(Originally posted at The Mess That Is Me on September 7, 2010)
They say I’m quirky, whatever that means. When I think quirky, I tend to think of older people who are starting to lose their anchor to reality by wearing bedroom slippers with their shirt and ties to Olive Garden for dinner. Not that wearing slippers is bad. I wear mine in the morning when I take the kids to school, but I’m not getting out of the car and I’m heading straight back to the house. I mean, it’s not like I’m Mrs. Bryant who wears a terry-cloth bathrobe and curlers into the 7-11 for her morning newspaper and a chili dog. Furthermore, I don’t wear slippers and ties at the same time or when I go grocery shopping.
But they say I am quirky anyway.
It all started when a friend of ours saw a picture of me – several actually – with a bright yellow highlighter in my shirt pocket. “You’re not in high school anymore. What’s with the highlighter? You’re such a nerd.” I’m a nerd because I carry a highlighter in my pocket? I also always have a small notebook that fits in my pocket and a black gel pen. These, however, don’t make me nerdy. It’s the highlighter that does that. One friend always saw me with a shirt pocket weighted down with pens and assumed I had a pocket protector. Now, that would be nerdy.
At home, I told Teri what my friend had said. “Am I nerdy? Because, I never really saw myself as nerdy. I’ve seen Revenge of the Nerds. I’ve watched the Big Bang Theory sitcom. I don’t know a thing about quantum physics and I do not dress up as a cadet from Starlfleet Academy to watch the newest Star Trek movie.”
With a hand on my cheek in that comfortingly patronizing way, Teri said, “You’re not nerdy. You’re just…quirky.”
Quirky? Is that good? Is that better or worse than nerdy?
They’re right, though. I haven’t been in school for twenty-two years. That, however, doesn’t mean I don’t use highlighters. I read almost as much as I breath, whether magazines, essays, novels, books for research or memoirs. As I read, I’m searching for those nuggets that other writers have left behind and when I find one I highlight it. What’s so quirky about that?
Oh, did I mention the Post-it Notes? You can tell what books I’ve read by those colorful little sticky tabs sticking out of the top. I mean, it only makes sense, right? How else am I to re-find those sentence gems if I don’t mark the spot for easy reference? So, in my pocket along with the small composition notepad, the black gel pen, and the highlighter is a small set of Post-it Note tabs. The color doesn’t matter. They just need to be small and thin. There are several Post-it Notes wannabes out there screaming for the attention of my debit card, but that, to me, would be like cheating on your spouse. Post-it Notes have been so faithful and accommodating since our union together, making a new size just when I needed it, and then adding lines to help the presentation look even neater. Post-it Notes is always giving. And, even now, they’ve sensed my frustration yet again. They heard my agony when I lost that tiny set of tabs and desperately needed to mark a page in a book. They heard and they rallied to my wail. They put those little Post-it tabs right into the highlighter! Of course, the highlighter is now twice the size but who cares? It’s worth it. They even made the tab portion of the highlighter refillable. Now, I never have to search for a small Post-It Note. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. That’s not quirky. That’s good sense.
Of course, the picture Jen was referring to with the highlighter in my pocket was taken while we were out at a night club dancing. I confess I did not have a book with me at the time.. Now that would be quirky. (Okay, I tried taking a book but the girls wouldn’t allow it. I had to leave it in the car.) There wasn’t even a pamphlet or brochure on hand. It went into my pocket out of force of habit. Okay, that might be just a tad quirky. (As I was reading a portion of this to the girls they pointed out that they thought it was cute that while I was reading about Post-It Notes I had been using them to add portions of prose to my writing. Seems they come in handy for everything.)
Maybe they think I’m quirky because of the way I am with my books. Most families have perhaps a book case or two somewhere in their home. They may even have a few books on them. Most, however, hold figurines, silk flower arrangements and a family photo or two. I, on the other hand, have walls covered with bookshelves that actually are for books. In my house there are at least ten bookcases crammed to over-flowing. Four shelves in my walk-in closet are bowed with books instead of boxers and there are storage bins in the garage chock full of books that have no shelf to call home. I have already measured my college age kids’ rooms to see how many book shelves I can fit into each one. After all, the books can’t live in the garage forever, right? The boys can’t live at home forever, either, right? Right? And I buy more books almost weekly. Amazon loves me.
Not only do I highlight passages in my books, but I write in them as well.. I add notes in the margins, making my own comments, especially if I’m doing research. I’ve even loaned books out and had friends add their comments. I love that. What I hate is when people dog ear my books or don’t take care of the dust jackets. I also go into panic mode when they take too long to return what they’ve borrowed. I know where all of my books are and which ones I own. I have a notebook where I list out the authors I enjoy and all of their works and then highlight (see they come in handy for everything) the title once I own it. I even add comments beside it once I’ve read it as to whether I really liked it or really really really liked it. When someone asks me what I want for Christmas I hand them the notebook and say, “Anything that’s not highlighted. Or Post-it Notes.” Yes, I’ve been called obsessive. My kids will either hate me or love me when I die and they are stuck with a house full of books to contend with and a surplus of office supplies.
I also have a small duffle bag that goes most places with me that contains about twenty books of varying topics. Usually in the bag is a collection of poems, a novel, usually two, a collection of short stories, a classic, a memoir, essays and a book or two on the craft of writing or some research I’m in the middle of. The girls say it looks like I’m moving out every time we leave the house because I usually take my duffle bag of books, my briefcase of projects in progress and a back pack of supplies and what wouldn’t fit in the other two bags. I never know what I’m going to feel like reading or working on so how can I know what to take? What if I have a short story in my hands but suddenly an essay idea screams for attention? What do I do?
“People carry briefcases every where all the time,” I rationalize.
“They do,” Teri agreed. Then she added, “But usually only one.”
Char just chirped in with, “Quirky.”
When I die my children are going to be stuck with quite a bit of other stuff, as well. My notebooks – since I am writing in one now – come to mind. Owning notebooks doesn’t make me quirky I am told; the quality and how anal I am about how I use them does. You see, I write my manuscripts in long hand before bringing them to the computer. I carry them with me so that I can work on them anywhere – coffee house, book store, a park, the beach, even while I’m driving. My friends give me grief over that last one but a sturdy clip board resting on my knee and the gear shift makes red lights productive again. I almost pray that I catch them all when the storyline is flowing at a steady clip. Stop honking at me! I’m going. I’m going.
I have notebooks in all shapes, sizes and colors; from the small one in my shirt pocket to the 5-subject college-ruled spiral that I write all the quotes in that I’ve highlighted and tabbed in all of my books and magazines. Each notebook is for something different. I have small journal-like books, pocket-sized that I use for character sketches, story notes and background and I use a different one for each novel concept. I don’t need characters from one story mingling with characters from another. Then they’ll want to cross over into other stories where they don’t belong and it’s hard enough keeping track of everyone now.
I have single subject spiral notebooks that I use for short stories, essays or articles. Different color covers mean different things. Currently, yellow is for short stories and red is for essays. I’m using blue for novel chapters. Of course, I also have purple, green and black just itching to be used. I refuse to use kittens or puppies on the notebook covers as it’s hard enough to write about murder with those sad little eyes looking up at you as if you killed their meal ticket. In my closet under the four shelves of books is a shelf devoted to notebooks - blank ones just waiting for inspiration to make the sacrifice of all those trees have purpose.
Loose leaf paper doesn’t cut it. I tried but once my clip board fell and portions of manuscripts went everywhere. It was like a massive jigsaw puzzle with a dozen puzzles mixed in. My face had that same look Ms. McCorkle had when we messed with her sheet music. Billy Kull and I would sneak into the choir room during lunch and pick someone’s music folder at random. We would then take the inside pages of one piece of music and swap it with another. Thus, they might start out singing The Little Drummer Boy but after page three it suddenly became Do You Hear What I Hear. The look on their faces was hilarious. So, Billy and I did it with our choir director’s music. The look on her face wasn’t hilarious. It was downright scary. I’m sure that’s the look that covered my face as I looked down at the scattered pieces of paper. It was far from being hilarious. As a side note, Ms. McCorkle’s sheet music was our last prank with people’s music pieces. Lesson learned.
To add to my notebook quirkiness, I only work one manuscript in a notebook at a time. This way I don’t have to worry about how many blank pages to leave between each story. There is nothing worse than splitting up prose around another thrilling masterpiece. However, a more practical reason is that I don’t do any of my first draft typing. I work the rewrites, but Char does the original typing. With one manuscript in a notebook at a time I can hand a piece to her to type without having to pause in the middle of another story. Quirkiness with practicality.
Now, when I work on poetry it’s completely different. I have a small thin black notebook I use and I will work on several pieces at a time. Once I am satisfied with a poem I transfer it to a small 3-subject notebook until I am ready to use it. Then when I want to put a collection together I copy it on loose leaf paper - I never said I never used loose paper - and put them into a three-ring binder so that I can move them around for a perfect flowing order. Organization is not quirky. Is it?
And then it was my clothing. Apparently it’s quirky that I don’t wear shorts. Why don’t I wear shorts? Because I have hairy, death-white legs. I feel more comfortable in pants, jeans in particular. Why is that quirky, you ask? I know. I asked the same question. It’s quirky because I live on the East Coast of Florida where it’s over 85 degrees fifty weeks out of the year. It’s quirky because I live on the beach. It’s quirky because everyone else in the world wears shorts.
Kids are wearing their pants at thigh level but I’m quirky because I won’t wear shorts. Where’s the logic? I don’t like t-shirts or pull-over’s either. I prefer button down shirts with long sleeves and, although I wear long sleeves, I always roll the cuff back twice. I just recently stopped wearing ties with my shirts. Do you know that only a few decades ago most men wore a jacket and tie to family dinners in their own home? I didn’t wear a jacket, although I did wear a sports coat and tie with my denim pants and sneakers. What they say is quirky; I say is good fashion sense.
I hate wearing pull-over shirts so much that the pizza company I work for had them as their uniforms and I went and had my own shirts made with their logo. I did get varying colors as well as short sleeves but they were button down with a pocket. I mean, come now, where else am I to put my notebook, gel ink pen, and fat highlighter with the Post-it Notes tabs built in?
To me quirky is Hawkeye smelling his food before he eats it or Brad Roberts’ character on Everybody Loves Raymond touching his chin with it before eating it. Quirky is girls who have to use pens with the fuzzy top heads or cover their desk with little trolls. Although, I did have several Disney figurines on my desk at one time but, please, Disney is a far cry from trolls. Quirky is the guy who is always making those popping noises with his lips when he isn’t talking. Never mind, that’s just annoying.
I also don’t think it’s quirky that I drink coffee whenever I read or write. Of course, poetry and the classics require hot tea, Earl Grey with just a dollop of honey. You have to use the word “dollop” as well. It’s a nice hot tea word. I have manila folders, rough drafts, correspondence, all branded with a dark brown circle where my coffee cup had rested. There are stains on my desk and droplets forever marking my keyboard. Nowhere, however, is there a coffee stain on a book. If that ever happened, after I came home from ICU, I would replace the book with a click of the coffee-stained keys. Thanks, Amazon.
I suppose quirkiness isn’t so bad. It’s those little tidbits of ourselves that give us character, make us who we are in other people’s eyes. It’s what I add to the characters in my stories to help people tell them apart. Besides, I really would prefer quirky to nerdy, although I hear nerdy pays more.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Until next time, keep chasing your fantasies!