Sunday, February 24, 2008

Adding to the Bank of Weirdness



Erica Orloff recently put up a post about the odd experiences writers can use as research for their characters and stories. She posted five random facts about herself that might come in handy in a story – the idea being that each of the writers that participate will give a bit of an overview on their own personal experience and knowledge, opening themselves up so that other writers can tap them for information and insight on things they might be working on or might like to work on.

As we know, no knowledge is completely useless to a writer. The comments at Erica’s ran long with wonderful and many varied vantage points. I was amazed at how many writers felt they didn’t have much to say, but really we all have our own bank of knowledge, large and small, that becomes unique to all of those who haven’t lived in the same places or had the same adventures... even if they seem to be non important adventures... hell, I might want to write about a character who’s a seamstress, but if I don’t sew, how will I make that lifelike?

So, I’m posting my own five things here. Feel free to ask me about any and all of them or tap me for research material on a subject – I’m always game to talk... I’d love to see some more of these pop up across our little bloggy circle...

1. My first love was neither reading nor writing... Okay, I always liked reading more than average, but my first real love was art. Some of you may know that already, but I actually planned to pursue art professionally from the time I could hold a crayon up until my senior year of High School. That’s when I fell in love with writing. I still draw and occasionally paint. I’ve had formal training in most mediums, except oil painting and sculpture – I do love oil painting it’s on my list of classes I’d love to take when I get some time, but I’ve never studied it formally... I do have a pretty extensive knowledge working with other mediums, though, and of course the experience of art courses... ask me sometime about art stores, seriously, they are my favorite places on earth – there is something about the smell of charcoal and brand new kneaded erasers... I swear, it’s heaven... I still love to play with new supplies and love the smaller stores where all the clerks are art students and just as excited to play with the merchandise as you are...

The sketch at the top of this post (which hopefully came out well – still haven’t mastered Photoshop, which is another thing on my list)... anyway, the sketch is a pencil drawing I did of my daughter from a photo... personally, I like working from life better than photos, there’s more depth to the work that way... anyway, this one was from a photo of her when she was five.

2. I am a font of information on all things Catholic. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m neither a priest nor a theologian, so you should really check with the experts for absolute clarity. I did go through Catholic grade school and an all girls Catholic High School. I also sent my kids to a Catholic grade school for six years and served on their school board for three... so I have a pretty good knowledge of how the Catholic schools run from the inside out... I’m also pretty well versed in our Sacraments and traditions and I have a pretty good grasp of the Church’s teachings as well... So if you’ve got Catholic questions, I’d be glad to field them the best I can...

3. This next one will completely contradict the last one... we’ll just say I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle, covered in blasphemy... or something... Anyhoo – I read Tarot Cards. There! I said it! Actually, some of you that knew me from the old blogging community already knew that. But yeah, I started learning tarot when I was a teenager and we used to hang out at this new age store where the owner read cards for us. She taught me how to read and let me sit in on readings to learn, when the customers didn’t mind. I sometimes use the cards to help me flesh out characters – someday I should do a post on that, because it’s really a great exercise.

I also have a pretty good knowledge of candle magic and color magic and some Witta, Wicca, and Stregheria knowledge – I don’t practice these, I’ve just learned a bit here and there (still Catholic, just an open minded one). Oddly enough, I find that most of these philosophies actually match up really well – but that’s a lengthy discussion...

4. I’m a baseball nut and obviously a Cubs fan... so if you ever want to know what it feels like to get your heart broken repeatedly and keep coming back for more... yeah, I’m your resource... seriously, though, I understand the game pretty well, most especially where my team is concerned but I pay fairly good attention to the sport in general during regular season play. I also hit at least a few games a year, so if you need to know what Wrigley’s like for a scene, well, that I could probably recite like poetry.

5. I have a Thyroid condition which requires that I take synthetic thyroid medication daily... so far I don’t need surgery, but it’s a permanent condition and I’ll have it for life – my mother also has it, though she had to have her Thyroid removed when she was about my age. Thyroid is a pretty common malady and one that’s often misdiagnosed or goes untreated... so if you need a good descriptive of how it feels or what the symptoms are, just ask... I’m hypo, which means mine is slowed down and therefore I get tired without the medication (there are other symptoms too) some people are hyper, which means the opposite, as you can imagine. This also means they have to biopsy my thyroid on occasion to make certain there’s nothing else wrong... which means sticking a really large needle in my neck... not fun, but would probably make for a really nasty scene in your book.

Okay, guys, I’m not going to tag anyone to do this, but if you have time and wanted to volunteer, I’d love to see your five things. If you post them, make sure to drop me a link or go over to Erica’s to drop her one, so other writers can benefit from your own font of useless knowledge.

24 comments:

Stephen Parrish said...

I find that most of these philosophies actually match up really well – but that’s a lengthy discussion...

I find the same thing. Although I'm no longer Catholic I still attend church often to be with my daughter (who is an altar girl). What strikes me are the similarities between, say, Neopaganism and Catholicism, rather than the differences, certainly with respect to ritual. I hope the "lengthy discussion" you mention takes place one of these days.

Erica Orloff said...

Merry:
What a wonderful post! I especially like your introduction to it. I had revealed on my blog at one point that my first (I think it was the first one) Billie Quinn book had a mistake in it. Her mother planted bulbs in the wrong time of year in her garden. The thing was . . . at the time I didn't garden (now I do). And I didn't even KNOW that I had it wrong. I didn't check it. It was just one of those little slips. The copyeditor (a Manhattanite who didn't garden) didn't catch it. My MOM did. After it was in print. So you're right. You can think you don't have something really exciting to offer, but in fact we each have these little specialty areas.

Thanks for playing!
E

Pinhole said...

While you're in an introspective mood, I've tagged you for a new meme over at my place, if you feel like joining in.

Nice sketch, by the way.

spyscribbler said...

Yikes, about the thyroid needle! You know Evanovich was a painter, first. I can definitely see how #2 and #3 are close, but I have a feeling the Pope would disagree. ;-)

Kalynne Pudner said...

This is a great idea, Merry. I had just found myself consulting my daughter's AP Euro History teacher about the impact of the Hundred Years' War on the everyday life of French peasantry. And now I know to come to you if I ever want to set something in New Orleans (where I first encountered the Catholic-tarot combination).

My "weirdness bank" deposit is here:
http://phdwithninekids.blogspot.com/2008/02/invitation-to-tap.html

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Stephen,

The similarities are definitely interesting, and I always wonder how much came from which tradition and trickled over to the other...

There are little things that most people don't note or catch, like the annointing of candles. Catholics annoint the candle at mass with oil, they also never blow out this candle, it's snuffed out... in various pagan traditions a candle is annointed with oil (from the tip to the center to bring things to you, the center to the tips to send things away... in case you're curious) they also do not blow out candles but snuff them out - blowing out the candle is like blowing out the wish/spell/prayer... which really makes me wonder who came up with the whole blow out the candles on a birthday cake thing, but I'll digress.

I think spells and prayers are remarkably similiar, and the word 'meditation' can be used interchangeably... I also think if everyone took the time to study other religions we'd get rid of a lot of the fear and bigotry that really stems from ignorance.

By the way, Stephen, I think it's fabulous that you attend Mass to be with your daughter even though you're no longer Catholic!!! My husband doesn't believe in church - he believes in God but thinks all churches have more to do with people on power trips than God.. but that's a really long story... anyway, I can't get him into Mass to save my life - he only comes when the kids make Sacraments because he doesn't want to miss their big days - but I think they'd enjoy it if he came on a more regular basis than that.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Erica,

Thanks for stopping by and I do think this was a fabulous idea... now I know I can drop you a line if I ever have a character marooned at sea... and I can call Stephen for espionage questions... I'm so looking forward to that post...

Hi Pinhole,

Thanks for stopping in... now you're five things I'd love to see. Thanks for the tag, I'll be over soon to check it out.

Hi Spyscribbler,

I actually agree that 2 and 3 are closely related and while my New agey tarot friends don't care at all that I'm Catholic, I don't think I've ever told a priest that I can read cards... then again, most of my Catholic friends also like having their cards read, so what does that tell ya?

Hi Kalynne,

Thanks so much for stopping in... it's funny you mention New Orleans, I'd love to go there!!! My great-grandfather actually came into this country and settled in New Orleans where my grandfather was born... but he took the family back to Sicily when my Papa was little because there was no work for Sicilians at that time... My Grandfather came back with his family and settled in Chicago when my own dad was a baby... but New Orleans has always been a place I wanted to visit... I have to get there someday.

I'll stop by in a bit to see your addition to the bank.

Mary Witzl said...

Merry, I was an art major (illustration -- I was hoping to go into medical and scientific illustration, but lacked a good math background) and your portrait of your daughter is really fine. I did one of my daughter recently, and damned if I'd post it -- it's nowhere near as good and I need to get back in practice. I love the way art supply stores smell, and I still have a lot of friends who are artists too.

I had to commute to a thyroid hospital in Tokyo for over a year and I've had four separate thyroid biopsies. I hated having to lie back and expose my throat for them, but when I saw some of the other patients there and heard them calling Mrs So-and-so from Hiroshima or Mr Whoever from Nagasaki, I knew I had it pretty good. Many of the elderly patients there commuted from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Coincidentally, though we didn't know it at the time, my husband is hypo and has to take Synthroid every day too.

I will be back to you some day with questions about Catholicism -- just you wait. And too bad I didn't know you about five years ago when I needed help with Tarot cards.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary,

Thyroid is so common it's funny how undertreated it can be... and for such a little gland it can wreak all sorts of havoc when it's not working properly. I can't imagine being an American in a hospital where Hiroshima victims were treated, that must've been rather intense - you know, coupled with the damn needle... I love the way they do that too... the first time he stuck me with novicaine and I just assumed the whole thing would be numb for the procedure... he had the needle all the way in and just casually mentioned, "Oh, we can't numb the Thyroid itself so this'll hurt a bit..." Ya think? But you're too afraid to move to yell at him by that point, so really he wins...

Feel free to ask me about Tarot or Catholicism anytime... I think there are actually a lot of us former artists that turned to writing and vice versa... there's a connection there that might not be immediately noticed, but they are both forms of communication that rely solely on evoking emotion... If I could pull the same poignancy in visual art, I doubt I would have ventured into writing - I appreciate it when I see it, but my technical proficiency just doesn't match that spark I enjoy in other artists... I fancy I can do that with words... hopefully, I'll get the chance to see them in print.

Jerseygirl89 said...

Wonderful drawing - you are really talented.

I'm always struck by how alike most religions are, deep down. Or sometimes not so deep down.

Thank you for sharing your bank of weirdness, I will try to add mine soon.

Travis Erwin said...

I already know abot #4 since I am a lifelong New Orleans Saints fan.

My wife teaches in a Catholic elementary school and both my boys attend.

But I can't draw stick figures.

By the way, I finally got that CD I promised in the mail. look for it soon and let me know what you think.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Jerseygirl,

Thank you *blush*... I can't wait to see your five, I'll keep checking in at your blog, but drop a link here or at Erica's too, that way other writers out there have the benefit of your knowledge

Hi Travis,

Yay, I can't wait to get it! I did know your boys were in Catholic school and that your wife was a teacher there... I wonder if there are many differences between Catholic school in your neck of the woods and here in the Chicagoland area... maybe it's the same except for some of the regional differences.

How are you doing with Plundered Booty?

Josephine Damian said...

Merry, nice drawing. So many writers are also artists, including me.

You are much too young to have a thyroid problem. Like your mother, my mother did as well, so I know I'm high risk and definitely need to get checked - but I've been so overwhelmed by grad school, I don't have the time or energy to deal with doctor's appointments, although I know I should.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Josie,

You know, my mom's came out in her late twenties - early thirties, I found out about mine when I was 32. I think some of it has to do with the biological changes from having kids, if I hadn't had kids yet it might not have come out so early. (She was diagnosed between having my oldest brother and my second brother, I was diagnosed after having all three)

Mine is called hoshimoto, which is immunological - there is a growth on my thyroid and my immune system attacks the thyroid thinking it's fighting off an infection, causing the thyroid to produce less (that's the laymen's explanation anyway). The doctor told me that my daughter has a 90% chance of having it as an adult because it is passed from mother to daughter, my sons could get it but it's not as common for boys... I don't know if those odds are particular to my type of thyroid or overall, but yeah, you should definitely make time to get checked or add it in to your yearly gyno visits (my doctor knew about my mom's history and added it into my regular visits, which is how we caught it).

Honestly, I had no idea I had it even though I'd already had symptoms for months and I was familiar with the symptoms from my mom. I got ridiculously tired by 4 or 5 in the afternoon, but I thought it was just too much running around with the kids. I also gained over ten pounds in 2 months for no apparent reason... which really bummed me out because I'd spent a year and a half working out and dieting to lose all the baby weight and had been down to my pre-mommy weight before that... I've wavered back and forth since then, weight wise, right in between an 8 and a 10 where neither is completely comfortable.

Other signs are hair loss (I didn't get that one) and depression - I think I did get that one, actually.

If it's over active thyroid, you lose weight without trying, can't sleep well and are running a little manic - I think that one can also cause hair loss.

ORION said...

I read tarot cards too- I love the beautiful artwork on them...
including your passion makes for authentic writing...

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Patricia!!!

Yay, another card reader!!! So, was that a hint... will there be a card reader in your work in progress? I'm dying to hear more about it... though I know you're keeping mum until it's due out.

Actually, both the Cubs and a card reader feature prominently in my wip... we'll see how that plays for the middle grade crowd.

Ello said...

I love that picture of your daughter! You are extremely talented! I love art but my parents have it in spades and I have very little. Perhaps it skips generations as my girls are quite talented!

Am a baseball fan too, love my Yankees. Ok enough said.

My daughter is going up for her first communion this spring! Yeah! But I have no idea what to do. I am not a great Catholic. I barely realize I have to buy a nice communion dress and headpiece and am relying on my husband to fill me in. When I was growing up, my dad was buddhist and my mom Catholic and dad would drag me to temple and mom would drag me to church. Believe me, nothing stuck! But I am a full Catholic now, just a confused one.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Ello,

I think everyone gets a little up in arms when their oldest makes Communion, it's a big step... lots of people go all out with the dress and the parties... My son is making his this spring as well, though I'm way more low key about this one, after going through my daughter's two years ago...

Boys don't really care that much what they wear, we're just going to buy him a suit off the rack, and do a nice dinner with cake and friends over after...

You don't have to do the crown if you don't want to anymore - though my daughter insisted and she still has it in her closet because she won't let me throw it away. (personally, I think she uses it to dress up as a bride... ugh... I'd prefer her dress up as a rocket scientist or nobel prize winner, but they don't get a princess party so... there ya go.)

By the way, I rather like your Yankees, too.. they give me something to watch in the post season.

Precie said...

Lovely portrait!!!

I've got you beat (technically) on the Catholic education...went to Catholic grade school, then an all-girls Catholic high school, and then a Catholic college (plus 2 more years at same Catholic college for my MA). That's 18 yrs of Catholic school total. Not that it's really stayed with me. I go through periods of agnosticism.

Becoming a parent seriously complicated things, though. On one hand, I want to give my child a solid grounding in spirituality. On the other hand, I have a very hard time with the concept of indoctrinating the Child into a religious organization I don't wholeheartedly support. Sigh.

(I've found it really hard to talk about Santa Claus too, though, even from a simple secular perspective.)

Thanks for sharing!

Oh, and my mother has hypothyroidism...so she's ever vigilant about mine. So far so good. I hope yours is under control.

Mary Witzl said...

I am gratified to read what Precie wrote about children and teaching them religion/ spirituality. This is quite a headache in our household, what with our different religious backgrounds.

And forgive me for being a pedant, but it's Hashimoto's disease, named after Dr Hakaru Hashimoto (born 1912). I once traveled through his hometown, and what a nerd I do feel having retained that particular bit of trivia...

Mary Witzl said...

Oh, shame on me! He wasn't born in 1912, he first diagnosed this kind of hypothyroid thyroiditis in 1912! I can't remember when he was born. Thank God.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Precie,

"On one hand, I want to give my child a solid grounding in spirituality. On the other hand, I have a very hard time with the concept of indoctrinating the Child into a religious organization I don't wholeheartedly support. "

- I think you can give them a very solid grounding in spirituality without religious organizations, definitely better grounding if the religion of your background no longer holds your own faith...

I think people who question, and ponder these deeper issues are more likely to raise thinking children who also give deep thought to where their faith lies. That can never be a bad thing.

Hi Mary,

Correct me anytime! I've never seen the name written before, now I'll know. I can't imagine what people with this condition did before it was diagnosable... spent there whole life slowed down and depressed I would guess... thank God for Dr. Hashimoto.

Demon Hunter said...

Very interesting, Merry. I could have used your Catholic knowledge a few years ago when I was completing a project. :*)

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Demon Hunter,

How'd the project go? I'm guessing you've already got enough research on Catholicism now, but if there's anything else I can help you with, let me know :-)