Along with revising One-Man Reservation, I am keeping track of ideas for another novel; this one, I hope, will be a funny, engaging, and (dare I type it?) sparkling zinger about being an Obsessive-Compulsive Parent raising a child in an uncertain and dangerous world (I know, it already sounds hilarious). My daughter is nine, and she knows that one of the things I do with my time is write.
One night, I was reading over the latest version of One Man, and Hope said, “It sure is taking you a long time to write this book.” I nodded, pleased in a rather obnoxious way, that I had the opportunity to demonstrate how hard one must work in order to birth a creative idea. Discipline, patience, trial and error – these were all approaches I wanted to discuss with her. Instead, she went to her room and brought out a handful of books. “I think you need some inspiration,” she said, I continued to read my manuscript, sort of, while she brought load after load to the couch, saying each time, “These will really help you.”
As the pile reached a tipping point, I asked, “With which book of mine?” (She knows about the OCD book, knows that a character will be based on her. About a month ago, she informed me that her name in the book shall be Brooklyn. Pretty cool, I thought). She stood back and appraised the mound of texts and offered, “Both!”
I told her thanks and we all went on with our night. The books remained on the couch until the next afternoon while Dreux was preparing dinner, asked, “So, what’s up with all these?” I think he was hoping the books would make their way back to Hope’s shelves, allowing the living room to have a small window of order.
A thought came to me – pay attention; your daughter wants to participate in your world and she wants you to see her as a resource. So, I gathered the books and brought them into my bedroom, stacking them near the reading chair, vowing I’d go through them all and see what they had to teach me. (Dreux came and stood next to me. “You’re are an amazing parent.” His kind observation helped assuage the constant humming guilt I feel about not doing enough for her, with her. In my mind, good mothers bake, but I haven’t done this in at least six months. Not in Texas, not when the 100 degree heat makes you never want to turn on your oven. You’d think that I’d get a little smarter and choose another, reasomable worry for my definition of a good mother, but nope, the baking judgment sticks).
I put “inspiration pile” on my list of things to do, and it took me a few days to sit down and begin. First, I listed out all the titles (I’m eager to see what the Children’s Encyclopedia has to teach me) and started reading. When I got to the third book (and that’s as far as I have gotten – I’ll be with this project for at least a few weeks), I made some cursory notes about the picture book, Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen, pictures by Kadir Nelson (he’s worth your time). It’s the story of a young dancer who longs to dance in the spotlight, just once, but her height prevents her. I landed on the page where the protagonist, Sassy, lies in her bed, dreaming about finally getting to dance a solo. She’s a big-boned, big-footed ballerina who doesn’t have a physical match in the dance world she’s peripherally associated with. In the air of her bedroom, she imagines herself gliding above the world in various poses of balletic grace, and it is this vivid imagination, combined with the visceral ache for a chance, that led me to some insights about all of my characters in both books.
Had I considered deeply what each person wanted in the world? Had I imagined their own moments of repose, connecting to the one thing or activity that would make them feel like they were complete, three-dimensional, and fully rendered people?
I took copious notes, letting the ideas and explorations come, and I have talked these over with Hope. Maybe in sharing these with her, I am moving toward her, toward the girl she is, lying in bed, waiting for her mother to be done writing. Maybe instead of baking, we’re sharing another kind of creation, one where the ingredients come from her committed support and my learning to listen.