Our love affair with magical nannies.

mary poppins

There was a nanny debate the other night in our house. No, we’re not considering getting a nanny! The debate centered upon which is the most magical magical Nanny. Is it Nanny McPhee  (originally Nurse Matilda) or Mary Poppins? After this post at Of Maria Antonia recently reminded me of the similarly delightful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I came away wondering about our love affair with magical nannies, and began Googling in an earnest search for others I may have forgotten.

Including the delightful dog Nanna in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,  it was clear that the magical nanny trope extends beyond my original limited imagination of what a magical nanny is. She’s not only characterized by the possession of literal magical powers, but also has a magical effect on the entire family as she serves. The literary blog Slap Happy Larry outlines the general story arc of children’s books which employ the magical nanny trope:

  • The parents are colourless and unremarkable except for their utter cluelessness.
  • The nanny might be actually magic, or seems to work magic due to being a ‘child whisperer’
  • The children are highly spirited tricksters
  • The nanny sees right through the children and although she may have a harsh exterior, has a heart of gold
  • The children are at least upper middle class
  • Nanny stories of the old-fashioned kind, set in large houses, are probably from an earlier era such as the Edwardian
  • The plots tend to be episodic rather than dramatic, with each day bringing a new adventure which is over and solved by bedtime. But there is still a character arc whereby the children become better behaved (or more morally upstanding) by the end of the story.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, an American story, necessarily demands a slightly different twist on the notion than we find in the the other renown stories, typically written by British authors. In contrast to Nurse Matilda, Mary Poppins, or even Nanna, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t live with her charges. Instead, she is a kindly neighborhood lady whom all the children love and all the parents trust to know just the trick to rectify their children’s bad or detrimental behavior.

This short exploration doesn’t even begin to address the numerous nannies and nursemaids to be found in adult literature, who are far more likely to have a significant effect than magical powers. The unrefined but devoted Mrs. Wix from Henry James’ What Maisie Knew springs to mind here. I’m not sure I could even exhaust the list in a short post as short as this one. This leads  me to the question:

What is it about the magical nannies that grabs hold of our imaginations and makes us enjoy them so? I have my own hypothesis, but I’d much rather hear yours first!

 

 

 

 

Stretching Creative Limits

As I embark on this nonfiction version of the NaNoWriMo challenge, thoughts about stretching my creative limits are floating to the surface. The thoughts are so vivid and constant that I was reminded of a conversation I had with my gifted composition teacher in high school. At that time, they called gifted students “gifted”, a statement of aptitude, rather than the more palatable “AP” which indicates that the placement is chosen rather than endowed.

That morning, I realized I’d forgotten to write a short essay that was due. In a mad rush, I wrote it on the school bus and before class, had a fellow gifted English student read over it and tell me what he thought. He said it was “really good. I never would have known you wrote this on the bus in 20 minutes if you hadn’t told  me so.” Confident that I had an A (or at least a B), well in hand, I submitted the essay to my teacher with relieved confidence. It was a confidence that she decidedly shook in a good way, although it would be years before I understood or appreciated it.

She returned the paper with a C, and I was moved to question her, which was very uncharacteristic of me. When I questioned her assessment of my work she said that the essay was good, and had another student written it,  she would have given it an ‘A’.

However, over the course of the school year, she’d read enough of my writing to know that that paper could have easily (I’m not kidding!) “been written on the bus on your way to school, so it’s not an A paper for you”.  I still felt I’d been done wrong, but the prophetic accuracy with which she’d nailed my lack of effort sucked all of the wind from the sails of my argument.

I was reminded of that moment last night as I slogged along trying to get the 1000 words I’d committed to on “paper”. We had a minor plumbing emergency in out house this week on top of our usual busy schedule, which has hindered my creative energy. I found that I was more concerned with meeting the word quota than writing something really worth reading. The effort wasn’t a total waste however, as there are some insightful thoughts waiting to be made readable with attentive editing.

What I have learned this week was that it’s important to remember not to coast while doing this. I need to give it the same level of care that I give would give while making my husband’s favorite recipes, or to anything else I would give extra thought and care. The fact that words come easy to me means I need to stretch myself in ways that produce better results. I should and I must, because I can.

I will say though, that creativity and enthusiasm in the kitchen which produces results in 2 hours or less is far easier and often more enjoyable.

NaNoWriMo 2018 continues…

NaNoWriMo, but non-fiction?

It’s November, that month where many writers, would-be writers, never-will-be-writers, and bloggers who write about writing promote National Novel Writing Month. I enjoy good novels, and have been encouraged over the years that my gift for the written word should be shared in ways beyond online forums. Writing fiction however, has never interested me. My imagination just isn’t that great. When and if I ever accomplish my desire of publishing something others are willing to pay to read, it will have to be non-fiction.

My beloved, having supplied me with the tools  to transfer my “profound” ideas and insights to the written word, has once again encouraged me that anything I need, including time and space, he will make available so that I can fulfill this longing. The only thing comparable to being well-loved is being believed in. As an act of appreciation for his faith, I’m putting a  personal spin NaNoWriMo, committing to writing every day for next 30 days. Should all go according to plan 30,000 words will be transferred from my head, to the keyboard, and onto paper by years’ end.

Even as I type this, my mind is fighting: “You are hosting Thanksgiving for 20 people this year”, “You are teaching this semester and need to prep for the next”, and the perpetual nagging thought, “You have more important priorities to focus on as a wife and mother.”

The struggle of balancing duties with desires can be a never ending one. It’s so often why most people simply choose one or the other, duties or desires, and let the chips fall for better or worse. Because we really can’t do “it all”, but we can do some of it.

I have concluded that writing 1000 words a day is doable, and not an all-encompassing,  overly time consuming task. It is just enough to hone one’s craft, but not so much that it steals time best devoted to other things.

We’ll see how this goes.