I learned a new word, so of course I had to share it with you all!

I was reading an article in the Journal of Criminology about serial killers, as we define them in modern times, and how the media has played a role in their creation (first paper at the link).

The method of research, the author explained, was bricolage. I hadn’t run across the word before, so I went and looked it up. The word itself means ‘creation or construction from a range of diverse things’ and in the context of writing the paper, it meant they had not only used scholarly sources, but films, documentaries, novels, and media accounts. Which makes perfect sense given the topic of the paper. But what caught my imagination was the word and it’s application to my writing. This blog? bricolage. My novels? bricolage, mostly. Especially the Pixie Noir and Vulcan’s Kittens stories. They were constructed deliberately and with forethought of many different ideas, because while there may be nothing new under the sun, there can be new flavor combinations.

I believe it was Heinlein who said that good writers borrow ideas, but great writers steal them. It might not have been him – or he may have repeated what someone else said. But it’s a truth. There can be original thoughts, ideas, and stories, at a certain level. If you drill down a few layers, though, you can often see where the concepts for the writing originated. Is this somehow cheating? No. Look at a house. There’s one, there’s another. They look very different on the outside – let’s say this is Ohio, where you’ll have one with vinyl siding, and another with the faux half-timbered look (I have absolutely no idea why, but it’s very popular in this area, and always looks odd to me when I drive into a whole subdivision of tudor-style houses). But if you look deeper than the outside veneer, you’ll see that they are both made of beams, studs, wiring, insulation, a foundation – many similarities. Did the builders cheat and copy from one another?

I make an effort to use bricolage in my writing, and my artwork, and in order to do this, I have to expose myself to a wide variety of things. From a trip to an art museum, to reading everything I can get my mitts on when I have the time to read. I’ve been on a kick with the antique and vintage cookbooks, and in the process of doing some research on Kitchenaid stand mixers, discovered that not only are they older than I thought, the factory that makes them is less than an hour from home, and gives tours! I know what I want to do sometime soon. It got me thinking about tiny museums, and how many of them there are nearby. Without even googling, I have two historical society museums I drive by regularly, a canal musem that is open only two hours a week, and a couple of large art museums in nearby cities. I’m looking at them and thinking that even if they aren’t directly applicable to my research, I should still take the time to go and look at them. Because bricolage.

I literally never know what I’ll find, and where, that I can use. For something. This is cool, yes, but it does have it’s downsides. I’m having trouble deciding what I want to do with my career. Yes, science. But that is incredibly broad. I’ve discovered I’m equally happy in a lab doing chemistry or microbiology. I’d wish for field work, but shy of going full academic researcher, I’m not sure that’s a possibility. I want to do the investigation part of my training and research – but that needs a solid foundation of experience I just don’t have yet. And might be too old to get. I’m at a point where I’m both very excited about the future, and a bit discouraged. I can’t stay where I’m at – not only is it a short-term contract, the position is insufficient to support a family. This is literally a stepping-stone, they know it, and I know it. It’s good, but it’s just one step. I want to go back to school for a master’s degree, but I feel like I’m flailing. I am supposed to be passionate about one thing, pick that, and study it. Yes. Fine, wonderful, but what? I’m passionate about a number of things, and when I pick a topic and start studying it, I get more passionate about it than I was when I started. Like Bioinformatics, which I knew nothing about when I signed up for a class, loved the class, wanted more, and am considering for my focus. But then there is Criminology, which offers me I-don’t-know-what for a career path, but I could pick up a Master’s online only while working. Not a bad thought. Food Science? Yes, please. You all know how much I love food and cooking. Anthropology? Yeah. That’s what I wanted to do with Forensics, but I’m not a kid with no dependents anymore. Epidemiology, or rather specifically public health and infectious diseases. Bricolage. That’s really what I want. Not so I can bounce around from job to job, but so I can have the broadest possible well of knowledge to draw on, doing work that challenged that depth of knowledge.

I don’t know. I really don’t. I didn’t mean for this post to turn into whinging, so I’m sorry. I’ll sign off, and go write some. If I write enough, with enough use of bricolage, I could just sell books and stop worrying about a day job. I could even support creating books on natural history illustrated with my photos, which I know won’t make me money but could be so very cool to create.



5 responses to “Bricolage”

  1. Kathleen Sanderson Avatar
    Kathleen Sanderson

    You are a Renaissance woman! That is a good thing, and it will all come together in due time!

  2. How do you eat an elephant?

    1. A really damn big grill?

  3. I ran across Bricolage in my Masters in Communications degree.

    What you are discussing reminds me of the “sparkplug” idea I first ran across in Dream Thief by Stephen Lawhead. They both encapsulate the importance of crossdisciplinary thinking.

  4. Bricolage is what makes a good author. The “ability” to study and _connect_ multiple “unrelated” things. Consultants (good ones, in any field) do the same thing. Having been both, I know. 🙂 Some people cal them “Renaissance men/women,” but it’s the same thing. Don’t be ashamed of being that type, it makes you one of a small group, which is member of a small group. IMO, a 1% of an ~5% group.