Saturday, September 18, 2010

The People Next Door

Three years ago I decided that I wanted to live where I could breathe more private air so Susie and I bought a place out in the country where life is slower. Our neighbors were standoffish, but after three years we have gotten to know most of them, and our lives are richer for it. As Michelle said in her post, people do not get to know their neighbors like they used to. The fact is, I get to know my neighbors. I always have done. I have had neighbors I cared for less than others, but the idea of living as a stranger in a place and not knowing who I share air with is alien to me. Maybe it's because I grew up in the south in small towns, or maybe it's because I've always had this curiosity about people and things.

When I was playing census worker a while back, I often asked someone about the people next door to learn that they had no idea who their neighbors were. Even when I lived in large cities I knew who my neighbors were. If you aren't curious about people and don't get to know them, how can you write about people?

I got this Kindle 3 and I've been reading a lot since. It's weird at first, but I've gotten the hand of it. This week I'm reading Ken Follet's WORLD WITHOUT END, the follow up to PILLARS OF THE EARTH. Great book. Rich characters. Kenny flat knows people and understands psychology and conflict. You don't get that way by shutting people out. He was one of the best thriller authors of all time. EYE OF THE NEEDLE was one of my top five all time favorites, and still holds up today.

Do yourself a favor and speak to the people around you. Some of my best friends have been people I've lived near. Go out of your way and be a good neighbor and your neighbors will surprise you. Who knows you might just find characters who'll put your next book over the top.

11 comments:

  1. My internet went down and I couldn't get back to finish this post I started.

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  2. Miller, I thought for a second there that you were experimenting with minimalism. I like the more expanded version better.

    Here's the thing about getting to know your neighbors: I find that a startling number of them really don't want to get known. For the rest, I agree with you (and Michelle) 100%.

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  3. On one of the axes of our street, we used to have block parties. On the other axis, however, I know a few of the neighbors a bit better. We have a gentleman across the street who is a retired SWAT officer and he now trains Rottweilers. We've had many interesting discussions, and he always lets us know when we're parked on the wrong side of the road on trash day. I got to know another neighbor when I rescued a big white rabbit from the street. Not knowing what to do, I put it in my bathroom with food and water. It was the SWAT/rottweiler neighbor who told me the rabbit belonged to a family down the street that was away. I left a note and they collected "Harvey" when they returned. And then another family down the street lost their young daughter to cancer. I've watched that house grow sad and neglected as the parents are obviously depressed. So it's really affecting when you know a tiny bit about what goes on behind closed doors.

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  4. Kathryn,
    A family enveloped in grief will get back faster if they have a supportive group. They need to know someone cares about them.

    Some neighbors may not be worth knowing, but sometimes people are just unengaged out of circumstance and respond to kindness and some may actually be very dangerous.

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  5. When we arrived at our place in CA, hardly any of the neighbors knew one another but we started up a trend of 4th of July block parties and it was amazing what community spirit grew. We loved our neighbors and the sense of having such close ties to those around us was terrific. It provided a fabulous support network. We only hope we can do the same here in Melbourne. JRM - We will however try and avoid the dangerous neighbors...

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  6. Speaking of dangerous. My son and I were recently creeped out by a neighbor a few doors down on the next street while selling Boy Scout popcorn. Dude answered his door in an obvious fit of paranoia. I was glad I walked all the way up on the porch with my boy rather than wait by the curb. Dude was a creep. Crazy thing is the next day that street was literally filled with Police cars. The cops redirected the school bus bringing kids home to come in from the other side of the neighborhood. Creepy dude was wanted for car-theft, drug dealing and possible car-jacking. SWAT showed up in force to bring him in. He holed up in his attic while they searched for him. Never know...we just never know.

    In another neighborhood I inhabited in Ohio many years ago our neighbors ranged from a pastor across the street to his next door neighbor, owner of a local "Adult Clothing and Novelties" shop.

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  7. Hear, hear, John.
    Funny, I just recently tore through both PoTE and WWE. Masterpieces, both of them-and Follett's roots as a thriller writer shine through. I've already pre-ordered his next opus on Kindle.

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  8. Oh, and Basil- I was just discussing with a friend the other day how we used to troop around the neighborhood alone hawking girl scout cookies door-to-door, a fact which now seems difficult to believe. Nowadays, the standard seems to be setting up shop in front of a supermarket.

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  9. i just finished World Without End. I loved it so much, more than Pillars of the earth even.

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