Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A drop of belladonna, and a touch of ooky.

I went to the eye doctor today. Wherein, I learned the Secrets Of the Universe (or at least, I got a Small Answer to a Very Big Question).
I don't think there's a writer alive who hasn't been asked The Question many times.

Where do you get your ideas?

Writers have been known to utterly freeze up at that question, wince, turn away, or even act deaf. Where do we get our ideas? Well, it's very difficult to explain. It kinda, well you see it— But then sometimes... And then other times. And then when I'm doing this, and that is just so, and the world is...

It is an ineffable thing.

We have been known to give such answers as "I get them from the girls in the basement", or "I watch a lot of television and/or read newspapers", and my favorite is "WalMart".

I got an idea at the eye doctor. I went in because I woke up this weekend with a red eye. Looked like blood all over the white part. Yeah, it's creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, and all together ooky, but it doesn't hurt. [Sidebar: What does ooky mean? No matter. I like the word. End of sidebar.] So I did the whole eye-check-up thing since it's been a while and I could use a new prescription for glasses. The nurse put the dreaded 'drops' in my eyes so my pupils would dilate, and set me out in the waiting room for fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes without the ability to read or do anything other than sit quietly and be with oneself, is An Eternity for a writer. We think about things. We get...Ideas.

By the time I returned to the doctor's chair, I had to ask. 'So this dilating stuff, is that the same as the belladonna I know the women used to put into their eyes in historical times?' It was supposed to make them more attractive to others. The doctor said 'Yep, same stuff, but in much weaker form.'

Cool. So we talked about an exhibit the doctor had seen at the Science Museum that showed two pictures of a woman's face, exactly the same, except in one, her pupils were dilated. When asked to choose which image was more attractive to them, 90% of the people chose the one with the dilated pupils. Again, cool.

'Interesting', I said to the doctor. And yet, at that moment, I couldn't see a thing. He was a blur to me. Albeit, a handsome blur, but if I had to pick him out of a crowd with dilated pupils, I don't think I could do it. And then the Idea hit. I blurted out to the doctor, "So if a woman wanted to attract the Handsome Count at the ball, she might put belladonna into her eyes, and head out to the dance floor. (Historical times, of course.) Except, now she's not seeing so well, and instead of the Handsome Count, she goes up to the Handsome Count's fraternal twin brother, who is not quite as handsome, and because he was born second is but a mere Vicomte. She dances with him. They steal a kiss in the dark. The woman is compromised. They must marry immediately. And now that the belladonna has worn off, she realizes her tragic mistake!"

The eye doctor may have merely blinked at that outburst from me. I'm not sure. He was still a blur at the time. "I'm a writer," I said. And he gave me an "Ah." Which explains a lot of strange occurances and possible insanity, I'm sure. Trust me, we writers get that sort of response a lot.

Anyway, after I got home, I couldn't do anything. The words on the computer screen were a blur, so writing was impossible. I was literally crippled! Okay, so I managed a load of laundry. But I drew the line at the dishwasher. I could cut myself on a steak knife with this blurred vision. We'd be talking major ooky then. So I sat down and was still and quiet and the Idea returned.

Pity the poor heroine matched up with the wrong twin brother all because of a drop of belladonna. But! Lo, the Handsome Count is an arrogant, vain man with bastards all over the county. While the Not Quite as Handsome But Still Worth a Second Look Vicomte is truly a kind soul at heart. He is honorable and has integrity and will make a fine home for the heroine, and they lived happily ever after! As well, the heroine wears a small vial of belladonna about her neck. One day her daughter will come home with plans to attract the Handsome Duke. And we all know what a little belladonna can do to change our perceptions.

So writers, where do you get your ideas? And readers, have you ever asked an author where they get their ideas? (I know I have.) What's the craziest response you've received?

And what about you? Ever have a moment of utter ooky-ness?


ps - my eye is fine. A bruise. Since there's no skin on the eye, the blood is visible and very bright. Still creepy. And ooky. But alas, every morning when I look in the mirror I see it. I have begun to delight in my ooky-ness! And anyone who stares, well then, I'll just call it the evil eye and be done with them!

Have an ooky day. :-)


Betina Krahn said...

Ooooh, Michelle-- I just adore you! You are such a WRITER! And we share so many. . . um. . . How do I say this nicely?. . . CHARMING FOIBLES! You see writable material everywhere.

We also share eye problems. I have a little patch on my cornea that gets inflamed periodically and I have to use drops. But I never realized the stuff eye docs put in eyes is the same belladonna of legend. How cool and enterprising of you to find that out! Now write that book!

Personally, I thought of doing a nineteenth century heroine with really bad eyesight and a desire for spectacles. Think of the comic possibilities. Frankly, your story is much better. I'd certainly love to read it!

Hey, you could even do a modern day take on it-- a model or actress who uses belladonna and starts a fad of using it among the hoi poloi. . . When you think about it, considering the antics of Paris, Lindsay, et al, it's not that out of the question. And think of the sleazy thrill of it: not knowing what will happen to you while you're incapacitated and vulnerable-- especially at a decadent Hollywood party!

Okay, I need to go lie down. I've pulled a brain cell.

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- Belladona ?? Really? How very coolly ooky! And that is the best--bar none--explanation of where ideas come from that has ever been given.

Michele Hauf said...

Betina - the eye doctor said the stuff they use is in the same botanical family as Belladonna. So I don't believe it's the actual stuff, but it sounded very close.

Personally that stuff did me in for a good five hours before I could go outside without being blinded. Oh, the plots!


Helen Brenna said...

Oh, Michele, I needed that laugh today. Oddly enough I woke up with red eyes last weekend too, but I do have an issue that needed treatment. Have to keep my left eye dilated for 3 WHOLE DAYS. Sucks.

But I love how you described how writers get ideas. Anywhere and everywhere.

Michele Hauf said...

Three days of dilation? Oh goodness. That can't be fun. Do you have some fancy half-sunglasses to wear? Don't set your mind to capturing any Counts or Dukes until your eyes are back to normal, 'kay?



Diane in Syracuse said...

No, it's the same actual stuff as from the belladonna plant (Atropa belladonna). However, there are several other members of the same family (the potato/ tomato/ tobacco/ petunia/ deadly nightshade family, aka Solanaceae) that have the same active compound (atropine) - nifty things like henbane and jimsonweed.

I don't visit doctors with any regularity and have been fortunate enough to not have to visit opthamologists (yet). But several years ago, I had an itchy eye that turned into a bright red eye that freaked me out enough that I went to the college health service. I got performance anxiety over the eye chart (it's a TEST and I was in school), and it turned out that whatever had caused my eye to itch had caused me (all unconsciously) to rub it, leading to ...

Which is not to say such things should be ignored - I value my eyes extremely, as they are the way I READ.

But yes, definite irony in the attempt to be beautiful leading one to choose a less beautiful spouse. And that vial of belladonna may come in handy if the vile brother-in-law becomes too vile...

Michele Hauf said...

Hee, hee. Diane, I had forgotten that belladonna was also a very effective poison. :-)

Yep, take care of those eyes. They're the only ones we have!

I had asked the eye doctor about Lasik, because I desire it muchly. He recommended a few places and said I'd be a great candidate.

Then I asked him, since he spoke so highly of Lasik, why he still wore glasses. He said he was a chicken. Hmm... Didn't help raise my eagerness to get the surgery done. I'm a chicken too.


Lover of Books said...

I love how you explained things! That is so great! :) Hope your eye gets better soon and no more recurrences.

MsHellion said...

Now that is a story I want to read. Hilarious!

Moments of ookiness? Yes. It happens in movie theaters, bars, and even at church (I used to have a lot of church bulletins where I scribbled scenes and stuff on them.)

Susan Kay Law said...

I got lasik. Very glad I did, though I do have to say the correction is not quite as good as it was with my contacts. (I wore hard ones.) And it didn't hurry me along toward reading glasses.

That said, I adore being able to go swimming and see if my kid is drowning on the other side of the pool. And drop off to sleep without risking my eyes, and not have them dry out horribly when my husband INSISTS on opening the car windows at high speed. Or when I'm skiing.

Even though it was a couple of years ago, I'm still not completely used to it. I wake up, wonder what time it is, and start patting down my bedside table for my glasses before I realize: hey, wait a second! I can look! I can see!


Michele Hauf said...

Hey, Susie, I'll have to find out where you went for your Lasik. I'm making a list, for when I get the courage up to do it. I can't imagine, after having worn glasses since I was 10, to be able to wake up and just...SEE. That would be awesome.

The eye doctor did say I'd see perfectly, but for reading I'd need reading glasses. Which struck me as odd, and gave me pause. Reading is what I do for a living. So do I want the surgery if I'll still need to wear glasses?


Kathleen Eagle said...

I love it when you know why you're asking crazy questions but they don't and you get to put them on for a while and watch their reaction and know they're thinking "this is one crazy lady and I'm glad she doesn't know where I live" until you tell them you're a writer and then they're all, "Really? Wow. Are you gonna use this in a book? Do you make a lot of money? I get a cut?" Or some such.

One of my favorites was my visit to a gun shop. The guy cracked up when I asked about a "silencer." But after I told him what I was doing, he was very helpful. And I really wasn't going to use a silencer. I was just asking. The thing is, we'll ask anything and everything that pops into our heads, just in case. I've always believed there's no such thing as a stupid question (much to my husband's dismay).

Susan Kay Law said...

Ack. I meant it hurried me along to reading glasses. But I was going to need them in a couple of years anyway, unless I got bifocals. I don't use them much - just in low light, or really small print.

The place that does it is kind of snazzy. Gives you a stuffed animal to hold during the procedure, and a gold bag of Godivas when you leave! My kind of doctor's office.


Michele Hauf said...

Wow. Godivas and a bear? Sign me up!

I'm not looking to go cheap, when I finally get up the courage to do this. No, buy one eye, get the other for free. I want to pay to have it done right.

I know what you mean, Kathy, about knowing what you're asking, but watching them squirm. I can still freak out my family every once in a while, but usually they catch on pretty quickly.


Cindy Gerard said...

Okay, this is too weird. I TOO went to the eye doc because I've got this icky thing going on. Personally I think it's sand from the bottom of the grand canyon still working it's way out of my system. the Doc, however thinks it's infection. I guess I'll bow to her expertise.
And I've had the lasik surgery done too. Have never regreted it.
As to ideas - I have a tree in my back yard. When I need an idea, I go pluck one off. More and more often, however, I'm needing to get out the ladder 'cause all the good ones are on the higher branches.

Kaitlin said...

LOL...thanks for a great story...though having your eyes dilated SUCKS! I remember those days with fear. Ew!

As for me, I do read a lot, but I'm also a writer, so I try to avoid the whole "How do you get your ideas" cliche. It drives me batty when people ask me, so I know it drives other people batty too. :)

The two places I almost always get ideas are in the shower (don't know why & it's usually when I'm shaving my legs) and just as I'm drifting off to sleep. In both instances I just say a little prayer in hopes that I'll remember it. Usually I do, but not always. *sigh*