Monday, July 2, 2007


A friend of mine with four children once gave me her definition of torture. She said it is to give an intelligent, capable adult a certain number of tasks to complete in a day, and then interrupting her every five minutes as she tries to complete them. This was said in response to her husband, who questioned her about why she never seemed to get anything done even though she was home all day.

Being a writer compounds that torture, although thankfully I have only one child to deal with, because the interruption is not every five minutes, but rather a constant stream of narrative in my head. It goes something like this...

"Oooh, look at that photo of a mountain on that magazine cover. That would make a great setting for that part of my story where they climb up to discover the... NO! Focus. What was I doing? Why am I standing here holding dirty clothes? Oh yes, going to the basement... "

(I go down the steps, passing the bookshelf.)

"Hey, vacation photos over there. Don't we have some great shots of the Alps? And that castle we visited, I should see what the sleeping chambers were like. But that was a later castle, a Victorian fake, really. What century would my story be comparable to? Do they use gunpowder, for example?... NO! STOP! FOCUS! Should I do whites or colors first? What are we doing tomorrow? What clothes does my son need? I can't remember!"

(I go back upstairs to look at the calendar, clothing still in hand.)

Yesterday I made a field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to look at armor. What a fiasco! Because of the Welcome America activities, I didn't drive for fear of getting stuck in hellish traffic and took the train from New Jersey instead. I had to drive 20 minutes to the train station, catch the PATCO train across the river to Philly, then transfer to the subway, get off at City Hall and trek seven diagonal blocks up the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum. I left my house at 1:00 and arrived at 2:50. I couldn't believe it! I kept looking at my watch trying to calculate how the minute hand could have possibly gone around two full rotations since I left the house. I had to be home at six. So I gave myself exactly an hour and twenty minutes in the museum.

What I found when I went to the armour room is that princes and dukes and such could afford really, really nice armor. They even had - get this - armpit protectors. Their horses had nice armor too. The collection at the museum is mainly presentation armor. It looks really nice and is highly decorative, but is not very useful for helping me figure out how the average foot soldier kept himself from getting chopped to pieces on the battlefield, or what he did his own chopping with. I did find out however what a brigandine is. Basically, it's like high fashion Kevlar - a coat of mail with a decorative fabric covering. Those were cool. And they had a bunch of helmets (though they weren't call helmets but some fancy French name that I can't use because my story doesn't take place in France) that looked like long pointy bicycle helmets worn backwards. Anyone wearing one of those would look like a bird. Or an orc.

By this time I was feeling dehydrated and in great need of a place to sit down, so I hiked another couple of blocks through the museum, from the second floor of one wing to the basement of the other wing to the cafe, had a salad and a Frappachino (my first - what a wonderful thing Starbucks has invented!) and then hiked back up to the European collections with a little quick detour through the American furniture and pottery (my favorite part). I then made a very quick circuit through the period rooms - peeking into the Tudor room, the German kitchen and the Dutch room with the bed in the wall behind a red velvet curtain - and looked at a few paintings to see what the soldiers were wearing in the battle scenes. Not much armour, mostly just helmets and breastplates. Then I started the long trek home, about fourteen dollars poorer but not much richer in knowledge than when I started out.

At least I got some exercise! But I was so tired this morning I woke up late and didn't do any writing, and now my day has taken off again, barging through the hours like a stampeding elephant with lists of things to do and an essay to write before my education class tonight. C'est la vie! Or perhaps I should say, as my heroine Elinor would, "Gryphon feathers!"


Michelle Gregory said...

I get some of my best ideas when I'm doing laundry or dishes. I think our minds can wander when we're doing mindless tasks. And I'm always getting distracted with pictures - "How would this person/setting/object work in my book?" It's all part of being a writer.

What drives me crazy is all the dialog that goes on in my head, even when I'm not working on a story.


Donetta said...

I think often of the cottage days and what the wheel wright must of been seeing and grinding sounded so promisingly.