Sunday, June 15, 2014

A mommy story

Earlier this week, the New York Times asked writers James Parker and Moshin Hamid how parenthood has informed their writing lives.  Their answers, thoughtful, funny and interesting, ranged from the absurd (the writer engaging in participatory storytelling as a jellyfish) to the acid (discovering that there are a couple of really slow stretches in "The Hobbit"), but it got me thinking about the very simple fact that my kids have affected my writing life in a number of ways for which I ought to give them credit. So on a day about fathers and children, my thoughts are very much with my kids, who have, in fact, delivered their own junior MFA in writing purely because of the number of hours we have put in reading aloud and talking about what is happening in their books, and how their favorite stories work.

Yes, they have reduced my number of working hours to the increasingly small stretch between a hysterical just-get-into-to-bed-and-stay-there bedtime and a crack-of-dawn-wake up call (a popular crime all creatives like to blame on the children), but I must also give them proper credit for their shameless demands for a story at any and all times of the day, their never-ending forcing me to read aloud and really consider the flow of words entering their tiny ears. I now understand long stretches where nothing happens are boring (why, hello, L. Frank Baum), that a reader becomes anxious when the creeping tension becomes too great, and that anyone can be absolutely delighted with an rhyming couplets, especially when we again pull out Julia Donaldson (whose Sistine Chapel, I think, is the peerless and Billy's forever bedtime favorite Tabby McTat). They, and this constant bedtime reading, have taught me that if it can't be read aloud, it won't be read silently. I now know the best children's literature  keeps a story moving, sticks with a handful of well-drawn characters with engaging voices, gets straight to the point, respects its reader, and knows that if it's important go ahead and say it again. Moreover, what I learned from their favorite comic book is that funny is a great way to be informative, and there is great wisdom in talking animals.

And yet, and yet... there is something about being a writer, this craving to be alone with one's head that does not work with family life... This yearning to allow the imagination to run free, hang duty and responsibility, do not exactly meet the demands of growing, needing-to-be-fed children. Their lives are a story, written new each morning, why is it impossible then to put actual pen to actual paper? What's the answer? If you happen to figure it out, let me know.

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