Sylvie woke me up at 6am this morning, weeping, because I wouldn't let her order a suit of armour and a bow and arrow through the mail. (A bad dream, apparently. Because Of COURSE I would let her order such a thing through the mail.)
The lovely Kerry Clare, editor of The M Word, will be discussing the portrayals of mothers in children's literature with other contributors to the book. I would love to be there -- it sounds fascinating. And see that, down there in the right-hand corner? That's If I Wrote a Book About You, which will be included in the discussion if copies of the book get to Parentbooks in time! (Although it was officially "published" on May 30th, copies of the book don't appear to be available in stores yet. Hurry, little book! Flap your wings!)
Karl Ove Knausgaard is a 46-year-old Norwegian writer who has written an unusual six-volume autobiography called My Struggle. It's getting a lot of attention -- apparently one in 10 Norwegians have read at least some of it and he is both adored in that country and abhorred (for revealing so much about the private lives of his friends and family). Critic James Wood has written admiringly about his work and apparently Zadie Smith said, on twitter, that it was "like crack." (That offhand remark is quoted on the Amazon pages for the kindle books. No wonder people as famous and as "serious" as Zadie Smith tend not to use twitter.) The books are weirdly compelling (at the least the two I've read so far) -- they contain long, unadorned yet extremely detailed descriptions of Knausgaard's everyday life that, somehow, still have relentless narrative drive. You want to keep reading to find out what happens next, even though what generally happens next is just more of the same. I enjoy the second book, A Man in Love, more than the first, and this is probably because Knausgaard devotes a large part of it to his family life with three small children, and he happens to be an active parent, like a lot of men of his generation in Europe and North America (although some part of me wonders if his wife Linda would agree with his assessment of his involvement). I also wonder if Knausgaard's work would get as much attention if he looked like, say, Rush Limbaugh, instead of a brooding rock star. Yet that's probably unfair -- it's difficult to put your finger on just why, but his work is really good. Here is an example of his writing about his children, from the first book, A Death in the Family :
As I write, I am filled with tenderness for her. But this is on paper. In reality, when it really counts, and she is standing there in front of me, so early in the morning that the streets outside are still and not a sound can be heard in the house, she, raring to start a new day, I, summoning the will to get to my feet, putting on yesterday's clothes and following her into the kitchen where the promised blueberry-flavoured milk and the sugar-free muesli await her, it is not tenderness I feel, and if she goes beyond my limits, such as when she pesters and pesters me for a film, or tries to get into the room where John is sleeping -- in short, every time she refuses to take no for an answer but drags things out ad infinitum -- it is not uncommon for my irritation to mutate into anger, and when then I speak harshly to her, and her tears flow, and she bows her head and slinks off with slumped shoulders, I feel it serves her right. Not until the evening when they are asleep and I am sitting wondering what I am really doing is there any room for the insight that she is only two years old. But by then I am on the outside looking in. Inside, I don't have a chance. Inside, it is a question of getting through the morning, the three hours of nappies that have to be changed, clothes that have to be put on, breakfast that has to be served, faces that have to be washed, hair that has to be combed and pinned up, teeth that have to be brushed, squabbles that have to be nipped in the bud, slaps that have to be averted, rompers and boots that have to be wriggled into, before I, with the collapsible double pushchair in one hand and nudging the two small girls forward with the other, step into the lift, which as often as not resounds to the noise of shoving and shouting on its descent, and into the hall, where I ease them into the pushchair, put on their hats and mittens and emerge into the street already crowded with people heading for work and deliver them to the nursery ten minutes later, whereupon I have the next five hours for writing until the mandatory routines for the children resume.
I have always had a great need for solitude. I require huge swaths of loneliness, and when I do not have it, which has been the case for the last five years, my frustration can sometimes become almost paniched, or aggressive. And when what has kept me going for the whole of my adult life, the ambition to write something exceptional one day, is threatened in this way my one thought, which gnaws at me like a rat, is that I have to escape. Time is slipping away from me, running through my fingers like sand while I... do what? Clean floors, wash clothes, make dinner, wash up, go shopping, play with the children in the play areas, bring them home, undress them, bath them, look after them until it is bedtime, tuck them in, hang some clothes to dry, fold others and put them away, tidy up, wipe tables, chairs and cupboards. It is a struggle, and even though it is not heroic, I am up against a superior force, for no matter how much housework I do the rooms are littered with mess and junk, and the children, who are taken care of every waking minute, are more stubborn than I have ever known children to be; at times it is nothing less than bedlam here, perhaps we have never managed to find the necessary balance between distance and intimacy, which of course becomes increasingly important the more personality there is involved. And there is quite a bit of that here. When Vanja was around eight months old she began to have violent outbursts, like fits at times, and for a while it was impossible to reach her, she just screamed and screamed. All we could do was hold her until it had subsided. It is not easy to say what caused it, but it often occurred when she had had a great many impressions to absorb, such as when we had driven to her grandmother's in the country outside Stockholm, when she had spent too much time with other children, or we had been in town all day. Then, inconsolable and completely beside herself, she could scream at the top of her voice. Sensitivity and strength of will are not a simple combination. And these matters were not made any easier when Heidi was born. I wish I could say I took everything in my stride but sad to say such was not the case because my anger and my feelings too were aroused in these situations, which then escalated, frequently in full public view: it was not unknown for me in my fury to snatch her up from the floor in one of the Stockholm malls, sling her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carry her through town kicking and punching and howling as if possessed.
And so on and so on and so on. Sound familiar?
Inspired by the four-year-old and her mom who make fancy dresses from paper, I promised Sylvie a couple of weeks ago that we would try it. She called me on it today so off we went to Walmart to buy some supplies. Although we bought some bristol board and a lot of tissue paper, this dress is actually made from just two plastic tablecloths that cost a buck each. (That and a whole lot of stick-on jewels that took a loooong time to put on. Unfortunately, in the photos you can barely see them.) I just tied the tablecloths on her. We might have been better able to mimic Elsa's neckline but I tied the knot in the white tablecloth too tight to then pull it down over her shoulders. Next time I'll do better.
The braid is made from three sheets of white tissue paper and attached to her own hair with an elastic. I wanted to use at least one yellow sheet to go for a more white-blonde look but Sylvie insisted Elsa's hair is WHITE. Although she's taken the dress off now, she's still got the tissue paper braid in.
I like the Elsa attitude here -- we got a lot of dramatic hand gestures, too, while we were taking the photos but most of those are slightly blurry.
We also picked up a copy of the newly released Frozen dvd, which we didn't even realize was out yet. I won't tell you how much we paid for it. Let's just say the dress was a lot cheaper, fancy jewels and all.
Happy Spring, everyone! Did you check out the Google doodle? If not, go have a look. I'll wait.
As I was walking up the hill after dropping Sylvie off at preschool this morning, I noticed it felt a little warmer than usual, which isn't difficult when the "usual" has been -10 degrees Celsius, and commented to the dad walking beside me, "You can feel spring in the air."
He responded in a voice more fit for a charismatic church than polite chitchat, a kind of joyous bellow: "It's HERE! I can FEEL it!"
I almost shouted " Hallelujah! Amen, brother!" and briefly considered dropping to my knees in the mud but figured that might be going a bit far, so I smiled and got in my car. When I turned it on, Vivaldi's "Spring" was playing on the radio. So all in all, it was a nice start to the day.
And now I've noticed that Amazon has some great deals to celebrate the first day of spring: they're offering five books by Italo Calvino at $1.99 each. And then, you really put you in the spring mood, they're offering The Backyard Homestead: Produce All the Food You Need on Just a Quarter Acre! and The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals: Choose the Best Breeds for Small-Space Farming, Produce Your Own Grass-Fed Meat, Gather Fresh Eggs, ... Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, Pigs, Cattle, & Bees for $1.79 each, as well as some similar gardening/nature books, at similar prices. Don't you just feel like getting out a shovel and going crazy in the mud today? Even if it means having to remove a layer of snow first?
Have you noticed you can't look at Facebook or Twitter without seeing some Buzzfeed (or Upworthy or HuffPo) headline you just have to click on, even though every atom in your body is screaming not to? Yeah, and you probably noticed this phenomenon last year, right? I take a while to notice these things. I'm really quick, in a very slow way. Anyway, it got me to thinking about headlines I'd write, if I worked for Buzzfeed (which I would be more than happy to do. Please hire me!)
You Won’t Be Able to Resist This Headline: It’s Like a Gun to Your Head Or A Bag of Chips After You Haven’t Eaten All Day, One or the Other or Maybe Even Both.
Bully Taunts Handicapped Toddler: Handicapped Toddler Sets Bully’s Hair on Fire! What Happens Next Will Make You Weep in Terror and Joy and Perhaps Run Screaming From the Room.
If This Makes You Uncomfortable, Then You Make Me Uncomfortable, Which In Turn Makes Everyone Else Uncomfortable, And No One Wants to Be Uncomfortable, So For God’s Sake, Lighten Up Already.
101 Deeply Personal Opinions About Pubic Hair and How They Can Help You Retire NOW On A Guaranteed Income for Life!
How a Strict Diet and Exercise Regimen Actually Caused This Woman to Gain Fifty Pounds While This Other Woman Lost One Hundred Pounds Eating Whatever the Hell She Wanted: And Yes, She’d Like Fries With That.
The Secret to Uncovering All the Secrets: Everyone Knows But You. FREE! For a limited time.
How Finger and Toenail Parings Can Actually Be Used As a Substitute for Money: 15 Easy Ways.
At Last, Scientists Have Discovered How Humans Can Live Forever! If You Don’t Try It, You’ll Hate Yourself Later. You Know, When You’re Dead and Everyone Else Is Still Alive.
9 Out of 10 People Are Completely Wrong About This Incredible Fact: You Think You Know But You Don’t, Unless You Do Know, In Which Case You Probably Don’t Think You Know.
There’s Something Deeply, Inexplicably Wrong With You. You’ve Always Sensed It. Click Through to Find Out What It Is.
You Look Pretty Today.
We've been reading Harriet the Spy and Luke wrote this week's Reading Response to it, for school. In answer to the question, "If you were a character in your book, what would you do?" Luke wrote:
If I were Harriet, I wouldn't write such mean things about the other children. If I were the mom, I wouldn't go out so much. If I were the dad, I wouldn't hire chefs and babysitters all day. If I were the chef, I wouldn't be so grumpy. If I were the chef (again), I'd mind my own business.
He's more like Harriet than he realizes. Which I love. (I guess he'd limit himself to writing mean things about grown-ups...)
Ron Mueck's sculpture. Art imitating literature?
In Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, one of the families Harriet spies on is the Robinsons, a very boring couple who like to buy things and show them off. On this particular day, Harriet arrives just as the Robinsons are accepting a delivery and unpacking it:
"There! There!" screamed Mrs. Robinson. And there indeed was the strangest thing Harriet had ever seen. It was an enormous, but enormous--perhaps six feet high--wooden sculpture of a fat, petulant, rather unattractive baby. The baby wore a baby cap, huge white dress, and baby booties. The head was completely round and carved out of butcher block so that it resembled a beautifully grained newel post with a face carved in it. The baby sat on its diapered bottom, feet straight out ahead, and fat arms curving into fatter hands which held, surprisingly, a tiny mother. Harriet stared.
Mrs Robinson exclaimed with her hand to her heart, "She is a genius."
Harriet the Spy is fifty this week! I wonder what she's writing in her notebook now? Here are some of her early observations:
OLE GOLLY SAYS DESCRIPTION IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL AND CLEARS THE BRAIN LIKE A LAXATIVE.
MY FATHER IS ALWAYS SAYING STARVINGARTIST AND STARVINGWRITER. MAYBE I BETTER REDUCE.
THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A GOOD TOMATO SANDWICH NOW AND THEN.
YOU CAN'T BE TOO OLD TO SPY EXCEPT IF YOU WERE FIFTY YOU MIGHT FALL OFF A FIRE ESCAPE, BUT YOU COULD SPY AROUND ON THE GROUND A LOT.
So what do you think Harriet is up to these days? Is she working for the NSA? Or working to expose them? Is she publishing her twentieth novel? Does she blog? Is she married to Scout, the CPA -- or to Janie?