Monthly Archives: July 2010

How to Lie to a Toddler

How to Lie to a Toddler

My son is 2 ½, and he sometimes obsesses about things. For instance, if we see his friend N as we’re leaving daycare, he’ll screech, “I want to see N’s car,” over and over again, long after we’ve left the parking lot.

I’ve found a strategy to minimize the screaming. I lie.

I point to a random car and say, “There’s N’s car.” My son says, “That’s N’s car? That’s N’s car! What’s N’s car doing?” There’s repetition, but it’s contented, not screechy, and everyone’s happy.

Now, lest you think I’m teaching my son dishonesty, I’d like to argue that he’s learning about imagination and storytelling and creative embellishment. The other day he pointed to a black postal worker driving a mail truck and said, “That’s A’s daddy.” (A’s daddy is Vietnamese and drives a Honda Pilot.) He seemed very pleased with himself.

Yesterday my husband and I were seeing if some friends could have dinner with us. We told our son that we might have dinner with Dave. (I’m using his name because it makes the story better. You’ll see.) It turned out Dave wasn’t able to make it. Our son started crying. “I want Dave. I want Dave.” This turned into “I want food. I want food. I want dumplings. I want dumplings” when we got to the restaurant. But then he returned to Dave. “I want Dave. I want Dave.”

I wanted a quiet dinner. “There’s Dave.” I pointed to the waitress behind the counter. My husband gave me a look that said, “That’s so wrong, but what if it works?”

And it did work. For about a minute.

Our son brightened and smiled. “That’s Dave. What’s Dave doing?”

“Dave is getting people their food.”

Blissful non-screaming. Until eventually he remembered that Dave is a tall white man with a beard, not a short Asian woman, and the yelling recommenced. “I want Dave! I want Dave!”

There’s a moral to this story, but I don’t think it’s going to sink in.

P.S. I don’t actually know if A’s daddy drives a Pilot. I may have made that up.


On Being Related to Non-writers

A number of years ago, my mother sent me a comic strip clipping. (What’s the digital-era equivalent of that practice?) It depicted a youngish woman signing books at a bookstore, and an older couple standing in front of the table. The caption read: If I’d known you were going to be a writer, I would have been a better parent.

I’m the only writer in my immediate family, although not the only storyteller or creative type. I kind of like being the only one, sort of in the same way I liked being the only girl in my family growing up. I have two brothers, and when the younger of the two was a fetus of unknown gender, one of my elementary school buddies told me that I should hope for a girl: “That way you won’t have to share a room.”

As the only writer, I don’t have to share a room with anyone. My brother Y can be good at animation and music, my brother O can be good at architecture, my husband can be good at art and engineering, my mom can be a great nurse, my dad a great professor. And I can be The Writer.

Sounds selfish from one angle, I know. But it also means I’m surrounded by people who are different than I am and make me see the world from different directions.

Of course, if I’d had a sister, I’m sure that would have been cool, and perhaps would have made my life–and me–different. If I were closely related to a writer, that would have turned out OK, too. I have sisters-in-law now, and I love them, and I have loads of friends who are writers, and I couldn’t do without them.

And Mom, you had plenty of warning that I was going to be a writer. I told you so when I was six.

Readers who are related or married to writers, feel free to tell your side of the story.

Whose Point of View?

One of the things a writer learns with experience is when to stick by her guns, go with her gut, and when to change direction.

I’m still learning.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about point of view. I’m afraid I may be using the wrong one.

When I started my novel, I envisioned three characters, three cities, three first-person points of view. First person just felt right, and it went along with one of the themes of the novel: individual expression versus community.

I wrote the first character’s chapters. I wrote the second character’s chapters. I wrote most of the third character’s chapters. I threw out the third character’s chapters. I decided to intermix the other two character’s chapters. Years of my life flew by.

I am now a little more than halfway through revising and rewriting so that the plot flows consistently. And I wonder, should I scrap the first-person point of view and move to third-person. The problem is that one of the two voices is stronger than the other. But I’m categorically opposed to doing some chapters in first-person and and others in third. And I don’t think one character can tell the whole story.

Compounding my problem: I’ve been reading “Away,” by Amy Bloom, a really good historical novel set in the mid-1920s. Bloom uses the omniscient point of view to very good effect, although most of the time we stick with the point of view of her heroine, Lillian. In Bloom’s hands, omniscient seems so … easy … useful. She doesn’t have to differentiate two voices. She doesn’t have to sound like a woman or a man, because she’s the Godlike narrator.

Alice McDermott has said that when she wrote “Charming Billy,” she tried her darnedest to write in the omniscient point of view. But the first person kept sneaking in, and eventually, she realized that the story was being told by somebody. That somebody is not a main character, but she embodies women as the keepers and conveyors of family stories.

So I guess the answer will come to me–eventually.