Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thursday's Children - Appearances

I think I was tweeting with Rhiann and Kate when I said that I'd blog about nun stories, well, gather round dear readers. Today is that day. And I promise - it does have an Thursday's Children inspiration-type slant. But, I'm getting to that.

When I started my freshman year of high school, it was at a Catholic school. Having been to five public schools prior to high school, I had no idea what was in store for me. The only nun I'd ever met was the aging hippie who played guitar at the church my parents had taken me to.

The nuns at my new school were a surprise. Most wore habits - involving black and white coifs and veils and dresses and skirts in varying shades of blue or brown polyester depending on what order they belonged to. There was also Sister Michael Ellen aka The White Nun or the Library Nun who wore one of those giant,  old school, white multilayered numbers.

Because of her particular habit, I was always a little afraid of her. She looked incredibly intimidating - not to mention mean, especially when she was walking quickly through the halls, her clothes billowing and her gianormous wooden rosary swinging wildly from her waist.

It didn't help that it seemed she was always ordering the AV nun, Sister Mary Projector, (not her real name) around. Sister Mary Projector (I'm not sure if anyone actually knew her real name) was on an endless quest to deliver the filmstrip projector on the cart with the super squeaky wheel. But mostly, she just wandered up and down the halls never reaching her destination.

I had a theory that The White Nun was trying to keep Sister Mary Projector out of the library as much as possible by sending her to a room that didn't exist because she'd always fall asleep and snore loudly, driving The White Nun batty. Once I followed Sister Mary Projector for an entire class period - she never delivered that cart anywhere.

Then there was Sister Rosine. At first, I thought she was just a sweet, little old lady. That was cleared up within the first five minutes of religion class when we were all seated alphabetically - except for the non-Catholics. They had to sit in the back of the room, because they were "going to hell, anyway." There was also the day that she went on a tear about the color red. As far as she was concerned, it was a color reserved for Satanists and whores. Unfortunately, that was the day I'd chosen to wear a red sweater and had painted my nails bright read to match. So had my friend. We had to stand up and announce that we were "Brides of Satan." Yeah. I know. It was insane.

And lastly, there was Sister Clarine - the biology nun - think white lab coat over a baby blue polyester dress and the most sensible of sensible shoes. The first time I saw her, she was standing outside the door to her room with a clipboard. The second time I saw her, she was draped with two, seven-foot boa constrictors. I promise you, there are fewer things more disconcerting  than a sweet faced, little old lady wearing a a veil and covered in snakes.

While there were more nuns (and definitely more stories), these are the ones that pertain to this post. In every instance I had a preconceived notion about who these people were and how they'd act.

I thought Sister Rosine would we sweet and kind. She was pretty much evil.

I thought Sister Michael Ellen was mean. While I might have been right about my theory about her wanting Sister Mary Projector out of the library, it turns out I was wrong about the rest. Despite her often terrifying appearance, she was really quite sweet.

And the Snake Nun?  Let me just say that woman loved her reptiles. And she was honestly the last thing I ever expected see in a Catholic school.

What do the nuns have to do with inspiration? Well, let me tell you. Because they were, well, nuns - and because of their appearances, I had a certain set of expectations about them. I know - totally shallow - but in my defense I was only fourteen.

The same thing frequently happens in books. We very often see wonderfully fleshed out main characters and even secondary characters, but incidental characters sometimes fall prey to stereotyping or character shorthand. Jocks are bullies, romantic rivals for our heroines are sluts or bitches...or both, bosses are lecherous and greedy. And nuns? Well, they're pious and strict.

Those nuns taught me a lot. Although, I suspect most of it wasn't intentional and certainly wasn't part of their curriculum. But they taught me that even characters who are more plot device and filler than actual characters still need to be more than stereotypes. They taught me to look beyond expected conventions of genre and not to use character shorthand. They also taught me that sometimes nuns are badass enough to have pet snakes.


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21 comments:

  1. What a great post - and a wonderful way to illustrate those characteristics that mark a person as unique. It's funny I could describe many of my teachers by their many ideosyncratic traits. I think because as a student you spend so many hours watching (if not listening) to them...

    Thanks - I'm definitely inspired to explore this vein of writerly goodness!

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    1. Thanks, Raewyn! I think that must be it - that we spent so much time watching them that those traits are burned into our memories. :)

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  2. OMG, I LOVE this post. I was literally snorting coffee out my nose. You HAVE to write a book with these people in it. Sister Mary Projector and Sister Snake. OMG. And I think maybe I love you even more now that I know you are a Bride of Satan. Snort...

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    1. Card carrying Bride of Satan, baby! Kate wants to be a bridesmaid - you in? Red dresses for everyone! :D

      I'll have to start pondering ways to work them into a book...

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  3. And again I ask... why aren't these nuns in their own story? Please clear room next to the Butt People for this story!!!

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    1. LOLOLOLOL I think maybe we should move the nuns down the hall from the Butt People. I have a feeling they wouldn't approve! :D

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  4. I'm plagiarizing Rhiann--OMG, I LOVE THIS POST! And, yes, pleeease write about this. I'm ready to read it yesterday!!

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    1. LOL! Thanks, Kate! :D I promise, I'm trying to figure out a place for them. ;)

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  5. Sigh. I went to your high school and I'm so sad that I never had Sister Clarine for biology class. She was the most badass nun there ever was.

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    1. You missed out, honey. She was something else. Although I think she took an inordinate amount of pleasure in feeding those snakes...

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  7. What a wonderful post! I'm definitely guilty of stereotyping characters, it's something that I'm working on.

    LOVED reading this post!

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    1. Thank you so much, Paula! :) Stereotyping is easy to do - especially when we're anxious to get back to our other characters!

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  8. Grin. Who knew nuns would be so interesting.

    http://otherworlddiner.blogspot.com/2013/03/inspiration-from-news.html

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    1. They were pretty fascinating. And sometimes terrifying! :D

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  9. Fabulous! I too spent some of my formative years in Catholic school. To this day, the sight of a penguin sends me running (back) to therapy.

    Kidding. They're mostly very lovely people.

    I love your take on secondary/tertiary characters and avoiding stereotypes. So true! What starts out as literary shorthand can quickly become stale and lazy. Brilliant post!

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  10. Ha ha! Great. Another non-Catholic Catholic school survivor here. (too crazy about the color red story!)

    I had the chemistry nun, Sister Mary Bob. She looked like one of those Weebles that Wobble But Don't Fall Down with little John Lennon glasses and a black habit and she was ooooooooold. She'd slap the hell out of your hands with a ruler if she was unhappy with you.

    My favorite nun was Sister Sandra my Mixed Media Art Teacher. She wore slacks and a short veil. Scandalous to the other nuns, I'm sure.

    Great post. Loved it.

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    1. I think Sister Mary Bob is officially my new favorite nun name! :D

      Sister Florentine was our resident ruler wielder and ear twister. She was terrifying!

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  11. Too funny. One of my favorite teachers was an ex-Jesuit. And he loved his yard stick!

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  12. Sister Florentine liked the yardstick almost as much as she liked the ruler. She was fierce.

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