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Monday, April 28, 2008

on narrative urgency and single parenting

I’ve been thinking a lot about narrative urgency the last couple of weeks because I recently went to see Charles Baxter talk about and read from his new novel, The Soul Thief. (I dragged both Stella and Zoe out in the cold so I could get my literary fix.) He used the term narrative urgency, which makes sense because The Soul Thief is thick with it. I didn’t want to put the book down. He, quite simply, rocks.

Then I was reading Beth Kephart’s blog, and she posted about a similar thing: the use of present tense and the need for forward movement. Or rather, how you must be sure that you continue the forward momentum of your book or your writing will become precious. (She quoted McEwan.)

It makes me want to dive back into my memoir and make sure I maintain the sense of narrative urgency until the end of the book. I think I do, but I guess I’ll have to see. And if it lags in the middle, what does one do about it?

Am I obsessing about narrative urgency in my book because my life currently seems to lack narrative urgency? Because I am definitely challenged in that department.

I know what you’re thinking: Kate, be in the moment. Enjoy these precious times. (How many people have said that to me in the last week?)

I am enjoying many moments, every day. It seems I could stare at Zoe’s sleeping face for hours, counting her expressions, each of which she inhabits for mere seconds. I can’t get enough of her chubby face when it breaks into a smile. Seriously adorable. And I love to listen to Stella singing along to her princess movies when she doesn’t think I can hear her or when she tells me stories about how the Huns are coming and she has to protect her babies. (This is after she has carried all her stuffed animals and baby dolls downstairs and lined them up on the couch under blankets.) Zoe and I, sitting in the nursing chair will, sadly, always be killed by the Huns.

What I’m not enjoying is how tired I am. Or the way Zoe screams—she’s inconsolable sometimes—even when I’ve bounced her and turned on the water in the kitchen and nothing works and my knees ache and my quads are sore from all that bouncing and carrying on. I’m exhausted. It doesn’t help that D was gone again for 5 days. Single parenthood, frankly, sucks.

I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day as I walked Zoe around the neighborhood in an effort to get her to fall asleep. (It wasn’t working.) Zoe was screaming and I started to laugh. My friend said, “Oh good. You sound relaxed.”

I don’t know if “relaxed” is the word I’d choose. Unless relaxed is a state of mind one inhabits somewhere on the path from exhausted and comatose. No, it’s not relaxed. That’s not right. It’s more like just putting your head down and doing what you have do—picking up the Barbies and stuffed animals and trying not to snap at the sassy four-year-old you love as you coo and bounce the fussy baby you love. And then, as you’re doing what you have to do, the only thing left to do is to laugh because otherwise you feel crazy.


Leightongirl said...

Oh how I loved this post. I remember when my son came home, I didn't sleep for weeks and didn't sit down for days (sometimes I still have those moments) but it never stopped me from thinking thinking thinking about what mattered to me, along with my children, and that was words. I love Charles Baxter. The Soul Thief sent me back to read Patsy and Saul (?) which is another great novel.

Thanks for reminding us of the complexity of life, writing and love.

Anonymous said...

keep laughing, it works for me i think. i love this post, you have a way of being very real and it brings me back to those early days (and thanks for the writing reminders)

Ines said...

This is a wonderful post. I can sense the narrative urgency in it. I really can.

Sista GP said...

Thank you for this post. Many times I have to live as a single parent when hubby is on the road. This stint will be for 2 and a half weeks. Between full-time work, t-ball games and practice, new house being built, and all the regular stuff, I have not had time to really focus on writing. I posted a few poems, but not enough time to direct my thoughts to my next novel.
It is nice to know that there are others parents out here working through hectic lives and I can survive too. I am so tired that I actually have to take naps in the afternoon to focus.

Anonymous said...

wonderful post!

i remember that feeling. tipping my head down and moving into the wind. so glad that you're laughing!

kate hopper said...

Thank you all. Yes, that's what it feels like: tipping your head down and moving into the wind.

Anonymous said...

I've envied the momentum in your memoir since I first read it. You appear to have slightly too much much momentum in your life. Hang in there.

Sheri Reed said...

good tips on the writing. i am trying to get back into mine.

i'm on day 5 of 6 days solo. it is really really hard, especially when i misread and thought he'd be home tonight. awful.

kate hopper said...

Oh Sheri, that's awful. It's like the time (the only time) I ran a half-marathon and I thought I was at mile eleven, but I was really only at mile ten. Devastating.