Archive for June 2012

Creative Process

June 22, 2012

Most mornings I find an hour before the rush of feeding dressing diaper-changing singing chanting spilling chaos to write. It’s an internal alarm that wakes me. Like my work is calling to me, Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! It’s like the physical reaction to falling in love for the first time. An actualization of deepest fears and passions. There are probably a million and one ways I could dramatize the sensation of needing to write, but I’ll save the elaborate metaphors for my fiction.

I finally finished that book The Golden Thread, and it was truly magical. In the meantime, I’ve also been devouring James Woods’ How Fiction Works and it, too, is marvellous. It’s been fun reading them simultaneously, because there’s some of the same literature mentioned in both. It’s like hanging out with a couple of fellow lovers of literature, without having to leave the house.

So here’s a piece I wrote for an in-class exercise recently. Not exactly filled with elaborate metaphors, and I wish I could share some of the other ones some of my classmates wrote, because they were very well done. But here’s my attempt at a list story (we were discussing how to create a story using a structure other than the traditional Aristotelean arc, such as a list):

Creative Process

In the morning there’s a burbling beneath the sound of the coffee percolator. It fizzes at a low decibel and explodes before nine o’clock. Scattered socks, boots split from mates, lunch bags stinking on the counter.

Late again.

There are drop-offs. Kerfuffles with car seat buckles. There is silence in the house once two kids are at school, and the baby is down for a nap. There is a To Do list.

Two things: groceries, and choreograph the routines for my dance school’s recital. I rummage through that top drawer my husband calls the Junk Collector, and smooth out a crumpled piece of paper. Mostly blank on one side.

Item number one: milk. Dammit, no more milk left for my coffee. Where’s dial-a-cuppa when you need it? Spilt milk. All over the floor and under the fridge this morning. 

I look up from my grocery list to stare out the window. A raven, its feathers silky from the recent rain, waddles across my front lawn and pecks at the ground. When it finds what it’s looking for, it pulls it upwards with one graceful tug, the fleshy worm stretched from its bed of dirt upwards into the bird’s beak. The beak then points towards the sky as the bird swallows the morsel in a quick staccato beat — gulp gulp gulp gulp — before it flies off to perch on my neighbour’s rooftop.

Milk that waddles in the cup, like the raven on my front lawn. A waddle dance, like the one I did, age three, to the tune of I’m A Little Teacup. Perfect for my youngest dancers. I write down, waddle dance on the choreography list.

Item number two: bread. Milk and bread, the most valuable staples in my household, as long as there’s peanut butter. My mother was appalled the last time she came to visit. “Are you going to let those kids live on nothing but peanut butter sandwiches?” When I didn’t answer her, she went on. “Why don’t you have a sitter for the baby? He’s six months old now. You’re running yourself ragged with the dance school, and no childcare.”

“Mom, he still naps twice, and I get work done from home during the day.”

Back to my list. Vegetables. I never did take my mother’s advice, to dress the veggies in butter or syrup, anything just to get my family to eat them. These days I don’t have time for dress-up unless it’s at the dance studio. These days, we have sword fights with carrots, games with slices of red pepper wearing capes of spinach, and frolics with broccoli at our dinner table. A colourful dance. That’s it! The Grade Two ballet class, my little veggies. I can see them dressed in green, orange and red unitards, waving scarves of butter and leaves around their bodies, shaking and shimmying in joyous harmony.

Grade Three’s, Veggie Dance goes on the choreography list.

This morning, Isabelle skated across the floor in her socks. Matthew slithered under her legs and she toppled over on top of him, her arm shooting out from her side. That’s what dropped the milk off the counter. But I was busy feeding the baby, and at first didn’t notice the spill. Isabelle and Matthew, their laughter and movements, smooth and uncalculated. A dance for my Grade One students could be like that. A smooth glide through my kids’ favourite food. I write down: movement through peanut butter.

Great, I’m on a roll. Item number four: ding-dong. Dammit. My neighbour again. She doesn’t understand that when I’m home, I’m working. Maybe if I hold my breath she’ll go away. Ding-dong, Dammit! I’m wasting time. Okay, focus.

I glance back down at my grocery list. I imagine tearing it up, letting the confetti papers float to the floor behind me as I slam through the door past my neighbour and into the rain where I peck at the lawn. I see myself emerging, a mouthful of slithering worms between my lips, shaking the food before the faces of my children.

The doorbell stops ringing.

Item number four: fruit. I so angry over the milk that I denied Isabelle a banana. My daughter, awash in remorse, strutting her self-indignation. I yelled, “Get in the car!” I had just tripped over her bin of doll clothes with Matthew’s Hot Wheels track perched on top of it. Metal cars scattered in every direction across the floor. A formation of girls in banana costumes, aka, my Grade Four jazz/ballet class. To that song they love, lots of semi-circle formations, back-to-back, side-step clap! To the list with you, my glorious fruits.

Next on the list: meat. A barbecue if this weather ever clears. Surely sometime in the next three days….sunshine….barbecue, black leotards and saucy skirts for my pre-teen group. They’ve requested the chance to choreograph some of their own routine. Perfect. That’ll take a lot off my plate.

Ring! Now what?! I answer the phone. My daughter’s school. She’s sick. Dammit! We made it through the whole winter without the flu, and this happens now? Really?

I take an extra half hour before picking her up, waking the baby and rushing to get the groceries. I forget my list on the counter at home.

By the time I pick  up Isabelle, her skin is translucent, clammy. Maybe if I’d given her that banana after all….. But she throws up in the backseat on the way home, so I imagine the banana would have just been more to clean up. 

I have her settled on the couch under blankets, bucket at her side, and I go out to clean the car. The rain has started up again, and the raven is back on the lawn. Still engaged in the never-ending cycle of caring for her family.

Inside, Isabelle is asleep. I pour my coffee, and have a look at my list. The ink is blurred, the paper soggy from the puddle of juice beneath it. The dishes are piled high in the sink, and in the silence, I can hear two of my children blissfully snoring. Somehow, the picture is complete.