Sunday, July 28, 2013


Long ago, when I was a teenager, I read The World According to Garp by John Irving.  I don't know if any of you have read it (read it, not watched the movie - which didn't nearly do the book justice) but in the middle of the book, Garp has two sons - Duncan and Walt.  In a horrible accident, Walt dies and Duncan loses an eye.  Forever after, Duncan focuses on the defects in other people.  In fact, there's a scene where he's in a NYC skyscraper using a telescope to point out the defects in the pedestrians below.

I do this.  I don't know if it's a function of my own defects or it's a function of having read this book.  I don't place any judgment based on a person's defects*, but I do note them.  (Much to my husband's dismay sometimes.) Watching the news is particularly rough.  This person has a mole, that person's ears are slightly different, that dress makes her boobs look huge, 'what the hell is up with his hair???'... don't get me started on a particular politician whose facial characteristics remind me of an evil Who (from Whoville - not the Dr.).

When I think about it now, I'm going to say it had more to do with the book at first and then the accident exacerbated it.  My first boyfriend had a birth defect where one arm was significantly shorter than the other.  And the short arm didn't work quite right.  A college boyfriend was missing two fingers from a snowblower accident.

Anyway, I've been thinking about defects a lot.  Yesterday especially.  Scarlet - one of our resident does - brought her fawn to feed here yesterday afternoon.  I got the camera and took a bunch of shots - zoomed and on the highest resolution.  He was so cute.  I ran inside, downloaded and looked through the shots I'd just taken.  And then I noticed something.  So, I used the program to enlarge to 100% and looked at his eyes.

He's missing one.

I won't post any pictures where you can see.  It's pretty gruesome and fairly disturbing.  Super cute little guy with a... well, you can picture it on your own, so I won't go there either.

I named him Sammy**.  I would call him Duncan, but then I'd have to explain The World According to Garp to my husband, who hasn't read it and doesn't want to.  I don't blame him.  It's a powerful book, but it's disturbing.  Evidenced by the fact that I haven't read the book in like 15 years and it's still disturbing me today.  (If you haven't read it, don't.  You don't want that shit all up in your head.  It never comes out.)  Plus, he could be a doe - in which case Sammy still works, but Duncan would be weird.

I guess in a way, it's good for me to notice all the little defects, or quirks - if the word defects bothers you.  I'm a writer.  Adding defects and/or quirks adds richness to the writing.  It makes the characters memorable.  But it sure makes it hard to carry on a conversation sometimes.

Another day, I'll talk a little about Walt and how that particular character warped me. (Seriously, if you haven't read it, don't.  If you have, I'm sorry.)

What about you?  How do you handle defects?  Do you ignore them, focus on them, or just file them away for the day when they might be useful in your work?

* Judging people based on their physical characteristics is just stupid.  It's not what you see that makes a person, it's what they do and who they are.  Duh.
**After Sammy Davis, Jr. who lost his eye in a car accident when he was a young man. 


  1. Interesting post. I tend to focus on what I consider to be character defects....which is also not a good thing to do. I let one characteristic color my whole view of a person, so if I think someone is "bossy"...I think that's ALL they are....terrible I know.

  2. Eh, character defects are a better focus - at least those are usually something someone can fix. I mean, if they know about them and care, that is.

  3. Noticing - and noting - defects is a brilliant way for a writer to give a character individuality, particularly when you don't judge them. So many books don't stick in my mind because the characters are complete undefined. Besides, people are usually aware of their "defects" or "beauties" and that influences the way they interact with the world.

    Sammy's a cutie. I haven't read or seen Garp. Now I *know* I don't want to. Thanks for the warning.

  4. Fascinating. Oh, the power of books. I haven't read it. I don't like to be that disturbed, so I'll steer clear :) I certainly notice things about people, not just defects. Like you said, hair, dress, etc. I wouldn't say I do it more than the average person, though.

    Man, I think this is some insanely good writing fodder. So many directions you could go with it.

    And Sammy the baby is super cute. I'm sad he lost his eye. Poor wild animals can't get drugs like us, so that must have hurt for a long time :(

  5. You're welcome, Deb. I hate recommending against reading books, but - and I say this having read the book multiple times in my youth - it's not healthy for your well-being.

    Exactly, Alexia. Great writing fodder. And I do keep my observations to myself (except when I'm home). I think Sammy's injury is recent, but doesn't seem to be in too much pain. He's eating grass well, running, playing, and nursing. We'll just keep putting out the high protein feed and hope for the best.

  6. I think I go about noticing defects differently. As soon as I realize there's something unique about a person, I start studying them to see how they cope or compensate.

    As a person who is loaded with defects, it can only help to see how someone else manages.

  7. Yes, to noticing defects - but more about noticing mannerisms (the rhythmic twitch of a hand or the cracking of knuckles) and the speech patterns (of which I tend to mimic, not on purpose).

    Poor Sammy - glad he doesn't seem to be in pain!!

  8. I'm glad Sammy has survived. It's tough in the wild to be "handicapped."

    I notice, too. All sorts of things. Mannerisms. Defects. Style (or so-called lack thereof). SPeech. Interpersonal interactions. When I'm out, I fear I'm quite the voyeur. It's a writer thing, right? (I'd hate to just be creepy...)

  9. All hail the people with defects who thrive, Maria! I love your take on it.

    That, too, Janet. I knew a guy once who twisted his hair whenever he got nervous. And me too with the accidental mimicking.

    Definitely tough, Silver. But his mama's a tough chick. We originally named her 'Scar' because she's got some doozies, but Scarlet sounds nicer. Oh, yeah, it's a writer thing. I hope. Otherwise, we're all creepy. ;o)