Where the White Whale Leads Us

I had the pleasure of hearing New York Times best-selling author and 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick

speak today as part of Rowan University’s Presidential Lecture series. It was his newest book, “The Last Stand, that prompted me to brave the currently miserable South Jersey weather. I hoped that listening to Mr. Philbrick speak would help me in developing and refining parts of my own historically based paranormal fiction series, Six-Guns & Shadows. It was “The Last Stand that I was specifically interested in, as it tackles General Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. My own series of paranormal westerns open up in the Dakota territories and although they open up some 14 years later, I figured that I could learn a bit about approaching historical accuracy. As I write this, I am filling in time, waiting until 3:15 p.m., where I am fortunate enough to have a reserved spot in the Master’s class he is offering today while on campus. He’s off to Berlin, Germany next.

General Custer

Sitting Bull

What I did not expect to walk away from the afternoon lecture with, was the greater gift that Mr. Philbrick imparted on me, as a writer. It is a sentiment that nestles at the heart of this semester’s class, Core2: Research Methods for Writers. It is a sentiment mentioned to me in a recent interview with Eric Foemmel, researcher, turned author/publicist. And it is a sentiment that has begun to make itself known to me as I approach different writing projects that I might have once thought sat outside my grounds of “normal operation”. And here it was again, given that final spark of life by a wildly successful and dynamic writer, a man whose passion and excitement was evident in his delivery: The research is the exciting part. The research is fun. It is a wildly colorful adventure that often leads us in directions that we, as writers, never expected or considered. All we have to do is open ourselves up to the possibilities. Explore even the most seemingly mundane or dead-end nugget of fact/information and we may find ourselves in the midst of some of the most exciting parts of our writing. The world is filled with stories and facts that present themselves as unconnected and blase’, but in truth have backgrounds that are, more often than not, stranger than fiction. Even those that not as wild as I suggest can offer the interested researcher glimpses into idea spawning perspectives we had previously not imagined.

For instance, Mr. Philbrick was asked (in reference to his comment that he connected to all of his characters in his writing) whether he also connected with the huge Sperm Whale in his book, “In the Heart of the Sea.” (Incidentally, this book is about an actual historical event, the sinking of the whale ship Essex, a story which prompted Melville’s Moby Dick) The question may appear to be slightly tongue in cheek, but I believe that what the questioner intended to discern, was actually how did the natural elements of history itself attract itself to him? Philbrick had already mentioned his interest in dynamic characters in history and of the role of leadership qualities throughout all of his books, but as he began to answer the question, I realized that it was the research itself. It was the excitement of discovery and learning. He began to talk about his research on Sperm Whales and the aggressive territorial habits of the bulls (the males). He discussed the communication between whales and how he learned about their “speech patterns” and that the crew member who was hammering some boards on deck might possibly have been producing a sound that, when reverberating through the water under the ship, sounded very similar to the speech of the Sperm Whale. Though there is no irrefutable evidence to support this (and Philbrick does not claim to assign this reason, or any for that matter, as to the reason for the whale’s attack) it was a path of research that presented itself to him. As Mr. Philbrick talked about all of these things, it was obvious to me that this was the part he loved. This was the enjoyable part of his craft. The message is clear, that research is as much of the writing craft as is the storytelling itself. That the research will take you places you never intended or expected to go. This is the heart of the Research Methods for Writers course.

Mr. Philbrick spoke about his home town of Nantucket and the whale oil industry of the 19th century. This led to his research and writing of “In the Heart of the Sea”. During the writing of that book, he had to research starvation (leading to eventual cannibalism). This led him to the discovery of a study on starvation conducted by the U.S. during World War II, using voluntary test subjects. That book led him to writing about the pilgrims and the Mayflower in Mayflower: A Story of Courage”. It was a series of enlightenment and discovery presented to him because he was willing to enjoy and engage the research process.

I have watched, listened and observed this semester as my peers have pursued their own research with an enthusiasm replacing the trepidation they carried in the beginning. We’ve had classmates traveling out to wrestle information on abandoned mills from cantankerous sources, trips to factories in Trenton, and battlefield tours. We’ve had students taking bricks from the ground zero site of the Jersey Devil legend. We’ve had students conduct interviews in houses where paranormal activity has occurred and register to join ghost hunting societies. We’ve had students email with strangely remote sources that may or may not be evil clowns claiming to have information about abandoned amusement parks. We’ve had students dance on stage, in their underwear, completely spur of the moment, and make $190. We’re achieving the intent of the course right now. It’s not the end result that defines this course, and ultimately the pieces we will compose long after we’ve gone off to do our own things. It’s the process that defines “it”, whatever that “it” may be to each individual creator. Without the process, there is nothing to show in the end and if that process is approached without passion, without excitement, it will reflect in the work you put forth for an audience that has neither the time or patience for a product without “soul.”

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On the Road With Eric Foemmel (Post Interview)

It’s Sunday afternoon and Eric calls me back. He’s home, in Sacramento, and on his way to get a cup of coffee. He sounds incredibly upbeat and eager to chat, despite the fact that he has not yet had his coffee. Maybe living in California does that to you. I wouldn’t know, I’m suffering through March in New Jersey. Tomorrow he flies out to Orlando to meet with Eddie Funk, aka Crazy Philadelphia Eddie. Eric is traveling with Eddie, hitting the tattoo conventions across the country and selling their new book, Tattooing: The Life and Times of Crazy Philadelphia Eddie (vol. 1 & 2). Eric tells me that they just did Vancouver and Santa Rosa. Louisville, Tampa and Baltimore are up next.

The conversation slides across the next thirty minutes like a cannonball across the deck of a listing ship. Eric tells me he was just looking at my pre-interview blog, specifically the pages of notes I uploaded from my read of their book. “Wow, you really read the book pretty thoroughly.” Unfortunately, I only had vol. 1. Vol. 2 will be on the way and Eric is going to have Eddie autograph that one for me as well.

Vol. 1 autographed for me at the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts convention

I start by asking him how the trip is going, how Eddie’s holding up and how the book has been received. At 74, Eddie is “unstoppable.” Still driving forward, still a ladies man, well dressed and charming, and fond of his screwdrivers and bloody Marys. Eric tells me how people genuinely enjoy Eddie’s company, how his sense of humor is endearing. I can see that. I met the man briefly. His smile was sincere, his handshake was firm and his words were chosen carefully and delivered with intent and honesty. Eddie Funk seems to be a genuine person. You know what you are getting, whether you like it or not. However, Eric laughs, the old tattooer is till there. Not everything is sugar and spice. Cross him, annoy him, or generally piss him off and he still has his teeth.

Eric tells me how they first met. At the time, Eric was working on his PhD and conducting ethnographic research on the American tattoo culture, mostly in California, at Traditional Ink Tattoo. Eric flew back to help another friend, a tattoo artist Timmy (Tatts) Sellers, shoot an industry related video “From the Horses Mouth”. Eddie was involved in the project. They were having bloody Marys and Eddie tells Eric that he believes he was a pirate in his past life, that he had vivid dreams as a young boy. After reading Eddie’s book and getting a glimpse of his life, I can believe that. Incidentally, his very first tattoo in 1952 was a skull and crossbones.

“Where’s the treasure buried?” Eric said.

“That’s the part I can’t remember,” said Eddie.

Pondering as to the whereabouts of the treasure

The two hit it off and Eric went on to ghostwrite his book, act as a publicist and promoter. In short, Eric crosses over from researcher. Eric “goes native.” [insert audible gasp here].  We talk about this a bit. It’s something Eric completely understands, considering his background in anthropology and ethnography. However it is something he also completely embraces. Eric said that on the road, he and Eddie share a room and that it just happened without him knowing it. “They are just great people,” Eric says, referring to Eddie and his circle of friends and family.

“You fit in perfectly with us,” Eddie told him. “Your reputation precedes you, Eric. You might not know who they are, but they know who you are. My friends are your friends and my enemies are your enemies.” Eric understands and embraces his new role. He has several new projects in the works and on the horizon, involving or at the direction of more of the venerated tattooers of Eddie’s heyday.

We get into the book a bit and Eric’s observations on how Eddie and the other “founding fathers” view the evolution of the tattoo industry. We talk about the skewed reality of media and tattoo television shows, about the flooded industry and its change from its true tattoo nature to entrepreneurs using tattooing to promote their stage. We talked about the concept of the art itself and the idea that there were true tattooers, whose idea of tattooing was to get the ink on the skin “quickly and as smooth as velvet” (Crazy Eddie) versus fine artists whose medium happened to be tattooing. We discussed the growing lack of appreciation in the roots of the art, of those who came before them, of the shops today and Eddie’s concern that there will not be enough work for the young artists.

Eddie told Eric on one of their travels up I95 that there used to be like 35 tattoo artists on the whole East coast. Eddie could point out where each of them lived. Not worked, lived. They had a camaraderie then, sure there was competition, but it was good-natured competition. Now, as they passed a town in North Carolina, Eddie said that there were 35 just in that one town. “He worries about the young tattooers,” Eric says.

Eric shared personal stories and experiences he’s had with Eddie, things not found in the book. Like, the time that they were in “Forever Tattoo” in Sacramento,

Forever Tattoo, Sacramento, California

hanging out until 4 a.m. Timmy Sellers was doing some work and Eddie was swaying to the music in the shop. “This is what a [tattoo] shop should be like,” Eddie said. Eric asked him if he was feeling 21 again. Eddie was alive. “If you want to do some work,” said Eric, “I’ve never asked, out of respect. But, I have some open skin and I’d love to have work done by you.” Eddie declined, he was completely retired. He’d done one tattoo out of retirement. A man had come in and wanted work done on his chest, one half by Eddie’s grandson and the other half by Eddie. Eddie couldn’t refuse that request, he said, but it just didn’t feel the same anymore.

Another time, Eric and Eddie were in Vegas. Eric asked Eddie to draw up a skull and crossbones design for him, similar to Eddie’s first tattoo. Eric figured to have his friend, Timmy, tattoo it on his arm in the same spot that Eddie originally had his (a tattoo that he has, surprisingly, since had covered up by Red Cloud, another “old-timer”). Timmy told him that he would not put it on his arm. Somewhere else, sure, but “if you haven’t had anything put on your arms by the time you are 40, there’s a reason.”

Eric tells me his story and the strange trip from doctorate in leisure studies and background in parks and leisure, to his immersion in the tattoo subculture, where he tells me that Eddie “is [his] boss.”

“I’m just sweeping the peanut shells off the deck,” he says. “Eddie is the captain of the ship.”

We speak as researchers for a while, a role that I am careful to keep in the forefront, not wanting to speak with Eric merely as Eddie’s writer. We discuss his research and my research and the magic that happens when you set out to sail on your project, coordinates at hand.

“You begin to discover what is not normally apparent,” Eric says. He talks about two types of information: that from the outside, looking in and the knowledge that one gets when on the inside, from the subculture. “You get privileged information when you are on the inside,” he says, “although it doesn’t happen easily or overnight.”

Eric tells me that he loves ethnographic research because it gives “validity of conclusions.” The information is “debatable but not irrefutable.”

Eric lets me know that if he can help me in any way, I need just pick up the phone. He wishes me luck and encourages me to fully enjoy the research process.

“The research changes us (the researcher)”, he says, “more than the people who read it. Your journey is just beginning, Joe. You never know where it is going to take you.”

REFLECTIONS:

  • The interview went as I had hoped, as far as the focus and the information explored. However, the ease and casual nature of our conversation was even more rewarding than I had hoped it to be. I’d only had a few short conversations prior (and only one of them face to face) with Eric, but we talked as if we had been friends for years. I am extremely grateful for the time and information he has given me, and I know that I can now count him as a friend. Again, you never know where your research is going to take you. The next time he and Eddie, or Eric alone, come up this way, I hope to have them/him over for a nice home cooked meal.
  • I learned a lot about the research process here, and the depth and complexity of information. Speaking with Eric, I was able to get the insider voice behind the story presented in the book. I didn’t just get objective illustrations, I got more of the inner workings of the machine. Eric spoke to me from inside the circle and shared a slice of life of the subculture that has embraced him. Our interview prompted a whole series of topics I wished to explore in the interviews I would have in the next couple of days
  • I think the fact that we were able to talk as peers (sharing the bond of research and ethnography) made for a very productive and comfortable discussion. Also, in the light of our “active interview”, I allowed for Eric to “shift positions in the interview so as to explore alternate perspectives and stocks of knowledge” (Postmodern Interviewing, p. 77).
  • I’m not sure I have many other questions for Eric right now. I read the book and spoke with him at length. There may be other ideas I wish to explore after completing my other interviews. It seems as if they have fed each other, as I am approaching some similar themes with different perspectives and roles in the industry.

Following the Ink Drops…

Art by Greg Simkins

In the course of conducting research for this semester’s Research Methods for Writers class, I have been assaulted with ideas. The topic of tattoos and tattoo artists, is entirely too broad and so I had to choose an avenue that narrowed the field a bit.

I intend to write my final piece as a genre short story. The way my research is going, it may wind up as magical-realism, or some sort of dark urban fantasy. Anybody who knows me would not expect anything else, lol…

Though my research is really just beginning to get under way, some beacons have risen to provide guiding points of light in the dark sea of possibility. I’ve noted these as developing themes and plan to follow their lead in pursuit of my research. Let’s explore them…

The first is this concept of a hierarchy. There seems to me, to be a caste system in place where tattoo artists of various “position” are afforded certain rights, privileges and attention, befitting their “station”.  This is not to say that any one artist who has been relegated to a lower tier on the ink ladder is not capable (or deserving) of producing at the level of the Kings and Queens of the court. This is just how the system has situated itself. Why? How does this happen? Talent is obviously a key contributing factor, but to what ends are other factors such as media coverage, contacts, location, and luck? This hierarchical concept made itself evident to me while attending the 2011 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention. The VIP artists had a room completely to themselves, with work areas easily six times that of the “lower nobility”. In fact, they were on their own floor, separate from the masses of other artists who had crowded into narrow stalls on the upper floor. There are local Kings, such as Philadelphia Eddie, who stand on a tier above their fellow artists, put there by time, tradition, respect, insight and talent. But even the Philadelphia Eddie’s must walk in the shadows of Emperors and Empresses like Chris Garver or Kat Von D.

Another observation in the vein of hierarchy, is that of the courts themselves. Drawing a comparison to medieval culture and fantasy fiction, there is a distinct parallel to the idea of “noble courts”. Indeed, each artist or group of artists seemed to have its own retinue, its own group of knights and maidens and hangers-on. There are squires as well, apprentices learning the art of the ink gun under the tutelage of a proven tattoo artist. State laws vary in the necessary period of apprenticeship, but I believe the average amount to be 2000 hours. During this period, apprentices spend a great deal of time drawing, learning and aiding the tattoo artists themselves. The ability to create the desired images on paper, to breathe life into thought (and to do it well) is the foundation of moving to skin.

Secondly, I want to explore a reference I heard in relation to the tattoo industry. I have mentioned in a previous post that the tattoo industry is the sixth fastest growing retail industry in the states. I also read a comment that referred to it as a “cut-throat business” What does that mean? What about camaraderie? This establishes conflict, and to write a story about this, conflict is necessary. This is an area worth exploring.

Third, is the belief or attachment of power to tattoos. Historically, tattoos have been used to promote fertility, immortality, or protection. The Egyptians and Maori tribes leap to mind immediately. There has been an inherent mysticism attached to tattoos, a magical association that lends itself perfectly to the genre I wish to write in. I am currently reading about the history of tattoos, in which a significant part of the book is devoted to this tenet. I am also intrigued by the notion of the connection the artists themselves forge with the piece they are doing. Again, I mention Kat Von D. I just bought her new book, “The Tattoo Chronicles” in which she records her personal level of connection to individual tattoos she has done. Kat claims to only do work that she feels significantly important to the customer and that she connects with on some level. I found this artist to recipient “thread” to be significant and attaching weight to the ink transfer.

Finally, as the creative cogs began to grind, an idea formed that I felt compelled to jot down.

From the notes of Joseph P. McGee

The pieces are still falling into place, like dandelion spores exploding across a field of windswept grass. I like the idea of warring gangs/courts/tribes of tattoo artists. Inkslingers? Ink Shamans? I like the idea of power infused in the art at the cost of a piece of the soul? These are all areas to be explored and, of course, more research is necessary.

Sound the Tweets of War! The Power of Social Media.

A dense fog hugs the black waters, masking the longship as it slips through the channel. Bay water slaps the prow, churned by the two dozens oars that drive the ship toward the shore. Erik Headsplitter stands at the front of the ship, peering into the shroud. Somewhere ahead, nestled on the rocky shoreline like a surf swept pile of driftwood, sits the village he has come to take. Surprise is essential. The other half of their force will be waiting now, hidden in the thick of the woods above town, for Erik’s signal. The distant fires of the village appear. They grow larger with each succession from the oarsmen. Now, he thinks. Erik turns to the scarred faced boy beside him, his nephew, barely old enough for his winter beard.

“Send the signal,” he says. The boy stands ready, face awash in the glowing blue light of his Iphone. “Sound the Tweets of War!”

We live in an amazing era. An era of instant information and networking. The wonder of the World Wide Web has given way to the wonder of social networking, and a truly instantaneous and global community. New ways to establish a “webdentity” appear faster than we can implement them. Net identity is built atop platforms linked and stacked atop each other like digital dominoes.  Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, Twitpic, Web pages, Blogs, Instant Messaging, texts, Google Buzz….these are the examples that leap to my mind initially. It is staggering to consider the complexity of networking that is happening, as we speak. As writers, this is an invaluable tool for us. This is Thor’s hammer, cast down out of Asgard…if we use it properly (more on that later).

This age of social networking offers writers incredible methods of researching that, in the past, would either be unavailable, unknown, or at the expense of time and money not necessarily available. We, as writers, are able to discover new information and establish contact with people half a world away that may provide expertise on our area of research. Contacts breed contacts and within a few days, a few hours even, an entire platform can be built with which to construct your research. As is the case with any research we do, caution is offered to discern the validity and credibility of any information gleaned.

Recently, I posted the proposal for my grad research project (Ars Velius:Exploring the Urban Shamanism of the Ink Bard). After posting, I “tweeted” a link to it, adding hash tags for tattoos, ink and art. Within a half an hour, I received a notice that Chris Garver, of the TLC reality show “Miami Ink” was following me on Twitter. Chris is an incredible professional tattoo artist. An hour later, my tweet was “retweeted” by another Twitter citizen (a Twitizen??) who had thousands of followers, all interested in the tattoo industry and craft. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to have other tattoo artists sign on to follow my tweets, to include Chris Nunez, also of Miami Ink, and other tattoo affiliated sites. The ability to connect with experts in the field of research I am currently conducting is obviously invaluable.

Chris Garver Tattoo Video in Tokyo from Billy DeCola on Vimeo.

However, the blade that we wield is able to cut us as well. Social media/networking can easily become a distraction. With the responsibility to update blogs, maintain websites, post clever status updates, and send out informative tweets, our writing time is diminished. These are all things that need to be done, but at what cost? Mobile ability makes this a little easier (i.e Iphones, Blackberrys, Androids and Ipads, etc)…but still, these little media beasts aren’t content to have some of our time. They want all of our time. As writers we need to, well..um…write. It’s all too easy to sit down to that fresh page, ready to strike the keys and then become overwhelmed with the urge to check your Facebook page. Or maybe, check your Twitter feed…and, oh yeah, there’s that link you want to put on your web page, but wait…did you read so-and-so’s blog yesterday. No? Hmm…well, we’ll just have a quick read. Then you get a text. Then a Facebook message, then a reply on your blog, then six emails…then you turn around, hours later, and you haven’t produced a damned thing on the page. This is the danger.

The easiest solution, I think, is to “turn off” the distractions when you sit down to write. Dedicate this time. Put your phone on silent and out of sight. Do not log in to Facebook, etc. Make this time solely for your writing and schedule other time for “maintenance” (like your website, blog, etc). Checking and interacting with these sites on the go (mobile devices) helps to keep you current. To borrow from Spiderman here, “With great social networking, comes great responsibility.”

Use these treasures wisely and you will be afforded opportunities normally not open to you. Be professional, be creative, and be involved. The world is literally at our fingertips.

And somewhere, The Police are writing a revision to their song: “Re-Tweet in a bottle….I’m sending an SMS to the world, I’m sending an SMS to the world…”

Research Proposal: Ars Velius: Exploring the Urban Shamanism of the Ink Bard

And so here, in the eyes of peers and public, I shall stake claim to my semester-long research project.  It’s funny that as I put these words out before me, immortalized as they are in this electronic pool of infinite data storage, they share a theme with the topic that I’ve chosen. My words, my art, are an extension, an expression, of myself placed upon this digitized canvas. Once I click publish, those words fly off into the world for everyone to witness and I am, in that sense, exposing myself to the world. I am expressing myself and I am sharing who I am or choose to be. And this is the power of the tattoo.

Tattooing, once taboo and reserved for the more disparate and rebellious sorts of counterculture riff-raff, is now mainstream. Soccer Moms, kindergarten teachers, grandfathers and doctors are all sitting in the chair to have imprinted upon their flesh some permanent morsel of their life. A 2006 story in USAToday reported that 24% of Americans aged 18 – 50 are tattooed. That was up from 15% three years prior. How large has that number grown in the four years since the story was published?

Tattoos are stories, memories, tributes, passion, songs, declarations. Tattoos are many things to many people, but there is one thread that holds true to every tattoo inked across every pound of flesh: they are ART. They are meant to be shared. They are meant to be experienced and discussed and appreciated. Like cave drawings telling the stories of lost civilizations, tattoos tell our story. They illustrate who we are. Our skin is the cave wall and you, the observer of our ink, are discovering our stories.

As much as tattoos interest me, it is the tattoo artist which fascinates me. To me, they are akin to bards, regaling courts with harp and song. They are shamans, weaving magic through ink and needle. Their skill enables our identities to see thought become reality. How liberating must it be, I think, to serve in such a fashion, free to practice your craft without fear of expressive discrimination. To earn your living giving life to the soul of every person who comes before you, paying for you to ply your trade. How does one begin? How does one enter into this trade? Can any artist transfer ability to this medium, or is it like the potter who cannot paint or the illustrator who knows only cartooning and not realism? Can it be taught? What life is this, the uninhibited and carefree practice of the inkslinger?

So, I propose to explore the tattoo artist  and their craft as urban shamanism, almost a reflection of our move toward neo-tribal associations and identity illumination. The statement of the individual in a world awash in capitalism, consumerism, and mass corporate appeal.

Art is best served by art. It is for this reason, that I will present my research in a medium that I feel I can best immerse myself in. I plan to write a story (or stories, interconnected) that explore the depths of this research topic. Images assault me of dystopian/speculative fiction shorts, or dark fantasy cemented in magical realism. I can have a lot of fun with this and at the center of them all would be a centralized stark image, a tattoo, and, of course, the shaman him/herself: the tattoo artist. What great characters they could be, especially in a fantasy work of fiction.

The best fiction, fantasy included, is grounded in some bit of reality, no matter how big or small that may be. Even the wildest ideas often have roots in reality somewhere, some idea or image that inspired the writer. This is where my research shall prove paramount in giving me the depth to create a piece truly enriched by the discoveries awaiting me. I look forward to immersing myself in the culture and archives on the subject of tattoo artists and their craft.

As this is not merely a practice without purpose, publication is in mind. To this end, I have considered several possible publications which I will target for submission. Chief amongst these (as farmed from Writer’s Market 2011, Duotrope, and/or Google searches) are:

Clarkesworld Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer Magazine, Dark Valentine, Weird Tales, and Philadelphia Stories.

Most of these were selected because of their attraction to weird, dark, speculative fantasy with flavors of magical realism or the bizarre. Philadelphia Stories is an interest because of their attachment to well written stories by area writers. This is not to say that this list is closed and/or comprehensive, but this is a starting area. These are some magazines that may be interested in what I will eventually write. Other opportunities may present themselves once I am able to research more of the trade magazines that are on the shelves (Inked, Tattoo Magazine, Skin & Ink).

I am also excited at the prospect of exploring the artists themselves, of sitting down to talk with them, of visiting shops and parlors, discussing thoughts via blogs, like Tattoo blog or Swallows & Daggers. Coincidentally, and I just discovered this today, the 2011 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts convention is this weekend (Fri-Sun, $20/day or $40 for all three. Tickets sold at door. See site for details). I’ll be there on Saturday, what a chance to dive right into this thing.

This is an exciting opportunity to explore an area of personal interest and to use it in a genre that I wear like a second skin. Though the immediate research and archive opportunities are local, it is (as demonstrated in the aforementioned USAToday article) a subject of national AND global appeal. I look forward to the challenges ahead and the discoveries that await. Perhaps, at the end of it all, another painting will color my cave wall?

Igor, throw the switch!!

Brrrzzzaaaaaaappppppp

The Tesla coil begins to thrum. Machines spit sparks and rattle. Cobweb clad work tables await a new creation. The doctor enters, madness in his eyes. Or is it genius? So much work to be done, so many mysteries to be explored. But which to breathe life into first? What research siren’s call will sate his intellectual thirst? And so here we begin, at the beginning. At the drafting table.

For my graduate class, Core 2: Research Methods for Writers, I will be working on a semester-long research project. The project is intended to develop and challenge our definition and experience with research methods. Research opportunities far surpass the traditional book and data methods that we are all familiar with. I will be conducting my research in a variety of ways and posting it here, sharing not only my research, but the journey and experiences of gathering the data itself. This is intended for my peers and classmates, as well as any “outside” interested parties.

To research, one needs a topic TO research. Was it Confucius who said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”? Maybe it was Bruce Lee, or Yoda. Maybe it was Chuck Norris. So, let’s take that step. Hold on, let me put on my socks. So here I am, and here you are. I just saw a tumbleweed roll by. Who cued the crickets? Never mind. Let’s brainstorm.

Here are the ideas I have so far. Did I mention that the project should also be a local subject with potential national appeal? Well, I just did. So, here’s what I’ve got:

1. A look behind those roadside memorials that I see occasionally while driving. You know, the homemade cross with the road worker’s vest on it and a wreath. Or the candles and stuffed animals. I see them, usually after the rain has beat them down or carbon monoxide has colored the white plush bear black. Who were these people who died? How did they die? Who loved and cared about them so much that they stopped to build a memorial at that site, the assumed site of their death.

2. What do local religious institutes think about this end of the world thing? The Courier Post recently ran an article about a trio of guys that left behind jobs, companies, even families, to tour the nation, spreading their belief that the world is going to end in May 2011. May 21 to be precise. They claim that the Bible is filled with revelations and signs that this is the end of days. So, what’s the take from different religions? How do they feel about this and other religious institutions? What makes them so different anyway?

3. What’s going on with the local music scene? The music store around the corner has a rock camp for kids. They even get to perform in concert, etc. What other local bands are working on things? What goes on at The Electric Factory? What young talent is out there and how are they getting noticed?

4. What does it take to be a tattoo artist? How do you even begin? What kind of life is it? Is it profitable? It’s always intrigued me. Maybe a behind the scenes look into the profession of the tattoo artist?

5. What’s the story of the lakes around which my development is built? They are old sand quarries, spring-fed. I’ve fished them and caught bass. The middle of the main lake is supposed to be almost ninety feet deep. There is supposed to be a crane at the bottom. When the quarry was operational, they hit the water table and (according to the story) it filled up so fast that they could not get the crane out. A young girl drowned last year in the secondary lake. There is a memorial along the road for her, still.

This is where I am at. I am not sure I even like any of these ideas enough yet to go with them. I am still wracking my brain to come up with more ideas, but I welcome your feedback on what I have so far. What do you think of the topics? Do any of these interest you? Would you ever be interested in reading a piece about any of these? Let me know.

Until then, I’ll be with Igor, throwing switches.