November 19, 2008: Trolling for Insight

Sometimes you can go looking for the information or insight you need, and sometimes it finds you when you’re doing something else.

Of course, I say this because it happened to me. I’m reading Christopher Simon Sykes’s Black Sheep, a survey of the black sheep of various aristocratic English families from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The book starts with Lord William Paget, second son of the Marquess of Anglesey. William was the sort of ne’er-do-well who runs up massive debts, promises reform when bailed out of his difficulties, then goes back to running up debt almost immediately. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Something about William’s persistence in getting into trouble made me think there was an element of thumbing his nose at his father. I don’t know that that’s true; I’m not even sure what gave me that impression. Maybe it was the way he flouted his father’s orders; maybe it was the way he got back into trouble almost the instant he got out of it.

Whatever it was, it made me think about the way we respond to our relationships with our parents. If we’re angry but can’t express that anger directly, sometimes we act out that anger and sometimes the actions we choose are indirect. In fact, one might not even recognize the anger or the expression.

I thought all that in an instant, and as it blossomed in my mind, I realized that anger with her very unsatisfactory parents is part of what drives Ilsabet to make things right for her grandmother. She’s going to show up their failures by succeeding when they did not, by fixing what they broke.

Knowing this makes Ilsabet more vivid to me, and that (hopefully) makes her more vivid on the page.

And all that from reading a book that seemed — still seems — to have nothing to do with my story.

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