things than ever, which meant that I, and not Rachel, had to ask the shopkeeper where she went to high school. Then I had to ask the postmaster his first name. And I was the one who had to ask the blond-haired cashier at the variety store where she bought the T-shirt she was wearing. (“Right over here,” she said, kindly, leading the way. “Third shelf.”)

At one point, Rachel voiced something I, too, had silently been considering, “Oh let’s just make it up!” she said. “How will they know?”

It was tempting. But as the grownup in this partnership, it seemed my duty to lead her on the less complicated path of truth. Except for one small allowance: I used an application on my iPhone to sniff out a nearby Twitter user, rather than polling passers-by in town, randomly and excruciatingly painfully. It was to be the coup de grâce: the thing that ended it for the others and clinched the game for Rachel and me. I have thousands of followers there; the others weren’t even on Twitter… how could they possibly find the answer to that challenge?

It turns out we weren’t the only ones who cheated: Rachel’s sister Amanda confessed that the soaked and sandy sock she presented as her team’s found bit of clothing was actually peeled off her partner’s foot, dipped in the surf and then rolled in the sand, like a breaded cutlet. Only the third group—our friend Beccy and my girl Caroline—hadn’t cheated, so that made them both the winners. In the game, certainly, but also maybe in a larger sense: Beccy conversed with the postmaster long enough to uncover that his first name, Win, was actually short for Winthrop, and, when her bit of small talk with the gift shop owner was overheard by a browser in the store, she uncovered—impossibly!—a local Twitter user, too. I’m competitive enough to covet her win, certainly. But more than that, I envy her easy way with people.

Later, it was hard not to look at everything in town as a possible challenge in the scavenger hunt. Here was a woman walking down the sidewalk, and yet all I could see was the possible solution to “Find someone wearing a fanny pack!” Here comes a child on a scooter: “Find someone with ketchup dripped on her shirt!”

And then here was a pretty one-armed girl in a bikini, talking and laughing with her boyfriend in an easy manner as they picked their way past the soda fountain on a sidewalk strewn with bicycles, and through middle-aged Moms wearing beach cover-ups, and small children holding teetering ice cream cones. I tried to view the one-armed girl with only humanity and compassion. But it was hard not to view her as something else entirely: the clincher in some future game, perhaps, an answer that required no conversation of any kind—only simple observation. Now that, I can do.

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65 Responses to Scavenged

  1. Alan Wolk says:

    First!

    So glad you’ve picked this up again. I’ve really been missing it and this was a great way back.

    I suspect there are many more people who dislike talking to random strangers than you realize – I was surprised to see that listed as one of the “Stuff White People Like” (or dislike, in this instance)

    But your Maine inn sounds like a blast- what a great idea.

  2. Alan Wolk says:

    First!

    So glad you’ve picked this up again. I’ve really been missing it and this was a great way back.

    I suspect there are many more people who dislike talking to random strangers than you realize – I was surprised to see that listed as one of the “Stuff White People Like” (or dislike, in this instance)

    But your Maine inn sounds like a blast- what a great idea.

  3. Tim Jackson says:

    Believe it or not, I’m shy too. It’s worst with parents of other children at my daughter’s school. I tend to hate other parents- their perfect jobs, perfect houses, perfect lives, better cars, better educations… so on and so on. I sometimes worry that I’ll cheat her out of experiencing things she loves because she’s so social and wants to do all the other social activities at her school, but I’m just not interested in staring at my shoes listening to Dr. Niceguy talk about how great his business is doing and the family’s Christmas vacation in the Swiss Alps… “the kids just love to ski, don’t they?” (Shoot me, please.)

    From what I can tell Handley, you’re high functioning. I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the scavenger hunt. (Probably would’ve been standing on the beach instead, looking for shells.)

    So does this mean you’re trying to say you’re better than me, again?

    I KNEW IT!!

  4. Tim Jackson says:

    Believe it or not, I’m shy too. It’s worst with parents of other children at my daughter’s school. I tend to hate other parents- their perfect jobs, perfect houses, perfect lives, better cars, better educations… so on and so on. I sometimes worry that I’ll cheat her out of experiencing things she loves because she’s so social and wants to do all the other social activities at her school, but I’m just not interested in staring at my shoes listening to Dr. Niceguy talk about how great his business is doing and the family’s Christmas vacation in the Swiss Alps… “the kids just love to ski, don’t they?” (Shoot me, please.)

    From what I can tell Handley, you’re high functioning. I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the scavenger hunt. (Probably would’ve been standing on the beach instead, looking for shells.)

    So does this mean you’re trying to say you’re better than me, again?

    I KNEW IT!!

  5. Ann Handley says:

    Oh lordy Tim – that deserves a tshirt: “Some of my best friends are high functioning.”

    Anyway – you’re clearly a better weirdo than me! That’s something, right? :)

  6. Ann Handley says:

    Oh lordy Tim – that deserves a tshirt: “Some of my best friends are high functioning.”

    Anyway – you’re clearly a better weirdo than me! That’s something, right? :)

  7. Tim Jackson says:

    I’ve got a gift for words Ann. It’s what I do. That’s why I’m a writer, sorta. I mean… I *have* written. Nonetheless, I’ve been told I have a way with words. Though that coulda been “get away from the words!” I mean, it coulda.

  8. Tim Jackson says:

    I’ve got a gift for words Ann. It’s what I do. That’s why I’m a writer, sorta. I mean… I *have* written. Nonetheless, I’ve been told I have a way with words. Though that coulda been “get away from the words!” I mean, it coulda.

  9. Tim Jackson says:

    Oh yeah, and I am totally a better weirdo.

  10. Tim Jackson says:

    Oh yeah, and I am totally a better weirdo.

  11. Joel Libava says:

    Ann,
    You know, I really didn’t want to read anything that made me sappy tonight.

    But, there I was, scrolling down the Facebook page, and Wella! You. A new post from Ann. Damn. Heaviness. Life stuff. Childhood stuff. BLECH!

    Thank you.

    The Franchise King
    Joel Libava

  12. Joel Libava says:

    Ann,
    You know, I really didn’t want to read anything that made me sappy tonight.

    But, there I was, scrolling down the Facebook page, and Wella! You. A new post from Ann. Damn. Heaviness. Life stuff. Childhood stuff. BLECH!

    Thank you.

    The Franchise King
    Joel Libava

  13. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Scavenged [annhandley.com] on Topsy.com

  14. Len Edgerly says:

    Delightful story, all the more so since I’ve known every place you mentioned for decades. I also love your poignant descriptions of not wanting to talk to people. I tend the same way and marvel at my wife’s ability to naturally engage strangers as if she’s simply breathing, and how they respond. But then she’s not so natural at writing, so we each have our worlds that come naturally and our ones we sort of have to fake.

  15. Len Edgerly says:

    Delightful story, all the more so since I’ve known every place you mentioned for decades. I also love your poignant descriptions of not wanting to talk to people. I tend the same way and marvel at my wife’s ability to naturally engage strangers as if she’s simply breathing, and how they respond. But then she’s not so natural at writing, so we each have our worlds that come naturally and our ones we sort of have to fake.

  16. C.C. Chapman says:

    As always, your writing is amazing and gives me pause from the hectic world we live in.

    It is funny because in that same situation in the candy store I would have been nervous as well. I hate those sorts of situations. Actually, the more I think about it I don’t mind them when they are face to face, but I HATE them when they are over the phone. Weird?

    Please keep telling your stories. I love reading them.

  17. C.C. Chapman says:

    As always, your writing is amazing and gives me pause from the hectic world we live in.

    It is funny because in that same situation in the candy store I would have been nervous as well. I hate those sorts of situations. Actually, the more I think about it I don’t mind them when they are face to face, but I HATE them when they are over the phone. Weird?

    Please keep telling your stories. I love reading them.

  18. Twitter Comment


    RT @MarketingProfs: An Annarchy end-of-summer post: “Scavenged” [link to post] Nice stuff -SW – Posted using Chat Catcher

  19. Twitter Comment


    RT @MarketingProfs: An Annarchy end-of-summer post: “Scavenged” [link to post] Nice stuff -SW

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  20. Carrie Mc says:

    Wonderful writing and a great story.

    I was also struck with a surprising self-realization as I read this — I love talking with strangers, but have found myself to be incredibly shy when it comes to social media… commenting on blogs (this is actually my first ever comment on a website), tweeting, updating my facebook page, etc.

    I think it’s because live conversations have so many more dimensions beyond words — tone of voice, body language, etc. — that not only aid in expressing a point of view, but also provide a better way to “listen” beyond just the words being spoken. Without those other communication tools… with just words… I feel uneasy, unsure of myself… and downright shy.

  21. Carrie Mc says:

    Wonderful writing and a great story.

    I was also struck with a surprising self-realization as I read this — I love talking with strangers, but have found myself to be incredibly shy when it comes to social media… commenting on blogs (this is actually my first ever comment on a website), tweeting, updating my facebook page, etc.

    I think it’s because live conversations have so many more dimensions beyond words — tone of voice, body language, etc. — that not only aid in expressing a point of view, but also provide a better way to “listen” beyond just the words being spoken. Without those other communication tools… with just words… I feel uneasy, unsure of myself… and downright shy.

  22. SaraKate says:

    What a fabulous idea. I love the idea and it sounds like something I’d love to be a part of. However, I am a “people person”. I love talking to and meeting new people and have no problems making conversation with people I don’t know. I do, sadly, often have the opposite problem. Sometimes I talk too much, too fast, too excitedly… it drives people away just as often. Funnily enough, I hate talking to people on the phone if I don’t know them in person already – I’d rather email – or even more preferably see them face to face. I think it may have something to do with the fact that I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner and do best when I can see something (or someone) rather than just hear it (or him or her).

  23. SaraKate says:

    What a fabulous idea. I love the idea and it sounds like something I’d love to be a part of. However, I am a “people person”. I love talking to and meeting new people and have no problems making conversation with people I don’t know. I do, sadly, often have the opposite problem. Sometimes I talk too much, too fast, too excitedly… it drives people away just as often. Funnily enough, I hate talking to people on the phone if I don’t know them in person already – I’d rather email – or even more preferably see them face to face. I think it may have something to do with the fact that I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner and do best when I can see something (or someone) rather than just hear it (or him or her).

  24. Ann, you write in a way I don’t know how to respond to (it’s taken me at least 5 minutes just to think of this). As odd as it may sound, I *love* that about your writing. :)

  25. Ann, you write in a way I don’t know how to respond to (it’s taken me at least 5 minutes just to think of this). As odd as it may sound, I *love* that about your writing. :)

  26. Michelle says:

    I love the way you can not only beautifully describe your sensory observations, but also clearly express what went on in your mind. It is so hard for most of us to slow down our thoughts enough to recognize and describe them. Yes, this is what talking to strangers and actually attempting to listen to them really feels like. Another great post!

  27. Michelle says:

    I love the way you can not only beautifully describe your sensory observations, but also clearly express what went on in your mind. It is so hard for most of us to slow down our thoughts enough to recognize and describe them. Yes, this is what talking to strangers and actually attempting to listen to them really feels like. Another great post!

  28. Twitter Comment


    lovely little story. – made me homesick RT @MarketingProfs: An Annarchy end-of-summer post: “Scavenged” [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  29. Twitter Comment


    lovely little story. – made me homesick RT @MarketingProfs: An Annarchy end-of-summer post: “Scavenged” [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  30. Tabitha Dunn says:

    Ann – so lovely and evocative. I felt transported for a moment – I could almost smell the ocean. As for talking to strangers, I feel the same way. I struggle with how to connect to strangers, like the parents in my daughter’s class and envy the ease of those more social. I’m thankful my daughter doesn’t seem to be the introvert that I am.

  31. Tabitha Dunn says:

    Ann – so lovely and evocative. I felt transported for a moment – I could almost smell the ocean. As for talking to strangers, I feel the same way. I struggle with how to connect to strangers, like the parents in my daughter’s class and envy the ease of those more social. I’m thankful my daughter doesn’t seem to be the introvert that I am.

  32. Kat Jaibur says:

    Ann, you write beautifully. And what a wonderful way to share who you are with us.

    I grew up with a mom who was very shy but hid it under an air of “why should I be the first to reach out?” My dad, on the other hand, was a total people person, engaging extrovert. I learned from both of them. I was very shy until college, and then decided I hated it and wanted to overcome it. So I focused on making other people feel at ease. Pretending to be confident. That little trick still works — online and in real life. (And believe me, I have to use it at every tweetup or conference. Ssssh! )

    I also was struck by your line, “Of course, Rachel is still a girl, and she has plenty of time to change, I hope.” Hahaha. My grandmother quit smoking at 75. The guy who played the dad on Frasier sold insurance until he was in his 50′s. Novelist Raymond Chandler’s first book wasn’t published until he was 51. Andrea Bocelli didn’t start singing opera seriously until age 34. And Grandma Moses didn’t get into art until her 90′s. If we want change, all it takes is desire and willingness. And sometimes that change is about accepting that your gifts lie elsewhere… like you wiht your observations and gorgeous writing. As the song goes, “Everybody’s Got Their Something.” Thanks, Ann!

  33. Kat Jaibur says:

    Ann, you write beautifully. And what a wonderful way to share who you are with us.

    I grew up with a mom who was very shy but hid it under an air of “why should I be the first to reach out?” My dad, on the other hand, was a total people person, engaging extrovert. I learned from both of them. I was very shy until college, and then decided I hated it and wanted to overcome it. So I focused on making other people feel at ease. Pretending to be confident. That little trick still works — online and in real life. (And believe me, I have to use it at every tweetup or conference. Ssssh! )

    I also was struck by your line, “Of course, Rachel is still a girl, and she has plenty of time to change, I hope.” Hahaha. My grandmother quit smoking at 75. The guy who played the dad on Frasier sold insurance until he was in his 50′s. Novelist Raymond Chandler’s first book wasn’t published until he was 51. Andrea Bocelli didn’t start singing opera seriously until age 34. And Grandma Moses didn’t get into art until her 90′s. If we want change, all it takes is desire and willingness. And sometimes that change is about accepting that your gifts lie elsewhere… like you wiht your observations and gorgeous writing. As the song goes, “Everybody’s Got Their Something.” Thanks, Ann!

  34. Twitter Comment


    …and sometimes it is the truth that is more complicated… Nice post Ann. (from @MarketingProfs fame) [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  35. Twitter Comment


    …and sometimes it is the truth that is more complicated… Nice post Ann. (from @MarketingProfs fame) [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  36. Twitter Comment


    3 cheers for damn fine prose! @marketingprofs (Anne Handley) writes an end of summer ode- Scavenged: [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  37. Twitter Comment


    3 cheers for damn fine prose! @marketingprofs (Anne Handley) writes an end of summer ode- Scavenged: [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

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  39. Paul Chaney says:

    Ann, there is a possibility that, if you were the gregarious, outgoing type, you might not be such a thoughtful writer and wordsmith. If that were the case, what a tragedy it would be.

    So, fellow introvert (I’m an INFP btw. How about you?), it’s okay to be a tad shy so long as you keep writing tomes that evoke such imagery and emotion. The world has enough blooming extroverts in it already. Too many for that matter! You’re perfect just the way you are.

    PS: “The breeze off the water smelled of salt and September…” — breathtaking!

  40. Paul Chaney says:

    Ann, there is a possibility that, if you were the gregarious, outgoing type, you might not be such a thoughtful writer and wordsmith. If that were the case, what a tragedy it would be.

    So, fellow introvert (I’m an INFP btw. How about you?), it’s okay to be a tad shy so long as you keep writing tomes that evoke such imagery and emotion. The world has enough blooming extroverts in it already. Too many for that matter! You’re perfect just the way you are.

    PS: “The breeze off the water smelled of salt and September…” — breathtaking!

  41. Twitter Comment


    ” The breeze off the water smelled of salt and September…” Good writing is such a turn-on and that’s sm good writing. [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  42. Twitter Comment


    ” The breeze off the water smelled of salt and September…” Good writing is such a turn-on and that’s sm good writing. [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  43. leigh durst says:

    Finally, another piece of delectible writing for us to savor! We’ve all just been chomping at the bit for more!!! Thanks for taking us on vacation with you again.

    It’s really too bad you have a day job. You were meant for this! XO. – L

  44. leigh durst says:

    Finally, another piece of delectible writing for us to savor! We’ve all just been chomping at the bit for more!!! Thanks for taking us on vacation with you again.

    It’s really too bad you have a day job. You were meant for this! XO. – L

  45. Elaine Fogel says:

    Like I’ve said before…there’s a book inside you, Ann. Of course, add that to the gazillion other things you do! :)

  46. Elaine Fogel says:

    Like I’ve said before…there’s a book inside you, Ann. Of course, add that to the gazillion other things you do! :)

  47. Caroline says:

    Hi Mommy! Great Post! :)

  48. Caroline says:

    Hi Mommy! Great Post! :)

  49. Twitter Comment


    Would you like to read a beautiful post by a lyrical writer? Read @marketingprofs’ beautiful post on a scavenger hunt [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  50. Twitter Comment


    Would you like to read a beautiful post by a lyrical writer? Read @marketingprofs’ beautiful post on a scavenger hunt [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  51. Christian Gulliksen says:

    I love summertime scavenger hunts in New England beach towns. You’re making me way nostalgic, Handley :)

  52. Christian Gulliksen says:

    I love summertime scavenger hunts in New England beach towns. You’re making me way nostalgic, Handley :)

  53. Can’t believe you agreed to do something like this! Not the Scavenger Hunt part– those are fun, but the having to talk to total strangers, your idea of a perfect hell! Great writing, sister. And I’m proud of you for outing yourself as a total techno-wuss who’d rather surf for answers than do what your Grandma woulda done and just spoke up. Assuming your Grandma was a no-nonsense kinda gal, that is!

  54. Can’t believe you agreed to do something like this! Not the Scavenger Hunt part– those are fun, but the having to talk to total strangers, your idea of a perfect hell! Great writing, sister. And I’m proud of you for outing yourself as a total techno-wuss who’d rather surf for answers than do what your Grandma woulda done and just spoke up. Assuming your Grandma was a no-nonsense kinda gal, that is!

  55. Ann Handley says:

    Well, my grandma spoke only French. So she would have been useless in this game. Just sayin’. But I get your point!

  56. Ann Handley says:

    Well, my grandma spoke only French. So she would have been useless in this game. Just sayin’. But I get your point!

  57. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed this post so much, for its lyrical beauty, and also for the glimpse into how social interactions, which are more routine for extroverted folks, take on such challenging dimensions for those less comfortable interacting with strangers.

    For folks with an intrapersonal intelligence (as opposed to interpersonal intelligence), we are always talking to ourselves first to perceive and make sense of reality. In other words, we’re always talking (or in lots of cases, writing) to ourselves–to make sense of things–before we can begin sharing those impressions with others.

    I’m not sure this is really shyness or the insecurity that it may appear to be, to some–it’s really a way of processing information by taking it inward and assimilating that information first, before we take the next step with others. It’s a learning style.

  58. Peg Mulligan says:

    I enjoyed this post so much, for its lyrical beauty, and also for the glimpse into how social interactions, which are more routine for extroverted folks, take on such challenging dimensions for those less comfortable interacting with strangers.

    For folks with an intrapersonal intelligence (as opposed to interpersonal intelligence), we are always talking to ourselves first to perceive and make sense of reality. In other words, we’re always talking (or in lots of cases, writing) to ourselves–to make sense of things–before we can begin sharing those impressions with others.

    I’m not sure this is really shyness or the insecurity that it may appear to be, to some–it’s really a way of processing information by taking it inward and assimilating that information first, before we take the next step with others. It’s a learning style.

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  60. I was off line for a bit and when I was ready to catch up with my reader and saw your name at the top. I popped open a small bottle of coke, sat right down and enjoyed every word!

  61. I was off line for a bit and when I was ready to catch up with my reader and saw your name at the top. I popped open a small bottle of coke, sat right down and enjoyed every word!

  62. Paul Chaney says:

    Hi Ann. This is a generic comment. I'm just testing the Disqus comment system.

  63. Twitter Comment


    Chat Catcher Test

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    You can begin walking from the Meiringen village and switzerland clothing finish in the Grindelwald resort, 21 kilometers farther. And there are also bust stops along the road.

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