Wednesday, July 31, 2013


My dad called the other day.  He’s not a big one for talking on the phone.  His is even one of those ancient flip phones that people tossed for the smart ones.  Usually it’s my mother who calls and checks in, feeding me the funny anecdotes of my sister’s kids.  So when Dad calls I get nervous.  It’s a broken pattern.
It’s the same for whenever they call any time after seven at night.  It’s past their bedtime.  When seven rolls around, they’re tucked snugly in their beds, lights out and everyone snoring contentedly.  It’s their pattern.  

So, when Mom calls that late I snatch up the phone.  “Who died?”

“No one died.  Why?”

“Because it’s 9:15.  You never call me this late.  Is Dad okay?”

“Your dad’s fine.  He’s playing Tetris on the bedroom computer.  I just wanted to call and see how everyone is doing.  You always whine that I call you too early.  Now you’re complaining that I’m calling too late.  There’s no winning with you.”

Now, before you think I overreacted, the same conversation happened between my sister and Mom just two weeks ago.  And yes, my sister answered the phone the same way I had.  We react that way because people live their lives according to patterns; they’re predictable.  We count on those patterns because they help us navigate life through safe waters.  They assure us that everything is all right in our world.

I’m not saying that there can’t be spontaneity in a person’s life.  Actually, we need those sudden acts of randomness.  I’m not talking about activity, however.  I’m talking about behavior.  Breaks in patterns of behavior usually send up warning signals.  It’s how a spouse knows that something is going south.  Sudden late nights at work.  Unexplained messages.  He starts bathing.  Her cooking gets better.  These could be the breaks in a pattern that should give you concern. 

It’s the same with children.  Why are they suddenly cleaning their room and bathing in cologne?  Something in their life has changed.  Do you know what it is?

I add these patterns to my characters.  They add something and if the reader is paying close attention, they can see when the patterns change and know that something new is coming soon.  It also helps embed a character in the reader’s mind.  You pick up on mannerisms and habits.  You can even predict future happenings in a story if you’re paying close attention.

Life is full of patterns.  We just have to be observant enough to find them.  Ignore them and you may be in for a surprise you never wanted.

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  1. A very good observation and so true. In the poem Desiderata, there is one line I keep close to my heart;

    "Nurture strength of sprit in times of sudden misfortune"

    Because I experienced a shock I wish on no one, when my son's death caught me unexpectedly, I will always "nurture strength of spirit" and never be complacent again.

    Nice post Robbie, thank you.

    1. I like that quote and may have to keep it in my notebook from now on. Thanks, Joanna, for visiting and commenting :)

  2. I went through this with my mom & dad the last year and a half, a change in pattern indicated 'something gone wrong', always. Patterns are so telling of life as well as a persons character. I think about the memoir I am writing and what patterns character patterns I've written in the book. It will be good for me to go back and take a look at the changes I've shown slight or drastic. Patterns are important, whether it's fiction or non-fiction because it is life, and a change in pattern usually indicates a change in character or in life circumstances.

    1. Patterns show us a lot. We just have to be observant. Most don't even know to look for them.

      I look forward to reading you book. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  3. This blog post reminds me an old saying when one is ready to enter a relationship. It goes something like this:

    "If you want to know a horse, look at his track record."

    That speaks loudly to patterns. :) When I met my husband, and he asked me to marry him, I interrogated him so hard, the only thing missing were the hot lights.