Earlier this week I mentioned that my mom, in her house in the woods, always pulled her blinds at night because she worried that a bear might be looking in on her. No matter what, she closed off the view. Mom, really? I teased her. A bear cares to look in on you? But I wonder: Those of you who live in the woods – do you worry about that too? If you live next to another house, do you close the blinds every night? Does it matter which room you’re in? Does it matter if you know your neighbors are home?
I also wonder: While looking into someone’s window is a thing, yes, and maybe a thing the someone should be worried about, is it peeping into someone’s window or peeking into someone’s window?
When I mentioned Mom’s blind-pulling, bear-avoiding habit, I suggested that Sarah – poet, artist, writer, friend – would no doubt be able to draw the scene, probably easily. It would flow like water down a hill for her, the pen setting down lines where lines should go, and in practically the blink of an eye she could relocate the image from her brain to a piece of paper and produce a very recognizable image. I was sure of it, even a mite envious of that skill, wistfully, wishingly thinking Oh, to be able to draw like Sarah!
Sure enough, she did it! And priceless it is! In no time at all she sent me a mom-and-bear post-it-note drawing with window between, each occupied but suddenly aware of the other (or so it seems to me). Uh-oh! they each seem to say. Notice how Sarah went beyond a bear peeking/peeping in – we get his personal hygiene routine, the box of goodies Mom’s rummaging through (always goodies in Mom’s case, never junk), the mutual surprise – only creative people like Sarah think of (and successfully execute) these extras! Don’t you love his paunch?!
You tell me. Is the bear peeping in or peeking in? Is Mom doing either?
Does peep mean to look in furtively or briefly and does peek mean to look in cautiously or slyly, or the other way around?* Both have the idea of quickness, of trying not to be seen, of some measure of invasion of privacy. Does it matter if you intend to look in, or if something simply catches your eye and you glance toward it? Did Peeping Tom set the connotation in stone forever? Is peep up to no good and is peek benign?
Remember Scout and Jem and Dill trying to look in on reclusive Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird? In Chapter 6, see Harper Lee’s choice and also get a little reminder how amazing this book is (in case you have not read it recently). What are the children doing?
“What are you gonna do?”
Dill and Jem were simply going to peep in the window with the loose shutter to see if they could get a look at Boo Radley, and if I didn’t want to go with them I could go straight home and keep my fat flopping mouth shut, that was all.
“But why in the sam holy hill did you wait till tonight?”
Because nobody could see them at night, because Atticus would be so deep in a book he wouldn’t hear the Kingdom coming, because if Boo Radley killed them they’d miss school instead of vacation, and because it was easier to see inside a dark house in the dark than in the daytime, did I understand?
“Scout, I’m tellin’ you for the last time, shut your trap or go home – I declare to the Lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl every day!”
With that, I had no option but to join them.
There are so many elements of this book I would like to talk about – the norms of the time, the things we don’t know, the ways people surprise us, the consequences of actions, the role of fate – another time! For now I wonder if Harper Lee chose peep on purpose. I don’t want to split hairs about meanings, but words can get us in trouble sometimes, and our own understanding is not always someone else’s understanding. I want to know what y’all think about peep vs. peek.