Enormous Little Quirks

I picked up a copy of Long Story Short, by Margot Leitman, who is both a storyteller and a teacher of storytellers. One of the exercises in this little tome is to list ten quirks about yourself. My initial reaction was, “I’m pretty dull. No particular quirks… I do like my daily cup of jasmine green tea with agave nectar and light cream, but that’s not a quirk. I also live with a lot of cats–that’s a cliche rather than quirk.”

I slept on the question–What are my quirks? Do I have any quirks?–and woke up without anything to put on the list. I’m the quirk-less wonder… then I was buzzing down the I-5 south of Portland, OR, and I pulled over at a rest stop. A skinny young guy was standing outside the building, staring at the sidewalk, holding a sign: Even a smile would help.

I went back to the car, got some cash, and gave it to him, because I have rule: Never pass a beggar without giving something. If somebody has reached the point where they are begging–begging–for help, then I will take the risk that I’m being manipulated by a con artist rather than chance turning a deaf ear to a plea for help. I do believe this qualifies as a quirk.

A couple days later, I’m driving around the small town where my daughter and son-in-law live, and one of them is riding shotgun and giving me directions for how to get somewhere. I realize they are sending me in the wrong direction. The two of them rely almost exclusively on their GPSs to navigate the roads, so dead reckoning doesn’t figure into their travels.  I don’t use a GPS–will NOT use a GPS–and I think this also qualifies as a quirk.

Margot has the exercise in her book because she’s found that quirks often lead to a personal story, or at least a field where a story could be mined.

While visiting my offspring, we took a little walk in the forests around Belknap, and lordy, do I LOVE big trees. Love them. The story there is easy to find: I grew up surrounded by big trees. The survey oak in the field below our house was a sentinel to the passage of time, the woods were a playground for the imagination. I played in trees, turning them into clipper ships, asteroids, rafts, and other magical craft. Of course, I love them still.

So I guess I do have quirks. The rule about beggars is my mother’s spirit come to life, for she was forever inviting strangers to share our table. The GPS… welp, I am not the most trusting soul. I need to know where I am, and where the exits are. Those little GPSs lie, and need updating, and distract me from my journey.

I will use this exercise to build more interesting characters for my books, but I also think Margot is right: Quirks can point to interesting truths. Do you have quirks? Have you worked with or lived with somebody with a notable quirk? Is there a story there? A metaphor?

To one person who comments, I’ll send a copy of No Dukes Allowed.

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20 comments on “Enormous Little Quirks

  1. 1
    Karen H near Tampa says:

    In this day and age, probably my biggest quirk is my refusal to use the texting feature on my phone. If someone wants to advise me of something, they can call me, or send an email. This partially stems from the days when each text cost 20 cents but even now that I have free texting, I don’t like it and basically consider it to be rude,. I also don’t use Twitter or Instagram and my Facebook usage is confined to checking out a few author’s pages every day (of course, Grace’s is one of them). It’s not that I’m a Luddite since I have a Master’s in Computer Science and worked on a state website before retiring but because I prefer my privacy and don’t feel that I have to share everything with everybody or know what they’re doing every single second. Grade A Introvert here!

    • 1.1

      I think you’re smart. We have the studies proving that “smart” phones are such a distraction, even if they’re turned off, if we can see them or have them within reach, we don’t focus as well, we don’t learn as easily. Then there’s the whole surveillance capitalism thing, where you can be having a perfectly harmless text exchange with your kid about please pick up some cat food on the way home, and magically–yeah, right–all the side bar ads on FB that night are for cat food.
      Thanks for keeping up with my page, though. More and more, I’m just scrolling down through my “see firsts,” and bailing from FB.

  2. 2
    Teenie Marie says:

    I guess I often state the obvious (at least to me). I have found my obvious is not everyone else’s obvious and if I DON’T mention what I believe is obvious, it never gets addressed. Those things are the little, petty things in life and running a household. Not mentioning those things often means more work, usually for me. Yep, I repeat myself too often about those things, guilty as charged, but in the long run it means less work FOR ME. And no one wants to have to re-do some menial task, especially if *technically* it’s already been done.

    • 2.1

      I also find that if I say something out loud, I am more likely to recall it accurately. This applies to number sequences, but also to my grocery lists, my “don’t forgets,” and anything else I’m trying to carry around in short term memory. I generally regard myself as a visual thinker, but maybe I’m an aural thinker.

  3. 3
    Lissa says:

    I hate having my picture taken and almost never take them, except to please other people. I don’t like to be caught “in a moment” or to remember what was, I want to be where. And I want people to remember me as I am, not as I was.
    As for taking picture, my reason is similar. I find if I take the time to frame and take a picture, I am not focus on the experience – I miss what’s being said about my son in the graduation ceremony because I’m trying to get a photo while they walk across the stage or rather then enjoy the waterfall and talk about it with my family, I’m telling them to move left or right. Sometimes pictures help me to remember something special that happened, so I am lucky my husband loves to take pictures.

    • 3.1

      This one is interesting.
      My former spouse was raised conservative Mennonite(one step short of the buggy-driving, or “Old Order” Mennonite), and his parents believed that pictures constituted a “graven image,” like the golden calf of Old Testament infamy. They had no pictures, wouldn’t own a camera, didn’t have art on the walls. They did visit each other without ceasing–most of Sunday was either church or one big long visit–and they would look at your pictures of the grandkids, but they wouldn’t keep an image of your or even their own children.
      I didn’t quite know what to think about that. One the one hand, I think sitting on my duff staring at the TV when I should be doing isn’t such a good idea. On the other hand, everybody needs idle moments, times when the mind is on screensaver mode. That’s not worshiping a graven image, that’s taking a load off.

  4. 4
    Susan Gorman says:

    Mmm… quirks.
    I have a few. I need to have a cup of coffee with milk and 1 sweetener in the morning. I prefer to have my breakfast with Molly, my corgi. It’s quiet and peaceful.
    I think of things in color. Especially tools which drives my husband crazy. My Dad had his tool bench organized – all tools by color. So I don’t know a needle nose plier from a regular one- but one has a black handle and the other red.
    I wear my diamond studs to work- they don’t interfear with my headset, hair and go with any outfit.
    I need a GPS and that would be my book!

    I took your advice and am reading my first Mary Balough book– Someone to Care. Such a wonderful story and it pulls at your heartstrings.

    • 4.1

      Glad you are enjoying Mary’s book. It’s a departure from the usual Regency, but then, most of her books are written to a little bit of a different drummner’s beat. I think her handling of pacing is diabolically brilliant, like a placid sea full of hidden currents and strange creatures. Everything look calm and predictable on the surface, than a flash of something unexpected, a ripple, a gust of wind…

      I wonder how we managed before GPSs…. yes, we wrote directions down, but sometimes, there were no directions, no maps… Maybe just got lost more?

  5. 5
    Mary Ann Wright says:

    So, quirks. One tendency I have is a need to put everything in its proper place. At Ollies, I am found refolding and stacking up the beach towels left in disarray by previous customers. And while waiting for paint to be mixed at the hardware store, my elder daughter is spotted sorting and putting back into each its proper place, paint chips. And at the grocery store, my younger daughter is neatening display shelves and restoring items to their correct spot. Mind you, none of us actually work at these stores but are just customers passing through. So, a quirk that travels down through the genes (mine definitely came from both my parents). My husband just sighs and shakes his head.

    • 5.1

      My mom had this tendency, but the upside was, she could make any space look more cozy and inviting. She just KNEW how to arrange the furniture, where to put the plants, the pillows… Her instincts were unique, but if she’d been in a space for more than day or two, she’d move stuff around until it was, by her internal compass, “right.”

  6. 6
    Marianne says:

    One of the students I tutor starts writing with her left hand to the midpoint on the page and continues with her right. At the moment, she’s “drawing” her words without meaning. She is being gently counselled to choose one hand for eventual speed, but it’s definitely not usual.

    I believe you handle quirky characters well, with facility for numbers, business, music, dogs… You can’t throw in too many quirks or you’re way over page count by complicating the plot.

    • 6.1

      What cool quirk that student has, like playing a scale up to middle C with the left hand, then letting the right take over in the treble range. I can mouse with either hand (because piano lessons), but writing? That is some fine motor wiring she has.
      There’s a bit writer lore that says the quirkier a character is, the more universal their appeal, but I think you’re right: A little quirk goes a long way.

  7. 7
    Anne Egger says:

    Hmmm… I am very particular about my writing pens and will not loan them out. I do not look at e-mail or Facebook when I am not at work. I talk to my cats, but who doesn’t?

  8. 8
    Chris L. says:

    Oh, Grace. You had to ask! I have so many quirks that I’m sure people do, in fact, describe me as quirky. First, I always maneuver myself in restaurants so that my back is closest to a wall and/or I’m facing the room . . . there’s got to be something buried in there about being in control as much as possible in situations where unpredictable things could happen. At every meal, I always save my most favorite thing on the plate for last (from this tidbit you would also correctly surmise that I eat everything one at a time). I do a lot of walking for recreation and exercise, and if I’m walking with another person, I must be on the right-est most side. I feel exposed if I’m on the side most likely to pass someone from the opposite direction or cyclists passing on the left. I like to tell myself that this is because I’m left-handed, but it’s another of those traits that says something about my natural instinct for self-preservation and controlling what is within my ability to do so. Lastly, I never EVER ready excerpts of future releases! I want to experience the magic when and only when I can read the whole book. This doesn’t mean that I must read a book all in one sitting, just that I want to know that I can reach the outcome without a months-long delay.

    So, yes, basically I’m a complete control freak. If I were to write a character based on my quirks, I’d probably create a bluestocking who lives an orderly, predictable life and has her world upended by something or someone completely unforeseen and must work with a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants sort of hero to reach resolution and the HEA. Whoa . . . . . that’s not half bad! I see what you did there! 🙂

    • 8.1

      Funny you should mention the back to the wall thing. I’m reading a book about gambling, and how to spot a cheat, and I thought for sure, gamblers would always, always sit with their backs to the wall if they could. Wild Bill Hickok was shot holding aces over eights–we ALL know the Dead Man’s hand–but we also know he was shot in the back of the head by that sneaking coward Jack McCall (or we do now).
      The guy who wrote the book about catching card sharps said that peep-hole technology was now so sophisticated, that nobody wants to sit with their backs to the wall in the big clubs anymore. The pros always sit with their backs facing the room.
      I’m with you. Give me the table in the corner, and let me have the corner seat. I want to be able to see who’s doing what at all times.

  9. 9
    Sarah says:

    I have a strange quirk that I dislike almost all musicals, the sappier it is, the more I hate it. But not only do I love opera (it was love at first sight to my teenage self) but enjoy sappiness in many other forms. Maybe it is only certain composers I dislike? Plus I LOVE tofu, is that a quirk?

    • 9.1

      I’m not going to comment on your little tofu problem….
      I’m not a big fan of musicals either, and I’ve played pit piano for a few. I wasn’t all that wowed by The Greatest Showman, for example. It felt to me like because of all that caterwauling and hopping around, the plot was simplistic, the acting was superficial, the whole business was corny. I love music too–music history major, accompanied ballet classes to pay for college–and I even love some musical tunes, (“Memory” from Cats), but don’t make me sit through that baloney.

  10. 10
    Jo Payne-Pierce says:

    Oh, Grace, now I’m thinking about my quirks! LOL I probably have a lot more than I realize. Now that I pause and think about it, we all have little quirks, and that’s what makes us unique.
    Love your writings!!! So much more dept than many writers.
    Take care and enjoy your new adventures in life.
    Toodles,
    Jo