3 min read

The Art of Surveillance

People-watching isn't creepy for a writer; it's the birth of art.
The Art of Surveillance

I possess a terrible habit that many other writers might also present. It's less than a joy for our therapists, or perhaps the reason other than money that they enjoy hearing us talk, but it exists.

I like to watch people from my window.

Sure, I'm sneaky about it, but there are voyeuristic qualities in it that can sometimes be soul-fulfilling. My window looks out onto a common area where others can seat themselves and smoke or prepare food on a communal grill; I don't care as long as they are there.

Beautiful women, hard-edged men relaxing from a hard day at work, children, dogs, couples loving, and couples fighting all arrive in this target zone and fill me with observations, questions, and moments of joy. Sometimes they make it into writing; they trigger something, a scene, a scenario, anything that helps to move my mind ahead in my craft is workable.

A few weeks ago, I watched a couple from my position. The man was not in the most exuberant of moods, and whilst smoking a cigarette; he took offense to something his wife said to him. I knew she was his wife because they both wore rings, and she looked as if she had rolled out of bed and taken a ten-mile hike through the sand.

The lady was the one doing the grilling. I sensed why she might be frustrated.
In response to the offensive comment, whatever it might have been, he solidly flicked his cigarette at her and bounced it off her buttocks, never modifying his scowl.

She felt it.

He was oblivious to the incoming beer can as it struck his nose from the ginger underhand toss. He was stunned. The fellow apparently had yet to notice the cylinder growing larger and larger. Rage spread across his pained face. She turned her back to him and grinned a wide, satisfied grin.

He might have been showing his hind end, but he thought better of retaliation, cracked open the beer in a bright foamy spray, and proceeded to guzzle it without further comment.

Sometimes it makes no sense to fight. Besides, I like it best when people are happy. Life's too damned short for nonsense.

Nobody cares who you voted for when it's time for them to pay their bills, and in four years, you won't care either because there's nothing you can do about it, and you can't take it back.

But we'll all complain about it, won't we?

I know one thing I can say with relative certainty: it is more pleasurable at large to watch people doing nice things for other people than observing them harming or harassing another.

For a moment, you can fellowship with another human being by helping jump their car or changing a tire. You learn enough about them to appreciate them and the interaction, and there doesn't have to be anything else come of it than that sliver of time.

You see it all from the window and, on some limited occasions, can even become part of it yourself.

Today, there is an empty beer bottle of what appears to be a low-cost brew. A girl sometimes sits there, looking mid-20s, rotating through her social media as she smokes a cigarette, mostly keeping to herself and who knows where it leads. The bottle isn't hers.

I recognize her from a long-lost post that flowed through my own feed. I didn't see anything wrong with her post, but apparently, the social media bedbugs had some nasty things to say to her, which had put a dent in her self-esteem.

Dreams grow and get shattered from the platform outside my window, and I only get the outside view of the show, not the guts of the thing. But that's why we people watch as writers, to begin with. It becomes our duty to fill out the story we don't know.

We notice more than the average person because we want to know the good and bad of their lives, and the knowledge of the details comes from our own experiences.

It's a scientific observation at its best. Taking the evidence before our eyes and, with a little circumstance, building the rest of the untold story. The fun is in discovering how close we came to the truth and how engaging the lie of the tale was that we told ourselves.

Welcome to the mind of a writer.