Showing posts with label moving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label moving. Show all posts

08 September 2017

A Room (or Two) of One's Own

By Art Taylor

In a SleuthSayers post back in July, I talked about how we were moving this summer—a process that still seems never-ending. Yes, we got all the boxes into the new place, and we've made some headway on unpacking, organizing and arranging the contents of those boxes. Yes, we finished cleaning out (slowly) and cleaning up (painfully) the old place and then bringing it successfully to closing (a big sigh of relief). And in addition to the move, we navigated another couple of transitions—most importantly my wife Tara's start at a new job and our son Dashiell's entrance into kindergarten (which I also wrote about at the Washington Independent Review of Books). Much to celebrate in all this, but also still a long way to go—and the dishwasher that died on Monday hasn't helped, I'll admit: one more thing to add to the to-do list.

Still, we're happy with the new place, especially Dash, who calls it a "magic house." There's a corner cabinet in the kitchen with a lazy Susan inside! The timer on the stove plays a little song when the countdown hits zero! And at sunset, the glass in the front door projects tiny patterns, shapes, and rainbows on the wall!

I'll admit: I find that last bit a little magical myself.

Our search for a house seemed quick—we picked this one on our second formal day of looking with an agent—but our plans to move stretch back to even before Dash was born. We'll move to a house with a yard before he starts kindergarten—that was our goal. And we had more than five years to meet that goal—should be easy, right? Just before Dash turned five-and-a-half, we finally kicked into high gear.

When our realtor (shout-out to Dutko-Ragen in Northern Virginia!) asked us what we were looking for in a house, he emphasized that we should talk about things we needed (couldn't do without) and then things we'd love to have (reaching for the stars).

Dash, a car man since he was a baby, judges houses by whether they have a garage, so that was top of his list.

Tara has always loved the idea of a screened-in porch.

And I felt that ideally Tara and I—both being writers—should each have space for an office, hearkening back to that oft-quoted phrase of Virginia Woolf's about a room of one's own. (I recognize, of course, that Woolf's essay is an argument about women's spaces and places in the literary world, but I do believe that writers and artists of either gender benefit from having both mental and physical space in which to indulge their creativity and hone their craft.)

The reasons we snatched up this house as quickly as we could?

Well, Dash got his wish:


Tara got hers:


And while much of the house is still a mess of boxes or else the stuff that came out of those boxes, two rooms were among the first priorities for us to get settled. Here's Tara's office (I avoided the right half, still a work in progress):


And here's mine:


I've enjoyed posts from other SleuthSayers about writers and their working environments, several of them published just this year. Earlier this summer, Jan Grape did a nice round-up of various writer friends' workspaces. Paul Marks gave us a glance inside his office (and into both real and fictional versions of his days). And Dixon Hill treated us to before and after photos of the construction of his beautiful new office during our recent Family Fortnight.

Many of us with office space (me included) also write in other places, I recognize this. In my case, I also have an office on campus where I spent more time than at home, and then there's the library and occasionally a coffee shop, and back here at the house, I'm as likely to work at the kitchen table or the couch as in the office itself; I'm sitting on the couch right now, in fact, but mainly because it's better internet reception tonight.

So given all that, what's behind the desire to have an office of one's own? Part of it is, again, the space to work—to spread out a printed manuscript on the desk and look at it or to stare out the window (and I keep the desk facing that way, clearly) or to close the door and just think. Part of it depends on the things in the space: the books that have inspired me and that I keep at eye level on the nearby shelves, for example, and my own works in progress always within arms' reach too. In the picture of my office above, you might note a brown three-ring binder on the right corner; it holds printed drafts of various stories in one stage or another of needing attention. And the file cabinet on the left, the one with the old typewriter sitting on it? That's got notes on other stories and the draft of a (failed) novel—or, honestly, two. And the typewriter itself? It's an old one, of course, and I like to think that some other writer pounded out a story or two of his or her own on it. It's inspiring somehow, and so too is the artwork on either side of the desk and—not seen here—the framed poster on the wall behind my chair, from an exhibition at Trinity College in Dublin about the great detectives, a reminder of the tradition that informs so much of what I write, so much of how I think about what I write.

Tara, meanwhile, has her own approach: books too, obviously, but she keeps her desk sideways in the room, and she's looking for a chair for the other corner (unseen) where she can curl up and read. She has an Elvis lamp as well—a gaudy thing as far as I'm concerned (and I'm an Elvis fan, I should stress). But that's the beauty of the layout here: It's her space, she can do with it whatever she wants. It must be working OK for her already: Last week she finished a draft of her novel in the new office, and she's already gotten affirmative feedback from her first reader—hooray!

And as for Dash... well, beyond the garage, he's already taken over much of this house in one way or another. But he wanted a desk of his own as well, a place to draw actually, and at the same time he also wants to be close to us when he creates, so he's got a table and chairs in the living room, and we're planning to set up a craft corner if we can ever get all his art supplies unpacked, and then there's an old, old desk from my own childhood that he's taken a liking to... and I'll admit, I was glad to share some of my own office space with him. I hope you'll indulge this one last picture:



Writers who are reading this here: Where do you work? What in your space helps to spark creativity? Not sure how easy it is to post a picture in the comments—if it's even possible—but do offer some description at least if you can! 


Countdown to Bouchercon! (...and a little BSP)


My story "Parallel Play" from Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning won this year's Agatha Award for Best Short Story and is up for both the Anthony Award and the Macavity Award at this year's Bouchercon. My fellow Macavity finalist Paul D. Marks, author of the terrific "Ghosts of Bunker Hill," offered a great post here recently where we joined other nominees Lawrence Block, Craig Faustus Buck, and Greg Herren to talk about the origins of these stories, along with Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, talking about the origin of Joyce Carol Oates' nominated story; do check out Paul's post and check out the links there in order to read the other stories too—such a distinguished batch of short fiction!

I'm hoping to arrange something myself with all the Anthony finalists for my next appearance at SleuthSayers in three weeks, along with announcements about my Bouchercon schedule—all of it rushing toward us so quickly!

Stay tuned for all that—and looking forward to seeing everyone in Toronto next month! 


27 April 2017

Moving, Moving, moving...

by Eve Fisher

Next week, my husband and I are moving from small town South Dakota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota - which to many people is still small town South Dakota.  (Sioux Falls is South Dakota's largest city, with a population of under 200,000.)  We're moving for many reasons:  the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) work we do at the pen; doctors (we're getting older and frailer); amenities (restaurants, shopping, etc.); cultural events (of all kinds!), etc.  And we already have a network of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances in Sioux Falls.  And we found a real gem of a house, a vintage Craftsman, that I call the "Goldilocks house", because it's not too big, not too small, but just right for the two of us.  Amazing!  (Will post pictures later.)

So excited, exhilarated, exhausted.  Also sad and bittersweet.  We've lived in the old town for almost 27 years, so of course we're going to miss a whole lot of stuff.
  • Everywhere we go, we know somebody, if not everybody.  There is always someone to talk to. 
  • Everywhere we go, they know who we are.  They know our order at the Chinese Restaurant. They know us at the two diners.  And at the library, the grocery store, the post office, and just about everywhere else we go.   
  • We don't have to think about where we're going and how we're going to get there:  there are only so many places to go, and only so many ways to get there, so by now we move on autopilot.  
  • We have a state park two miles from town, which I walk in almost every day.  I've seen deer, eagles, foxes, coyotes, pheasants, and wild turkeys, not to mention geese, ducks, pelicans, seagulls, coots, and cormorants.  
  • Friends.  You all know who you are.  
And there are all the differences of small town living.  Some of my favorite stories are:

When we first moved up here, we rented for the first year, and then went house hunting. There weren't that many houses for sale, so I think we saw all of them.  (In the same way, we visited every church in town.)  When we finally did buy - a huge two-story box a block and a half from campus - after the closing, I went down to City Hall to change the utilities over.  The lady at City Hall said, "Oh, we already took care of that.  It's all in your name now."  They're not going to do that in Sioux Falls.  (We lived in that house for 22 years...)

Northern Exposure-Intertitle.jpgThe local radio station used to broadcast out onto Main Street, so that as you walked around downtown, you could hear the news, weather, music, and the ever-important "locals".  One day I was walking to work and heard that I was going to be interviewed later that day...  This kind of thing was one of the reasons that, back then, I used to tell everyone back East that I lived in the South Dakota equivalent of Cicely, Alaska (of Northern Exposure for those of you who weren't fans.)  They all thought that was pretty cool.

Pharmaceutical shock:  The first time I walked into the local drug store and saw that they had needles for sale to anyone who wanted them I about freaked out.  Then I realized they were for diabetics, and it hadn't occurred to anyone that addicts might want them. Another time, I had to have my wisdom teeth surgically removed, and the pain prescription wasn't going to be ready for another hour.  But Allan had to teach all day, so I called a friend and asked if she could pick me up and take me to the drug store, because the pain was pretty bad?  Fifteen minutes later her husband knocked on the door with my prescription, and told me to write him a check later. It was so sweet of him, but what stunned me was that the pharmacist had given pain meds to someone else to deliver to me...  (In case you can't tell, I was used to big city living - LA and Atlanta - where you show up in person with some serious ID.)

When I first moved up here I was 36 years old, with long black hair down to my waist.  After a couple of years of dealing with prairie winds - either I kept my hair tied back, pinned up, or got whipped almost to death by it - I cut it short.  One of my best friends came up for my 40th birthday, and as I gave her the walking tour, in almost every shop someone came up and said, "Oh, Eve, let me look at your new haircut!"  After about the third or fourth time, Lora stopped on the sidewalk and asked, "Are you telling me that people don't have anything better to do in this town than talk about your hair?"  Pretty much, yep.

The truth is, ANY change in a small town will generate days, if not weeks, sometimes months and even YEARS of talk.  My hair got a couple of days.  But people still talk about when the old hotel downtown burned down, and they still give directions according to buildings that are no longer there. (I have always been grateful that I moved up here BEFORE the Franklin School was torn down, because that way when someone says I need to turn right after the old Franklin School, I know where that is.)

Caring: small towns pull together, show up, bring food, and send cards.  I can't tell you the number of fundraisers that are held in a small town, most of which involve food:  pork loin feeds, pancake feeds, soup suppers, etc.  They're held for cancer patients, accident victims, hospital bills, medical bills, funeral bills, you name it.  And people show up, pay a generous free will donation, and eat heartily. And no death is ever ignored.  When my mother died, I got cards from practically everyone in town, even though no one had ever met her.  When we moved Allan's mother up here, she quickly became part of the community (she was the biggest social butterfly you could ever meet).  Sadly, she lived less than a year after the move (pancreatic cancer), but her church, prayer, and exercise groups called and visited, and at her South Dakota memorial service, over 200 people showed up.

The web.  You sit in a small town cafe, or church supper, or anywhere, and you hear stories.  Families are traced backwards and forwards.  Where they came from, where they lived, where they're buried, where the children / grandchildren / great-grandchildren moved to and what they're doing now.  Who married whom?  Where did they work?  Some stories are repeated with great relish:  You remember the folks that used to live in that big house on the corner:  they separated, and she got the house, but he came back every year to check up on the kids, and every year, nine months later, she had another baby.  Never divorced...  Others - of violence and abuse, or heartbreaking sorrow - are spoken of in hushed voices.  It's endlessly fascinating.  Especially since my family isn't in the mix.  Because the downside of a small town is that they never forget, and all the sins of the fathers are remembered unto the fourth and fifth generation.  This is one of the reasons why people move away from small towns. Small towns never forget.  Allow me to repeat that.  Small towns never forget.

I've enjoyed living in a small town; and I know there are times when I will really miss it.  But it's only an hour's drive away from Sioux Falls, and, as I said, Sioux Falls isn't that large a city.  I will continue to see my friends, and they now have another reason to come to Sioux Falls.  Thank God I live in the age of automobiles and interstates, instead of the days of buggies and dirt roads! And I will continue to write stories set in Laskin, South Dakota, with Grant Tripp and Linda Thompson and Matt Stark.  But who knows?  Some new characters, new settings may be coming into the mix.  I'll keep you posted!






16 March 2017

A House is Always Interesting

by Eve Fisher

For a variety of reasons (AVP, amenities, doctors, and the fact that we go down twice a week minimum) my husband and I are moving from our small town to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 50 miles down the road.

Sioux Falls, photo courtesy Wikipedia
Sioux Falls is growing by leaps and bounds.  There are whole villages of suburbs stretching south and west (mainly because our airport is in the northeast, btw).  Condos have grown up around the interstates.  However, we don't like suburbs much, and all the condos we saw were too small, and we wanted to live central Sioux Falls, which is a hot, hot, hot! market.  There were at least 3 houses that we wanted to see but couldn't even get in to view - they were no sooner on the market than bought. We put in offers on three, yes, three different places:  the first one turned our bid down, and upon reconsidering, we didn't rebid.  The second one failed inspection (huge foundation problems).  But the third, hopefully, is the charm!  I am working on the mortgage papers (everything's on-line these days, dammit!) probably as you read this.

House shopping is interesting and exhausting.  I remember back when we first house-shopped in 1991 (we'd rented the place we were living over the phone), and it was an educational experience. One memorable house had a room with bright orange and green plaid vinyl wallpaper, with orange shag carpet, and, in the kitchen, vintage orange appliances.  No, we did not buy it. Another place was beautifully done, until you opened the basement door and the reek of mold and mildew was enough to knock you down.  Another place was obviously the future home of someone who would formally entertain at the drop of a hat.  (We're the pot-luck or pizza types.)

Old houses are fun.  The history, the charm, the leftover stuff.  In our last house, we found an old-fashioned cream-skimmer that dropped behind the kitchen sink in the summer kitchen out back, decades ago.  I remember once I visited a friend in Chicago, who was remodeling an old house into apartments, and found 4 old books tucked away in the attic, including a first edition Harriet Beecher Stowe's "The Mayflower".  He was going to throw them away, so I leaped up and claimed them. They've had a good home ever since. And I remember living in an urban neighborhood in Atlanta, decades ago, with a bunch of roommates (starving artists all), and visiting with the little old lady who lived in the bungalow next door - turned out she'd been born in that house, and had never moved in all her 81 years.  I remember being gob-smacked by that.  I couldn't imagine staying anywhere 81 years.  I still can't.

Roderick Usher,
by Aubrey Beardsley
(note - not creepy enough)
Old houses can also be creepy.  I know of two houses in our small town that have had suicides, and at least one with a murder.  One of the original morticians' houses was bought and transformed into a family dwelling, and the owners put their master bedroom where the viewing room used to be.  There are also a couple of houses that just look WEIRD:  you know, the kind where you get the feeling that Roderick Usher uses it as his summer home.   I remember one house we looked at in Tennessee:  we walked into the back room, I turned to Allan and said, "Redrum", and we walked out. Quickly.

A lot of mysteries and thrillers have been written about what happens after the house is bought and/or inherited.  One of the great disappointments of such novels is Agatha Christie's "Postern of Fate", which is - well, the only way I can put it is that it's a real mess.  The Beresfords are too old, as was, sadly, Ms. Christie.  On the other hand, I love Christie's "Sleeping Murder" - which is NOT Miss Marple's last case by a long shot. The slow reveal of the fact that Gwenda Halliday Reed actually lived, as a child, in the house she bought in case of love at first sight still makes the hair stand up on the back of my head. Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" has the house itself as a central character, and God help all who stay in it.  And, speaking of Roderick Usher, the House of Usher went down with a pretty spectacular crash, didn't it?

"Northanger Abbey" -
1986 BBC production 
But that's often the point.  Gothic fiction, whether classics from the 18th century, like "The Mysteries of Udolpho", "Otranto", "The Monk", etc., all the way down to modern Gothic romances, all revolve around mysterious old houses.  Some are spookier than others:  the whole point of Catherine Morland's joy in being invited to the eponymous "Northanger Abbey" is that, to her eyes, it looked likely to have had a murder or two done in it, and she could hardly wait to find the body.  God knows her reading literature had taught her that if you can't find a dead body, or a hidden tunnel with an instrument of torture or two, or the remains of the missing first wife in an old ruin, where can you find one? Instead, being Jane Austen's creation, she found a husband, and the main mystery turns out to be the laundry bills left behind by Eleanor Tilney's secret love.


In true Gothic fiction there are always dark castles, dungeons, tunnels, empty graves, full graves, murders, rumors of murders, supernatural events, monsters, and sometimes all of the above.  ("Dark Shadows" captured all of these in one magnificently campy afternoon soap opera from my early teen years:  click on the picture above to see Barnabas Collins finally set free from his coffin...)

There is always a young, virginal heroine (even in modern Gothic romances) with a mysterious past, who is often revealed to have been born noble.  The hero is always courageous, although he is often a suspect (at least for a while) in the shenanigans going on around the place.  The villain of the piece is a control freak tyrant who will have things his own way no matter what (calling Mrs. Danvers...).  If the villain is married, his wife is completely under his thumb (Countess Fosco in "The Woman in White").  There is often a crazy relative, usually locked up. There is always a mystery.  And the heroine always feels that there's something seriously wrong, then that something's wrong with her, then that she's under threat, and, at various stages, worries about her own mental health...

How the heroine gets to her location varies.  Sometimes the heroine is a relative (Maud is practically willed by her father to Uncle Silas), sometimes she's the governess ("Jane Eyre", "Nine Coaches Waiting"), sometimes she's an invited guest (Catherine Morland).  But I believe - although I could be wrong - that "Rebecca" is the only one where the heroine marries the owner BEFORE she arrives at the house.  

But it's always about the house.  As Jo Walton says, "The essential moment every gothic must contain is the young protagonist standing alone in a strange house. The gothic is at heart a romance between a girl and a house."

So, the next time you go house-hunting, consider...  you might be looking at your next mystery, your next ghost story, or your next romance.

Will keep you posted on our move.







13 October 2016

More Updates From South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

One of the fun things about having moved around a lot is that you learn that most places look a whole lot alike any more, from the strip malls to gas stations, from fast-food chains to housing developments.  And don't even get me started on the "industrial parks", where large metal sheds are the new factories (no windows, two doors, completely anonymous).  Even Josiah Bounderby would think they were a little too utilitarian.

On the other hand, the other fun thing you learn is that, underneath all that sameness, there are real differences.


Image result for dry corn in fields south dakotaOne thing that puzzled me when I first moved up here, was why there were so many cornfields standing, unharvested, well into November, December, January, February...  I mean, there's brown corn, with cobs, with snow.  So I asked about that:  "Was there some sort of blight?" And was told that the corn was freeze-drying in the fields, to save the cost of corn dryers.  Who knew?  I'd been living in the South for the last 17 years, where they harvest at harvest time, i.e., the fall, because if they leave the corn in the field, it'll rot with all the rain.  Up here...  well, we're colder than that.

Here's another puzzler:

Image result for signs limousin service

There's lots of signs here in South Dakota for "Limousin Service". As a newcomer, I had two questions:

(1) why were there so many limousine services in rural South Dakota?
(2) why didn't they spell it right?

Later I learned that a Limousin (outside of Sioux Falls) is a cow. French origin, from the Limousin, but all over the place up here, along with Angus, Shorthorn, Simmenthal, etc.   And, of course, Limousin Service is about breeding.  (Which sometimes happens in limousines, too, but we won't get into that.)

BTW, this is NOT a misspelling, but deliberate:

Image result for toe service

There are more than one of these signs along I-29 between Sioux Falls and Mitchell.  Dick knows how to make you look.  Betcha he gets a lot of calls, too.
BTW, this is why I regularly put characters asking stupid questions into my stories.  God knows I've done it often enough.
Thankfully, there are other ways to find out what's going on in a new area than running around asking crazy questions.  For one thing, find out who's the biggest gossip in town and park yourself next to him at the Norseman's Bar or her down at the Laskin Cafe.

Another way is to read the local paper.  And not just the local daily paper, but the local weekly paper, which services the whole county.  We have one, called "The Peach".  If you need field irrigation wells, farm & home wells, high capacity pumps; if you want to buy a limousin 2 year old bull or an Angus yearling; if you need retrenching or a ride to Branson to see Daniel O'Donnell; or any sort of job in the healthcare, farming, or hog confinement industry, the Peach is the place to go.

Did I mention barn straightening?  Seed cleaning?  Bean stubble baling?

Also pork loin feeds, and church suppers, all of which are other places where you can go and get fed while catching up on the news/gossip/weather report.

And then there are the Locals, where we find out what to do with our spare time:
  • Dist. 8 Conservatives Luncheon
  • Laskin Duplicate Bridge
  • Arts Council
  • Alcoholics Anonymous 
  • Sr. Citizens Dance (hugely popular; if you're a guy who loves to dance, you will not sit down for longer than it takes to have a cup of coffee or a highball to pep you up for the next dance.)
  • Christian Motorcyclists Association
  • VFW Auxiliary Sunday Brunch - every Sunday, great pancakes, come on down!
  • The Country Swingers (more dancing; get your mind out of the gutter) 
Now granted, it's not the Agony Column that Sherlock Holmes read every day, but things slip in.

Like what happened to the person who posted "Acres of good used hog equipment for sale"?  What happened to THAT hog containment operation?  And why does s/he say, "Save this ad"?

Or why is someone "looking for used mobile homes, 1995 or older, will pay CASH."  Do they breed? Are they refurbished and sold as new?  Or are they being shipped up to the Bakken for the man-camps?

Or the sale of "Positive Rain Gutters".  (Watch out for negative rain gutters, they will leak and you.)

And there are auctions galore, of course.  These are important, not only because you can bid on everything from TOOLS OF ALL KINDS (and they ain't kidding!) to Antiques, Trucks, Household Goods, Implements, Stationary Engines, Parts & Pieces, and the land itself.  Auctions are where people gather.  They last all day; food (or at least coffee) is often served; and people stand around and catch up on everything, from who's there and who isn't.

And speaking of auctions, we had a humdinger back in September.  You remember the Gear Up! scandal, where, early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  Our Attorney General Marty Jackley determined that Scott Westerhuis shot his entire family, torched the house, and then shot himself, all because he was about to be caught for embezzling enough funds - and no one still knows how much - to build a $1.3 million rural home, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, etc., etc., etc., on a combined salary of $130,000.

Well, look to your right, folks.  Yes, they auctioned off what stuff survived the fire that night.  For a detailed look at what was on auction, read Cory Heidelberger's blog HERE.

As you might expect, the auction was a major topic of discussion around town.  Many of us agreed that we would not be anxious to have any item from that property because we are almost all superstitious, and feel like the TVs might go on and off by themselves, or perhaps the desk roller chairs might start swiveling around in the middle of the night, like at, say 2:57 AM when someone used the Westerhuis landline to call Nicole Westerhuis' cell phone...

The land itself was sold at auction to the Platte Area Ministerial Association, who plan to open an interdenominational Christian camp there.  Unfortunately, they only had the $37,000 down payment and are trying to raise the rest of the $370,000 bid.  They've set up a GoFundMe page, which hopefully will work.  (Although I can't but wonder if an exorcism might also help...)

And where did the funds that were raised go?  To pay for the funerals; compensation for estate representatives and attorneys; a dozen credit card companies, banks, and workers.  Meanwhile, Gear Up! will not be reimbursed nor, apparently, the State of South Dakota.

And speaking of Gear Up - Mid Central Educational Co-op Director Dan Guericke is accused of backdating contracts to avoid a government audit, plus sighing at least 17 illegally secret contracts on behalf of Mid Central worth $3.8 million. Where, oh, where did the money go? (see all of Angela Kennecke's report HERE.

Speaking of Guericke and Westerhuis, "Guericke spent more than an hour on the phone with Scott Westerhuis the evening before the tragedy and when the board questioned him about what was said, sources tell me that Guericke told them the two really didn't talk about much at all."  Mm-hmm.

Did I mention that they STILL haven't found Scott Westerhuis safe?

Ah, South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 


13 February 2014

Who Are You?

by Eve Fisher

Who is that out there?  In cyber-space?  In the neighborhood?  Do you know who your neighbors are?
Or do you only think you do?  What kind of identification do you really need to survive these days?  Do you need any at all?

Example:  We have, as I have noted in the past, a number of little businesses here in South Dakota that provide South Dakota citizenship, driver's license, voter registration, mail service, etc., to anyone who's willing to pay what I consider a very modest fee - about $50.00 a month.  Used by people who want to RV around the country, or those who live in states with high state income tax (or any state income tax).  And also used by South Dakota citizens who don't want anyone to know their legal address.  So you meet someone, John Doe, and they give you their address, at 555 Main Street, Bwabwa, South Dakota.  Except that there are about 1500 people, at least, with that address.  You don't know where John Doe actually lives, where he was actually born, where he actually does anything at all...

Example:  Have you gone to a retirement center recently?  They all remind me of Miss Marple's disquisition on Chipping Cleghorn in "A Murder Is Announced":  "People just come - and all you know about them is what they say of themselves...  People who've made a little money and can afford to retire.  But nobody knows any more who anyone is.  You can have Benares brassware in your house and talk about tiffin and chota Hazri - and you can have pictures of Taormina and talk about the English church and the library ....  People take you at your own valuation." Sure, that distinguished looking grey-haired lady SAYS she used to be a judge, and she certainly knows her law.  But there's more than one way to gain an extensive knowledge of the law, and it's very hard to prove someone is or is not who they say they are.

Example:  The internet, awash in usernames that can't be traced - PaulZOmega may say he's a Biblical scholar, and hotchatony she's a retired grandmother in Gran Canaria, but you have no proof, and all the information can be gotten on the internet in about two minutes.  You can set up multiple e-mail identities, multiple Facebook identities, multiple anything identities, and never ever surface in your real persona.  How many of us have filled out every internet questionnaire accurately?  No fibbing?  No blanks?  (On Facebook, for example, I put down January 1, 1905 as my birthday.)  And while I know that hackers can find out who you are, who anyone is, and track them through all their more or less interesting internet life - I'm no hacker and I personally don't know any hackers.  I'm stuck - we're almost all stuck - dealing with avatars.

Now granted, someone is keeping track of our hits, our purchases, our likes, dislikes, political viewpoints, advertising preferences, television and movie rentals.  And billions of people are providing a constant stream of photos of themselves and their children in various stages of disarray, sickness, partying, playing, working, fooling around, and general silliness.  Not to mention tweets of their opinions, acid reflux, and shopping.  And yes, the government (every government, by the way, do not be fooled into thinking ours is the only one that does such things) is keeping tabs on the people (and always has been).

And yet, we are very much alone and anonymous.  We are an incredibly mobile people, moving for jobs, love, fear, whim, anger, fun, restlessness, rootlessness, and being fed up with the neighbors.  We live in a world without roots.  To return to Agatha Christie:  "Fifteen years ago one knew who everybody was...  They were people whose fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, or whose aunts and uncles, had lived there before them.  If somebody new came to live there, they brought letters of introduction, or they'd been in the same regiment...  If anybody new - really new - really a stranger - came, well, they stuck out - everybody wondered about them and didn't rest till they found out....  But it's not like that any more."  No, it isn't.  Not in the 80% of the United States that's urban.  (I live in the 20% rural.)  Nobody stands out because everybody's a stranger:  THAT'S WHY THEY'RE THERE.

So, who are your neighbors?  And who are you?