Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Around the Block

I'm in my usual 5:45 p.m. multi-task mode of preparing dinner three separate ways to satisfy myself and each Thing, proofing their homework and trying to engage these dear little parasites -- who are far more eager to log on to "Wizard 101" than in building meaningful childhood memories with their rapidly aging, belly expanding, hair thinning parental unit known as Dad, or He Who Has Occasional Conniptions -- in conversation.

Then it happens.

"Dad, do you ever have writer's block?" Thing 1 says.

"Uh, yeah. Do you know what that is?"

"Yeah. It's when you can't think of anything to write," she said. "Tomie dePaola doesn't call it that. He calls it 'artist's block.'"

"What's the difference? And, who's Tomie? New beau?"

"'Artist's block' is when you can't think of anything to draw. He's a famous writer and draw-er. Don't you know him?"

"Not off the top of my head. Does he have a blog?"

"I don't know. Maybe. We read one of his books and some stuff about him in school today. He's really famous."

She eats some leftover pork roast, known in our house as "chicken" because that is the only acceptable term for any kind of meat with "meat," for whatever reason, being the most offensive term of all. She starts talking about a story she wrote in school that her teacher read aloud to the class today.

Despite her loathing of reading and struggle to improve at, Thing 1 does periodically goes on story writing jags. She did a few on her own last summer and worked on one with her best friend on a play date a few weeks back. She sometimes lets me edit them by cleaning up the not-even-phonetic spelling and raised-on-bad-kiddie-sitcom grammar and then inserting page breaks so she can drop in clip art or draw in the critical illustration, which I sometimes think is the real reason she wrote the story in the first place.

"She gave me a 'four,'" Thing 1 says.

"A four out of what? Four? Forty?"

"Out of six. She said I might have actually gotten a bit higher, but she was tired when she was grading all the stories."

I've given up trying to understand how things are graded in her school. Sometimes fours are the best. Sometimes it's As. Sometimes a simple "good" is the best you can get. The grading system in this town was just as goofy when I was growing up here, when we strove for an "E" for Excellence and felt crushed by an "S" for Satisfactory though a satisfactory life would be more than excellent on many a grownup day.

We talk some more about her story. She's seems unusually excited for something neither shopping nor Jonas Brothers related.

"You're not thinking about becoming a writer are you?" I ask.

"Nooooo!" she says. "I'd never make any money or become famous. It takes months to write a book and publish it."

Oh, yeah. Months.

"That's OK," I say, knowing that her 9-year-old heart is torn between art teacher and fashion designer. "I wouldn't recommend it any way. Learn a trade. You'll feel more accomplished at the end of every day."

We return to leftovers.

"You know, I've had real bad writer's block of late. Did you hear me and Mom talking about that last night?"


"Not block so much. I've been writing a lot lately and it isn't anything I'm happy with. You should feel happy with what you write, whether it's about something funny or serious or sad. But sometimes, I just feel like I've created junk, you know? Junk is junk and it makes you feel junky."

I pour her more milk.

"How are you today?" she asks.

"Much better," I say.

I snap the cap back onto the gallon.


  1. Months. Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

    I can't believe you don't know who Tomie dePaola is. Don't you ever watch Barney?

  2. Kudos! That's three out of three thumbs up. What? Totally LOLing!

  3. Months...I wish...

    Cool conversation.

    Shade and Sweetwater,

  4. Writer's block, artist block, creative black ... alas I know them too well, but it least I can escape from it all and go technical (10 or 12 technical research papers published when my painter's block was up and running)!

    But between you and me, the painting is much more fulfilling!

  5. I swear I had THE EXACT conversation with my 9 year old today. She is a prolific reader and writer at her tender age. She's full of spunk, too. And you know how I feel about spunk.
    If junk is junky - and a junk puts you in a funk...what then is funky spunk?

  6. i loved that conversation. L. O. V. E. D. it.

  7. I think you need to pull out the Pasta Pot for tonight's dinner. Thing 1 will know.

    "Amen" to your sermon on Elementary Grading systems. Based on what I have seen, I would still be in 3rd grade.......

  8. Teachers purposely screw around with the grade thing. I think they try to impress parents or else see if parents are even paying attention. But there is always the possibility they have NO CLUE what they are doing - which was entirely evident when they bumped up my son rather than deal with him.
    (Writers block only exists if you allow it to, btw. I deny it exists and never had a day of it ever.)

  9. I would kill for a satisfactory day. Heck, I'd kill for a satisfactory hour right now.

  10. Tomie DePaolo has been a rock star in our house since my 11 yr old was in 2nd grade. The first time she mentioned him, I had the same reaction as you.

    Kids are more insightful than we give them credit for. Sometimes.

  11. OK I'm giving you two gold stars for that story. One for you and one for your daughter. You've had a conversation with your daughter that I just dream about with mine. And mine are teenagers. Jeesh....

  12. Wow, so like, a grown-up-ish conversation with one of your kiddos, huh? That sounds awesome.

    I don't know who this Tomie person is either.

  13. I've heard of Tomie. Clearly I've spent too much time with small children.

  14. Took the words right out of my mouth. Loved the post!!!


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