My father, when I was a kid, used to bake onions in the fire, and upon serving them would quote Frank Lloyd Wright, who reportedly said, “What a boon to the creative imagination is the baked onion.”* That’s sort of the way I feel about children. When I had my kids I began to look at the world through their eyes, which gave me a knee-high perspective on all sorts of things I’d fallen into the habit of regarding from five feet up, and that perspective had a way of inching into my work. To its betterment, I must add.
Having kids also gives you an appreciation for nature and nurture, both. The other day my younger daughter sent me a text begging me to pick up the next book in an SF series she has started reading. The text ended, “I am your daughter, after all.” Well, she had me there–I started them early on books, and both of the girls got hooked which makes me very happy. What startles me, sometimes, though, is that it’s not just the reading that got passed along, but the writing. And this ventures into family history and Mommy Kvelling.
The family history part? My mother wanted to be a writer. (Actually, in my darker moments I think that what my mother wanted was to be an author: the work done, the presumed pride and acclaim hers.) Therefore the last thing I thought about being was a writer. My family placed high value on the arts (my father’s a designer, my brother a painter, my mother, again with the writing) so no one ever tried to tell me I couldn’t be an artist of some sort. I just wanted an art that was mine. Well, I can design, but I can’t draw; I’m a klutz, dance was out. I love acting and am something of a performer–but the idea of a lifetime of auditions and keeping my instrument (my face and body) up to industry standards totally did not appeal.
And then I started writing. Damn. It had never registered with me that some people find the process of spewing out words painful. I did know that some people were tone deaf as to the weight and heft of words and images, but I never thought this might be a gift. When it began to dawn on me that maybe this was an actual talent, I was sort of disgruntled that I had to share the gift with my mother. And when I finished my first book and sold it, and my mother implied without saying such a thing that it was somehow her book as well–well, that almost put me off the whole damned enterprise. Except that writing is something I do well, that gives me satisfaction and (sometimes) pleasure to do. And my mother, for all her considerable gifts, didn’t write, which is the really necessary part. So if Mom wanted to take credit for my ability, maybe she was right, and maybe it really didn’t matter.
And the Mommy Kvelling part? I have these two smart, terrifying daughters, currently 13 and 19. The nineteen-year-old wrote a play for a class a couple of years ago, and it won a prize and was performed by a theatre troupe in San Francisco, then picked up by another company and performed in LA, and was a finalist for another prize in LA. She may never write another play, but its obvious that she’s got her some writing skillz. Do they come, in some part, from me? I have a hard time thinking so, because she’s so much her own person. On the other hand, she talks like me: lots of big words and odd phrases. This mango hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. And she’s a theatre geek: anyone who has looked at the extras on the Dr. Horrible DVD has seen her: she’s L’Enfant Terrible, an applicant to the Evil League of Evil. Wrote the script, the song, did everything except make the costume (I did that).
And the younger daughter? She wrote a description of the flood at her summer camp this year that (for all its occasional stumbling over grammar) was remarkable for its tension and sense of place. And like her sister, these astonishing things come out of her mouth that (I realize) sound very much like her mother.
My husband, the guy with perfect pitch and magical ears, has no problem identifying the girls’ musical abilities with his own. So maybe there’s some genetic component to all this ability. Maybe the girls are good with language because their grandmother was, and passed it on to me, and there you go. I am inordinately proud of them, but in the final analysis, we put books and film and plays in their ways, but they’re the ones who picked them up and ran with them. Maybe that’s what being the Tree is all about.
* I’m still not sure what Wright meant by this. But I do like baked onions.