I’m Not Creepy, Am I?

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Back in April, I listened to an episode of the Radiolab podcast that, anyone who knows me will tell you, fed my need for neighborhood voyeurism. The episode, The Living Room, is a first-person account of a one-sided relationship between a woman and her two young neighbors. It was touching and creepy, all at the same time. I have listened to it two times since that day in April. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I know you want to listen to the podcast. I don’t mind, the link is right there for you. Do what you need to, and then come back. I will then finish my post.

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Presumably, you are now drying your tears and feeling a little guilty about being a part of Diane’s window-watching, but not guilty enough to not listen again. Diane (the storyteller) says that at one point she started using her “birding” binoculars. Funny thing- I have my own pair of “birding” binoculars. The only bird I ever spied with them was from someone’s middle finger.

When we go to the park or the beach, or even when we are sitting on our front porch, I like to pull out my birders and see what’s going on. I am fascinated by the mundane, or not so mundane, lives of the people around me. I get a lot of my story ideas from these viewing sessions. I’m not out-of-control, and I’m not perverted (at least not in this way). I have watched as one my neighbors plays outside with her kids, or someone else walks their dogs. Granted, up until two weeks ago, my at-home viewing was done from the front porch of a house in a pretty quiet neighborhood. Not a lot going on. But now, the game has now shifted…

We moved from our large house, in a quiet town in North Idaho ,to a mid-sized apartment in a city six times larger. And to top it all off,  our apartments are arranged around a courtyard (like one of my favorite voyeur movies-Rear Window). Not only do I see the goings ons in the courtyard, but also on the balconies. It doesn’t hurt that no one closes their window shades either. It’s a mecca for bird watching. I really haven’t even needed my birders. Yesterday, however, I pulled them out to investigate some sounds I heard behind our apartment- took me a minute to focus and see it was a few stray cats going at it. When I panned up, there it was. The bird—from the finger of a tall, skinny white kid in a wife beater. I honestly don’t know if it was meant for me or not. It sure looked like it was, but I am awfully far away, and it would have been hard for him to see me clearly from that distance. Only time will tell if he caught me spying—I expect it will end with him closing his curtains. I didn’t want to watch him anyway.

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We Are Just Stalkers Masquerading As Writers

One of the great things about being a writer is the research. I’m sure many would disagree, but I really enjoy it. I love finding out more about where my character’s live and which cafe they frequent on weekends. It can help sometimes to have visual geography in which to base my fictional city or neighborhood.

Right now I am working on something based in Boston. Boston Medical Center features prominently in the story line, so I have been doing research on the surrounding neighborhoods. I found one in particular I really liked- in fact, I am using it as a basis for my main character’s own neighborhood.

Unfortunately, I can not physically go to Boston right now, so I have to be creative with my research. I have to send a shout out to all things Google- Google Search, Google Maps etc. Google has helped me find the information I need, but it has also given me too much information. Google is the reason I feel like a stalker.

Thanks to Google I can see 360 degrees around the entire neighborhood (streetview). Using Google search I also found the square-footage and price of residences in that area, along with realtor’s websites with photos of the insides of some of those residences. The more I researched, the more I wanted to know and before I knew it, I had a manila folder full of information–almost as though I was launching an investigation on the residents.

The only thing Google doesn’t seem to have are the sounds and smells of the neighborhood or an approximation of how often the guy in number 23 runs to the deli on the corner to get his pregnant wife something to eat, or how many kids play in the fountain on any given summer afternoon, or whether you can hear the sounds of the one-man-band playing at the street fair around the corner.

In some sense, internet research almost defeats the purpose of writing a work of fiction.

In reality, the only thing I need is a map of the area in case I need to figure out distances to landmarks, or use the real names of main streets.

All that said, I should probably change the pronoun in my title to ‘I’, but it makes me feel I’m not alone in my creepiness. I can’t be the only writer who has felt mildly voyeuristic while doing research. Right? Anyone?