This is not the post that I intended to write. I set out to share something entirely different; elucidating gems of data I’ve gathered and rather niftily entitled “Imaginary weapons, and the search for unobtainium”. It was going to be fun. It was going to rock. Instead, I ran face-first into a writer’s block.
If only creativity were an element that could be simply and neatly classified on a periodic table by physical state, deadline pressure and energy level.
Of course, I wasted far too much of my precious–and abbreviated–writing time, fuming and hacking. In fact, I was just about to grab a mood enhancer from the fridge, and continue to lose the battle, when my 80-pound eight-year-old surprised me with a flying leap, landing with some impact, in my lap. She smoothed my scowled eyebrows with her thumbs and said, “mummy, don’t be cross.”
So, I did what any self-respecting parent would do: I buried my face in her little shoulder and wailed, “I have all this stuff in my head and it JUST WON’T COME OUT!”
Little Wisdom patted me on the back in a Charlie Brown fashion. “Don’t be sad. That happens to me all the time.” So, there we sat, in a long and loving moment of reminiscence, individually recalling our most recent school-time fiasco involving… composition. Finally, Katie drew back, and looked at me sternly.
“Mummy, I bet you didn’t plan your story.”
Dammit. She did read my mind!
To put this apparently un-childlike insight into perspective: Katie has an amazing vocabulary. She started making noises far too soon and has never stopped. However, right now she is struggling with her written work…because of frustration. It pisses her off, mightily, that all those words are in her head and simply will not translate into the written form in the way she imagines them. It’s hard–and hard is not fun. We have battled with this frustration throughout her second-grade. I have utilised mind-maps, charts, painting and play-acting to which she has responded with demands for cuddles, being read-to, chocolate and cake…her repertoire of avoidance methodology is effective, high in calorie and extremely advanced for one so young.
Do I look into a mirror? Yep, every day.
By this time, parent and child roles have become somewhat blurred. The blog post I had begun in a fit of grim determination (“I have two hours and I WILL WRITE THIS NOW”), has turned into a tantrum of the Id. My subconscious has thrown itself onto the back of my skull and is beating staccato with its heels.
Which is why Katie’s observation is something like an illegal tackle, the sort that everyone except the umpire sees. I was abruptly, and unceremoniously, brought back down to earth. Some (mumble) hours ago, I sat down to write something, armed with a few good ideas and a self-imposed deadline (i.e. before dinner) but my determination was sans game-plan. I had no structure for how my thoughts were going to hang together. Yet, for some reason, I had very high expectations that it was just going to happen, like planting a seed and watching it grow in time-lapse–
Katie gave me a knowing look. “You make ME plan MY stories.”
Well, yeah, but…
No buts. Creativity, like good luck, exists at the cross-roads of opportunity and preparation. I was not prepared. As a result, I had a tangle of information and a few cool ideas, but no coherent way of tying them together. Lucky for me, my daughter offered a solution.
“You can publish my story, mummy. We planned that, and it worked out really well. You said so.”
I did say so, and it IS a good story. In fact, I will go so far as to say it’s a friggin’ GREAT story for a kid who was made to sit down and formulate a story plan about making an unexpected friend and learning something new. No-one will ever know how much chocolate or how many tears were spent on this story until I made one simple suggestion: that she did not have to write it, only tell me.
Suddenly, the plan was a story told from beginning to end, seamlessly, with barely a breath taken in between. Sometimes, writing gets in the way.
I have to say it’s a good deal better than anything I’ve done lately. So, here’s Katie’s story. As I re-type her words, I recall all of the stories that have paved the roads of her inspiration and I rejoice in the connections that are her very own creativity: we are all so much more than what we think we know.
Adventures with Good Wolf
One day, I went to the woods to collect strawberries.
“Make sure they’re juicy and ripe red,” said mum. “Be careful not to leave the path. The hunter has been setting traps.”
My basket was nearly full of ripe, red strawberries when I glanced up in time to see a big, brown wolf disappearing behind a tree.
I forgot my mother’s warning. I dropped my basket and tore off into the undergrowth. I ran blindly through a network of thorn bushes. I tripped over a hidden wire and fell heavily. The next moment, I was caught in a net and held to the ground.
There I lay, helpless.
I called for help but the only answer I got was a pair of gleaming, golden eyes. Out of the shadows stepped the big, brown wolf I had glimpsed before. I screamed and struggled, but the net held firm.
The wolf sat down and watched me. He tilted his head to one side. Seemingly, his mind made up, he approached me. Instead of biting me, he attacked the net, gnawing at the ropes with his sharp, white teeth.
The net fell away and I sat up. It seemed to me that the wolf was grinning, so I smiled back.
Out of the undergrowth burst the hunter! His teeth were bared and his eyes blazed with anger. With a shout, he leapt forward, brandishing his knife at the wolf. The wolf leapt back but not in time to avoid a slash of the hunter’s knife. The wicked blade caught his back leg, slashing deep into that thick, dark fur.
The wolf howled and fell to his side. With a cry of triumph, the hunter stepped forward to finish him off.
I couldn’t let that happen! I stuck out my foot and tripped him. The hunter went sprawling and the knife flew from his hand. I scrambled to my feet, pulled the heavy netting over him and tied the hunter up in his own trap.
Then I knelt next to the wolf. He looked up at me, whined softly and licked my hand. I helped him to his feet. He kept his injured foot off the ground and led me back to my basket and the path. With one more lick, and a wolfish grin, he disappeared back into the undergrowth.
This was the story I told my mum because she wanted to know why I came home with dirty clothes and an empty basket. I promised her that tomorrow, I’d go out and collect more strawberries.
I’m not planning anything, but I hope that I’ll meet Good Wolf again.
Every word is Katie’s, you’ll just have to believe me on that one. The spelling and punctuation is mine.
As it happens, “Good Wolf” is an old friend of ours. He has appeared to Katie as her invisible friend since she was two- years old. During her infant years, I became exceedingly bored with baby books, and began reading things I enjoyed–thinking that she didn’t care, so long as I was there.
One of our first books together was a a juvenile version of “White Fang”. She has loved that story ever since, over numerous (!!) re-readings. So much so that it has sunk into the very core of her being. I still read to her, every single night, and often it is what I happen to be reading at the time. This has, on occasion, inspired me to become adept at on-the-spot improvisation (when the text became just a tad too adult). In any event, she is now deeply involved in the trials and characters of Westeros, is a huge fan of George R. R. Martin, and firmly believes that she is a warg. My child is a geek and I’m immensely proud of her–
And grateful. Because now I have a blog-post and I’m off the hook for another month. Hey, mums have to take our breaks where and when we get ’em.
I hope you enjoyed this first ever public sharing of “Good Wolf”. When I told Katie I was recounting our conversation, she looked at me sternly. “It’s time you wrote the next David Mishram story, mummy. You promised. You don’t have to plan. I can tell it to you.”
Which is true, and allows me to procrastinate further on “Imaginary weapons”. My inner-muse is silent on this matter, and the misbehaving toddler in my head has collapsed into an exhausted stupor.
Just in time for dinner.