A Tale of Two Houses

Every year, the kids beg me to buy those gingerbread house kits. Every year, I give in. It’s like I forget about the huge mess they make. Or, maybe I think the joy they get from decorating the houses outweighs the annoyance of sweeping up bits of candy for weeks afterward.

Yeah, I definitely forget about the mess 😛

A couple days before Christmas, the kids got out their kits (I learned years ago that they could not build one house together.) I was working, so it was a great excuse to stay out of their project. I like things tidy, so my presence would’ve put a damper on their fun anyway (I think my younger son had more frosting on his jeans than his house.)

My older son (he’s 12) presented his masterpiece, complete with candy cane arch and candy walkway. The showoff even made a guest house out of regular graham crackers:

01-07 Gingerbread1

My eight-year-old son was frustrated that his house wouldn’t stay ‘glued’ together. I heard his aggravation, but he didn’t ask me for help, so I stayed away. When he did come get me to look at his creation, he presented it as a “gingerbread house in a tornado”:

01-07 Gingerbread2

I found this interesting, because it seems as we get older, we tend to color inside the lines, so to speak. I like my younger son’s creative spin (haha, spin… tornado… never mind) because it reminds me that things don’t have to be perfect to be visually interesting.

This is a reminder that once in a while, I should take the opportunity to toss the rules and let my creativity just happen.

Detective Mom (Where’s Inspector Gadget?)

Last night, I sent an email to my printer that I needed for a scout meeting tonight.  The printer beeped loudly three times – it was out of paper.  I wondered how that could be, since I filled the tray last week.

It didn’t take me long to find my first clue:

"Superior Craftsmanship" - US map with each state cut and stapled together

So, my older son is obsessed with maps right now.  Well, that, and archaeology, and living creatures, math problems, and rocks…well, you get the idea.  Even with the fifty-state map on the floor, I couldn’t see how this accounted for the entire tray of paper.

Remnants of paper...the same type used by my printer

That piece of the puzzle snapped firmly into place.  Conservation of resources obviously wasn’t in the forefront of his mind.  Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check out what else he was up to.  Yeah, I know…I’m kind of like the lady in the movies who searches for the strange noise rather than running far, far away.  This is the point where I’m reaching out to open the closed door (with the tension-building music in the background) and you’re chanting, “Don’t do it!  Don’t do it!”  Followed by disgusted mutterings of, “idiot, you did it anyway…”

A plastic lizard named Kyle
Christopher the Fake Snake

At first, I feared these guys were real, but upon further inspection, with the box lids on, of course, the realization came that they were imposters.  It all makes sense when I think back a couple weeks, when he first asked me if he could get a lizard (no) or a snake (absolutely not.)

I’ve mentioned that I’ve come to expect the unexpected with him, but the pencil box reptile habitats still caught me off guard.  The dishes of water, kibbles of cat food, seashells and rocks showed a solid attempt at creating a comfortable environment for the creatures.  With all the surprises he offers me, there was one thing that did not faze me a bit:

You may not believe it, but there really is a desk under all that stuff...

If his desk is a window into his mind, then I’ve decided it’s a busy (scary) place.  The tension-building music crescendos as I run away from the door screaming.

Yep, this mom can spot clues, but I’m learning that maybe some trails aren’t meant to be followed.

How about you – do you try to figure out life’s mysteries?  Or do you leave clues undisturbed?

In Other Words, Creativity Happens

During my several nights of non-writing since I attended a single-day writer’s conference last weekend, one message has scrolled through my head like the banner across the bottom of a news show: You must write every single day.

Relax? Only with a computer!

One speaker at the workshop said that even one day without writing negatively impacts our craft.  I couldn’t believe one lazy (or busy) day zaps away progress faster than a slice of cheesecake derails a diet.  I could see several weeks eroding past gains, but one day?

It got me thinking (when I should, perhaps, have been writing) that maybe my opinion is skewed by the fact that if her statement is true, it means I’m destined for mediocrity, at best.  That’s all I need:  one more under-developed skill that will never be honed into excellence.

I could lay writing to rest with all the other things that I’ve enjoyed, but don’t excel at:  playing the clarinet, drawing, painting, bowling, modeling.  Okay, that last one was just to see if you were paying attention…but if I were 6 inches taller, 20 years younger and had a pretty pouty face, I’d have a chance.  (Not really…)

The same speaker made a suggestion to write down five novel ideas each day.  I may not write every day, but my creativity doesn’t rest.  I have lots of ideas, and a few of them make it to paper.  I don’t have five ideas a day, but at least I’ve got some ideas for a rainy day (or another reason to shake my head and wonder, ‘What was I thinking???’)

Sometimes I don’t have story ideas at all, but creativity happens anyway.

Last weekend, I made a flag stand out of scrap wood (which Home Depot kindly cut for free.)  It only cost me $1.53 since I already had paint on hand.  It has gotten rave reviews (my older son said it looked ‘cool’)

Hubby says it’s “creative”. That’s code speak for “Wow, that’s messed up!”

I’m also helping my younger son disguise his Thanksgiving turkey for a school assignment.  I came up with five ideas and he settled on the jack-o-lantern.  We’re in the design stages and gluing will happen this weekend.

I think he picked this one because he can empty the wrappers!

Finally, I had an idea for a funny cartoon (compliments of lack of sleep).  I did get it drawn, but you’ll have to wait until Sunday to see it.  It fits in with the post I’m thinking of doing.  (Again, more thinking than writing at the moment!)

Maybe it’s true.  Maybe I never will be a great writer.  Maybe my skills will continue to get stronger,and then atrophy as I navigate through life, leaving me no better (or worse) than before.  Then again, maybe if I can’t write myself out of a paper bag, I can always create a window.

What do you say?  How long does it take for under-used skills to get rusty?

When Blanket Tents Were Magical & Windows Were The Moon

It’s no secret that a child’s imagination and ability to indulge in fantasy worlds are often superior to that of a jaded grown-up’s.  Yesterday, I got the opportunity to flex my creativity in a last-ditch effort to salvage my sanity, which was fading fast.

While working from home, my children fought CONSTANTLY from the moment my older son got home from his half-day at school.  “Mommy, <older son> hit me!” followed by, “Well, he annoyed me!”  Soon after trailed by, “Mooooommmmmm (spoken in two syllables) <younger son> took my toy!” then answered by whining, “He wouldn’t let me play, and I wanted to!”

It would be four hours until my husband got home.  I had to transport my mind somewhere else before I lost it forever.  I closed my eyes and remembered my younger son’s morning playtime.  Hunkered down with his stuffed kitty (aptly named, “Kitty”) in his magical tent made of chairs and blankets, they devised a plan to fight off a bear that waited outside.  He typed stuff in his computer (Lite Brite) by the light of the moon (window above our door.)  Finally, he and Kitty came out and after a fierce fight, they defeated the bear.

Kitty resting after a tough fight

I opened my eyes and felt a hint of a smile on my face.  I breathed deeply and exhaled slowly, allowing the calm to flow through me.  I got back to work, only to be interrupted ten minutes later with the tell-tale signs of sibling discord (screaming, whining, arguing, sounds of scuffling, and then crying).  Time for plan B.

I channeled my inner drill-sergeant and got them moving.  In no time, they were picking up toys (“Anything left on the floor will be given away!”), cleaning bathrooms (“That toothpaste better be scrubbed off the cabinet!”), and dusting tabletops (“Whoever has the dirtiest cloth wins!”)  Meanwhile, I released my pent-up frustration into vacuuming the floors.  Back and forth I went over the carpet and tile until the frown lines creasing my forehead smoothed out and my frustration didn’t feel like it would burst through my skin.  By the time we were done, all of us were too tired to argue.  Peace at last.

On occasion, I have mourned the loss of my childhood imagination but, on this day, my goal-driven adult creativity ruled.  And with that, my sanity will live to be tested see another day.

Have a magical weekend!

Which would you rather have:  a child’s fantasy-driven imagination, or an adult’s goal-driven creativity? 

Education By Fiction

I’ve got a degree in Creative Lying and Strategic Truth-Stretching from the University of Fiction. 

Okay, not really, but I do love writing fiction because making stuff up is so much fun!  There are still boundaries I have to respect in order to make a story feel real and believable.

For instance, when I write contemporary mysteries/suspense and women’s fiction, I have to obey the laws of the world.  For example, if the story involves a crime (all right, in mysteries, someone always ends up dead), police procedure must be followed and the motive must make sense.  The environment should match reality:  I wouldn’t write about snow in Phoenix in June (or ever, really) or incorrectly reference an actual landmark (but I can–and did–make up a fictional suburb of Phoenix).  I also have to follow the expected behavior of people.  If a character behaves unexpectedly, I have to present enough background to the reader so that they know it’s a reasonable behavior (but not so much that they flip through several pages to get back to the good stuff).

by Google Images

If I wrote science fiction or fantasy, I’d have other rules to follow—like world-building so the reader can picture the environment in which the story takes place.  I’d have to be able to concisely describe the surroundings or their world in a way that readers wouldn’t be confused.  Then, all of the scenes in that book would have to stay within the framework established.

by Google Images

If I wrote romances, I’d have to be able to craft a stormy, tension-building relationship and then a steamy scene where the angst bubbles over into passion.  I have the foresight to know that writing romance is not for me.  My climactic love scene would probably involve the man poking the woman’s eye with his nose, or the woman breaking out into an uncontrollable nervous giggle as the man caresses her collar bone after unbuttoning her shirt.  (I don’t read romances very often because I end up disappointed when I come back to reality.  It’s disturbing when I find I’ve got a crush on a fictional character–I mean, the rogues and rakes in novels never…I repeat, NEVER leave their smelly socks on the floor, burp at the dinner table, leave the toilet paper roll empty, well, you get the idea.)

The beauty of fiction is that I can draw from my own interactions, but make my characters handle them better – or worse – depending on what the story calls for.   But using variations of personal experiences on their own would make for a flat story (because I can tell you, most of my life has been quite boring as I’ve lived it…it could only be worse reading about it after the fact.)

To give my stories authenticity and to make them more interesting, I’ve had to do some research.  For various stories/novels-in-process that I have written this year, I have researched Native American religious practices and beliefs about death; Bible scriptures; shady neighborhoods of Scottsdale, as well as the ritzier areas, bus routes and distances between the two; Alzheimer’s stages and symptoms (beyond what I knew from my experience); emotions and behaviors tied to Anorexia;  and scorpions.
Bark Scorpion by Google Images

So, in my quest to write made up stories with enough reality to make them plausible, I’ve had to learn new things too.  A win-win situation, don’t you think?

Here are a few quotes about fiction that sum up my thoughts:

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.Virginia Woolf

Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.–Simone Weil

Good fiction is made of that which is real, and reality is difficult to come by.–Ralph Ellison

I think I write fiction for the opportunity to get beyond the limits of my own life.–Wally Lamb

Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.–Paul Theroux

Fiction is about intimacy with characters, events, places.-Robert Morgan

What have you learned by writing fiction (or even poetry or non-fiction)?