Birth of a Class Clown

marblesAfter all that, he’d forgotten the frigging marbles at home!  He knew there’d be a price to pay for that at break-time.  Two weeks at this school had been enough to teach him that no one, not even Jacques with the kind eyes and shy smile, no one got away unharmed when they promised something to Noah… and failed to deliver.

There was only one way out of it.  Miss break-time.  Fake an illness.  Would it work?  Would the teacher grasp enough of his stuttering French?

The teacher finally looked up, just before his arm went to sleep.  He hadn’t wanted to speak up.

‘Yes?’

‘Je peux sortir?  J’ai mal au…’ What was the word for it again?  Never mind, he’d say it with a French accent. ‘Au… tummeee.’

‘Je peux sortir, Madame,’ the teacher corrected him sternly.

‘Madame… tummee.’ He didn’t know what possessed him to repeat the word.  Perhaps he thought it would inspire some sense of urgency.  Instead, laughter rose like waves on a dried and sunken beach.  Some of it was abandoned, hysterical.  The teacher’s frown deepened.  Some of it was derision, as usual, at his lack of language skills, but for once he could live with that.

Of course he wasn’t allowed out.  Not then, not later.  But that day he discovered his weapon of choice: disarming through laughter.

 

Fun at Ski School: 5 Sentence Fiction Challenge

Not fictional enough, but a story that haunts me still…

‘Not more snow!’ moaned the littlest bear.
We moved to this snow-filled country for Daddy’s work: Mummy loves the winter sports, your brother the food. But you, the smallest and most curious of bears, the one who makes friends as easily as others make mistakes, you the smiley human bouncing-ball, you hate the cold and the white stuff.

Drunk and dizzied by the gleam of the sun on the slopes, I strap on your boots and nudge you into ski school. You nurse your frozen paws, slide miserably through puerile hoops, and ask yourself: ‘Why?’

They Keep Me Here

They keep me here,

those lips puckered up for good night kisses,

the tooth fairy duties,

odd chuckle in the night.

 

They keep me sane,

those questions about fairness, children who have

nothing, polar bears drowning,

how drains and bridges work.

 

They wash away anger

with silly puns and toilet jokes,

songs half-remembered,

the la-la shrieked out loud.

 

They ground me.

Clip my wings.

Imprison me with love.

Know not what they do.

Nor ever will.

I swear.

Learning From the Younger Generation

I used to think that reading the classics or the best of contemporary fiction kept me humble.  Then I had to acknowledge that so many bloggers, whom I now follow with awe and joy, write with such zest and originality, and are so generous in sharing their poems, short stories and even chapters, that I felt a little lacklustre in comparison.  But now I have found a whole new source of modesty-inducing inspiration: the younger generation.  And I mean the much younger generation, like my 9 year old son.

First of the Series

He is a voracious reader.  His huge regret is that he will soon finish his last Harry Potter book, but his consolation is that he still has five Alex Rider books to go.  He used to be less than eager to do his English homework (he always preferred Maths and science, and he complained that writing with his pen gave him blisters). However, over the past few weeks, he has starting writing stories and even books of his own.  For the time being, he is reluctant to share his masterpiece with us, although he will happily tell us the overarching themes and storyline.    His writing style and choice of subjects may be completely alien to me, but I do wish I could emulate some of his energy and drive.

So here are the lessons I am learning from him:

1) Boundless ambition:  There are no self-imposed limits here; he truly believes he can achieve anything.  He already plans to write 4 books in his Insect Wars series, but he also wants to write and illustrate his own comic book series (BD are big business and extremely popular here in France). A factual book or two may also be on the cards, as are shorter stories appearing as separate books for those just learning to read.

2) Versatility: He is not allowing himself to be bogged down by genres.  He writes what he pleases and what he himself likes to read.   There are adventure stories about animals, but also some science fiction, humorous stories, and comic books about anthropomorphic root vegetables and many different countries.  There is no limit to his imagination and he does not try to second-guess his audience’s preferences too much.

3) Discipline: He worries about whether he will have the time to accomplish all of this over the summer holidays (and these final weeks of school), so he uses every spare minute to disappear upstairs and start scribbling away. First thing in the morning, or after brushing his teeth, or last thing at night before bedtime.  He writes every day – and no, he does not complain it’s a chore!  Although his younger brother sometimes complains that they no longer get to play together…

4) Reading but no other distractions: He continues reading books in all genres, more or less appropriate to his age, but he does not copy them slavishly.  Needless to say, he does not waste time online checking emails, Tweeting or Facebooking.  He probably would play the occasional computer game, but fortunately he forgets, having too many other interesting things going on in his life.

5) Marketing strategy: He already knows what is going to happen once he finishes all these books.  He has a target audience (his family and his English-speaking friends), a distribution channel (photocopies and a lending library scheme too), a price point (5o centimes each, if the Euro survives the summer).

What is most interesting, however, is that he has no ambitions to become a full-time writer when he grows up.  Oh, no!  Becoming a zoologist and wildlife documentary maker is much more exciting!  But he does want to keep on writing books as a hobby, because he enjoys telling stories.

What did I tell you – truly humbling!

So, in an effort to catch up with the younger generation, I have joined this two-week writing challenge with Jeff Goins (see below).

The Maternal Twist

This is an older poem, which I have already shared on Cowbird, the storytelling website with which I am currently obsessed (I try to limit my time on it, but always end up reading ‘just one more story’).  I remembered it and wanted to add it here after reading the wonderful and funny poem  ‘Nursery Crimes’ by DP Bowman.

Twinkle twinkle little star

What a bore you know you are!

How the trill of sing-song rhymes,

high-voice patience, hurried smiles

breaks the wit that I had borne.

Salt in wound I stand forlorn.

 

Yet baa baa black sheep

Have you ever lived

‘til childish breath rests on your cheek?

Half-chewed toys brought to your bed,

wilted flowers, kisses wet.

Salted lashes fluttering now.

Sleepy smiles and furrowed brow.


 

Who Am I? (The Third Culture Kid)

Or even fourth or fifth culture kid…  This is the internationally accepted term for children who have spent a significant portion of their formative years in cultures different from their own, or their parents.  I didn’t know I was one while I was growing up – now I am raising a couple of my own.  Personally, I much prefer the term ‘global nomad’ – has more of a glamorous ring to it, doesn’t it? But what I do have is that feeling of fragmentation: I do not have a solid, whole concrete façade, but  am made up of so many different little pebbles of influence.

 

I used to think moving on is a blessing,

the moved upon powerless and grieving.

Head down, I’d prepare for exit and re-entry, again, and again,

glad to be the one gathering no moss.

But ultimately revenge is theirs:

for they sprout roots, link up, grow together, form tissue

richly alive with many shared hours and insights and tales.

All the shortcuts roll glib off their tongues,

always creating and leading their own trend,

while the mover is running to catch up, to fuddle,

stuck in the language of past generations,

never quite getting the nuance, the slang.

See that flying line of geese?  There’s one just off,

destroying the symmetry of their formation.

I fear I am something of a disappointment:

not enough of a glamour-bird when you want to preen with me,

yet not sufficiently aligned and meek.

My ducks in a row askew,

so easy to shoot at, and never enough time

to grieve.

I’ve learnt to hide my real thoughts

my own thoughts

my solitude.

I’ve learnt a short answer to the question:

‘Where are you from?’, tinged with just enough humour

and self-deprecation to disarm and charm.

Who am I?

I am all that is half-forgotten,

half-mourned, half-understood.

I am all the places in which I’ve left my heart.

I am all that is buried deep inside and want to excavate no more.

I am all that I dare not show you

for fear that you will drown.

Clone Trooper Wins Again

We reach the park. It doesn’t take long for Mum to get bored: ‘Enough of swings!  I’m tired.  Run about, do something!’

It’s cold, windy.  The monkey-bars are icy, and there are too many children on the climbing wall and see-saws.  My baby brother sticks out his lower lip. ‘Don’t wanna!’

Mum rolls her eyes. ‘First of all, it’s “I don’t want”, not “don’t wanna”.  Secondly, tell me clearly what don’t you want?  Talk to me!  Can’t help you if you don’t tell me!  When will you learn to express your thoughts instead of just crying and whingeing all the time?  Waa, waa!  Is that all you guys ever do?’

She’s off again.  No one can say Mum is stuck for words.  Press a button, and she goes on forever.  I have my pocket remote and switch her off like the sound on telly.  Only let a few words slip through, just to make sure she isn’t suddenly saying something important, like lunch or time to go home.  But no, it’s the usual stuff…  How could she have given birth to such lazy children?…  Sports are so good for you – unhealthy, stuck indoors all the time – only interested in Wii… Nobody will be our friend if we behave like this…

She folds her arms and sits, muttering, on the bench.  Jake stands stiffly beside her. Face all screwed up and snotty.  Refusing to have fun.  I shrug and start playing Star Wars.  I always play this on my own – no one else, not even Jake, may join in. I’m a clone trooper, fighting enemies with my light sabre.  I run around with sound effects. Mum hates this game.  She says only Jedi knights have light sabres and clone troopers are stupid. But I want to be stupid, I want to look like everyone else.  All Mum’s brains, all those college scarves in her sock drawer that we’re not allowed to touch… and she has to go to hospital every month. Feels sick like a slug afterwards.

Besides, Jedi knights are boring, like grown-ups: they talk too much, they’re always right, always winning.  Light sabres should belong to everybody.

Hunger

Oldest story in the world: top of her class, distinction at uni, hired then poached by ever better-known firms.  Youngest to make partner.  Tipped for wealth and greatness. Travel, exotic foods, white villa with Ligne Roset furniture.  Then cutting back as one adorable toothless grin, then two, then three captivated her heart.

‘Not pasta again!’

‘Don’t want to wash my hands!’

‘Staaaaarving!’

Husband off again, something about bringing home the bacon. He was trapped by long hours, but she was the bacon.  Right there: cauliflower crumbs in her hair, stained with sauce, scoffing remains, falling over muddy gear.

‘I’m sick of you all!’ she screeched.

Grunts subsided, six eyes looked up.  Was the fear in their eyes a reflection of hers?

Later: ‘Did you know, Mummy: pigs can’t look up at the sky?’

Nor oxen either.

They never found out why she thought that the funniest thing ever.

And in case anyone thinks that there is a recurrent theme in my work and that I hate or resent children: this is fiction!  But what interests me is that tension between the creative best version of self and the everyday workhorse. Stanley Kunitz talks about the poet’s need to find the taste of self, which is ‘damaged, wiped out by the diurnal, the cares, the responsibilities that each day demand one’s attention… but the day itself cannot be construed as an enemy; it is what gives you the materials you have not only to contend with, but to work with, to build…’

Harness

‘You’re sure it’ll work?’

‘Trust me, it will!  I’ve seen it happen over and over again.’

‘So all you do is strap those babies on either end…’

‘And the female will then obediently yoke herself into the harness and start ploughing her furrow.  Clever, isn’t it?

‘But when she realises she’s only moving around in circles, what happens?  Doesn’t she ever try to escape?’

‘Not once.  That’s the beauty of it.  When we feel a little tremor of rebelliousness, we just grow the children a bit.  They get heavier, they start complaining, she worries about them more… and back she goes to her plodding!’

‘And what do you give her?’

Give her?  Oh, rewards, you mean? That’s the fantastic part – you don’t need any.  When the kids grow up, they just hop off, run off without any thanks. Sometimes they don’t even wave goodbye.  She still cries when they leave, no matter how much she sacrificed for them.’

The alien students nodded in wonderment at their professor.  ‘Wow – humans sure are fascinating…’