I’m not exactly between projects right now, but the ones I’ve got on the go aren’t always going. For a variety of reasons, I work on them in fits and starts, which means that I’m not always getting the level of creativity I need to keep me feeling like myself. Writing is like iron, or protein, or plain old steamed vegetables. It makes me feel good and normal. This blog has been a bit of a saviour in that way, because it gives me an outlet, a place to put an idea down and give it eyes, hair and teeth, and then hold it up for others to see. But it isn’t always enough.
Watching N with her drawings, her homemade books, her modelling clay lizards and zebras and “coccinelles” that she whips up for school projects, I envy the way she creates without getting in her own way. Her friends do the same. This weekend was her eighth birthday, so we had a gaggle of girls over, squealing and giggling throughout the house on their treasure hunt, then blind-folded as they stuck a lightning bolt or a moustache or — squeals again — a kiss on Harry Potter (a literary alternative to pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey). And afterwards as we opened the presents, I noticed that most of the cards were homemade. AJ based hers around the Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy saying “I have a feeling we’re going to a partie, Toto.” AF painstakingly taped tiny bits of torn paper (snow?) all over the back of hers. T drew a picture of herself with N, standing beside a flaming cake as tall as them. And M wrote a lengthy missive embellished with dots and swirls and the wish that “you have a good time being 8.”
I think it becomes harder and harder for us to create spontaneously as we get older, just as it gets harder to jump on beds and pretend to be spies or fairies or teachers teaching a room full of stuffed-animal pupils. Yet it’s oh so important. It clears out cobwebs and calls up a near-forgotten language. So this week I stood aside and let myself play with wood, paper and scissors, just to see what would happen. And what emerged (from the influence of reading with N and writing about it here) was L.M. Montgomery, Anne, and the mouse that fell into the pudding.
Diana, fancy if you can my extreme horror at finding a mouse drowned in that pudding sauce! I lifted the mouse out with a spoon and threw it out in the yard and then I washed the spoon in three waters.
Now N has been inspired by me and wants to make her own collages. It’s what she wants to be, she says. An artist. But as soon as she’s said it she isn’t quite sure. Does it rule out better things? The other night at dinner she asked what we thought she should be, and gave us choices: “An artist, a writer, a farmer, a teacher, or a vet?”
We asked what the appeal was for each one, and she told us:
“If I was an artist I could make pictures with A.”
“If I was a writer, I could write books with T.”
“If I was a teacher, I could be just like Madame.”
“If I was a farmer, I could feed people who are hungry. Just with milk, though, or vegetables. I don’t want to kill any animals.”
“If I was a vet, I could help the poor little animals who are sick and need me!”
The writer-mother and the artist-teacher-father glanced at each other. Whatever you choose, we told her, it has to come from inside you. Right now it sounds like you should be a farmer or a vet. But you have lots of time to decide.
She thought about that a bit. And then she rhymed off different answers. “So,” she asked us. “Now what do you think I should be?”