Life Lessons

The Terrible Twos: When Thing One and Thing Two Battle

February 22, 2013

I was sitting in the row in front of the exit row on a miniature airplane last weekend on the return flight from a visit to my daughter, Isabelle, at her college, when an unnerving thought hit me. I mention the specific seat because you need to know that this is a seat which cannot, does not, and will not recline. Caddy corner from me was a toddler playing a game of squash the fruit (best as I could decipher) on an iPad, with the sound turned up full blast. Voluble waves of squish-splat-phlatt reverberated across the aisle, bounced on the seat back in front of me, landing in my lap. In the row behind me was another kid, playing Battle Ship, or whichever seafaring vehicle might make pinging sonar noises. It could have been whales, for all I know. While I marveled at the state of technology available to amuse youth-in-flight, in spite of my (unwilling) upright seat position, all I could feel was relief that we were past this hands-on stage of child rearing. I sat back in my seat (actually, a slouch was all I could muster), and sipped a Heineken. Then I recalled that I have a two-year-old in the throes of temper tantrum stage. My blog, Feeding the Famished, turned two on February 12th.

Two-year-olds can be tiresome, at once loving and approachable, then turning brutally independent as they make attempts to break free of their parents, trying to prove their individuality. A parent may ask herself, “What did I do wrong to create this fearsome behavior?” The right answer is that toddler’s actions have little to do with direction from a parent.

It’s true. A blog is not flesh and blood, although at times, the process of writing seems to be a living creature with its own mind and personality, and a vision which does not necessarily configure with mine. How can that be? How can you separate what you write from yourself?

Over the past two years, I’ve written 162 blog posts, some of which have greater popularity than others. I never know which topics will trigger a reaction. As most writers do, I have an array of notes, one-liners, articles, and suggestions from friends, which, one day, will be inserted into something. I may not know precisely into which something (be it a book or blog post) that tidbit might fit, but I do know it will find its place, at some point. There are a lot of free-floating bits, currently unassigned, which are wonderfully appropriate, incredibly meaningful and burgeoning with promise. Every day, more bits are generated, and catalogued if possible. As with an angry two year old, they will find their way, eventually. The developing neuron pathways will connect, and peace will reign. In the interim, all of these supposedly silent notes make a lot of noise.

So many directions to take, things to do, decisions to make. Photo courtesy of Jackie Emrick. CA Hwy 62. Iron Mountain exit.

The commotion is in my head, and is compounded with daily visits from a recognizable pair of perennial two-year-olds from childhood literature, Thing One and Thing Two, introduced by Dr. Seuss in The Cat in the Hat.

And Sally and I

Did not know what to do.

So we had to shake hands

With Thing One and Thing Two.

We shook their two hands.

But our fish said, ‘No! No!

Those Things should not be

In this house! Make them go!’

The difficulty is that Thing One (all the things I would like to write) and Thing Two (all the things in my life to which I’ve committed) do not always see eye to eye. In fact, much of the time they are at loggerheads, busily asserting that what they need me to accomplish is most important. Thing One is art, Thing Two is real life. They are inseparably interwoven; one cannot exist without the other.

At times, my mind is like a Rolodex on hyperdrive.

I walk through the aisles of the grocery store, and a helpful clerk pops out of nowhere, asking if I’m finding what I need today. My response is usually a blurry, “Ummmhuuuh?” because I wasn’t actually listening to him; I was sorting out the voices in my head.

It isn’t that I’m crazy, or not certifiably so. There are just a lot of thoughts being processed in there, being assigned to what I envision as a room-sized piece of furniture with many drawers, sort of like the ones they used to have in an old fashioned general store. I want one of those. Has anyone heard of a good estate sale so I could buy one?

This turmoil is not unique to me, it is simply part of the human condition, this tension between our many selves.

How can you separate what you write from yourself?

At the moment, the days are predictably stuffed full, with emails from friends to arrange dinners out, committee members reminding me of certain duties which must be performed, and phone calls from delivery trucks and my general contractor, who is making repairs to the mess in our basement, damaged by a flood of water from a broken pipe. A text flashes across the screen of my cellphone, a request from my son to remind him what time his flight home is for spring break. It is followed by another, this time from my daughter, who has butterflies in her stomach; operating on minimal sleep, she has permanently settled into panic mode as she walks across a college campus (one thousand miles away from me) to take the first of two midterms. Dr. K texts a reminder that he has a meeting tonight, and simultaneously emails an article from The New York Times about the status of gender equality since Betty Friedan. Have I had a chance to read it yet, he emails? I sit down at the kitchen table to read the article, when an accusatory text from my son flashes across the cellphone screen:  “Mom!!!” it yells silently, because I have not yet sent him his travel itinerary.

I’m bleary-eyed this morning because, unhappy with this week’s blog post, I’ve been calculating how to restructure it. Meanwhile, Edgar and Neha, an emotionally needy young couple I’ve introduced in Chapter 7 of my new novel-in-progress, Drinking the Knock Water, woke me up at two in the morning to tell me of a great idea for the direction Edgar’s character should take in the next chapter. I told them to shut up and go back to sleep, but it was too late by then; the idea (which was a good one!) now had been firmly planted, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

My book characters, much as the real people in my life, contribute regularly to the process, and I welcome their intrusions, because when at last a thought or concept enters my subconscious, Thing One takes over, and once past the trouncing, independent stage, establishes an unhindered flow of thought. I begin to relax as I type the words, watching as conversations unfold. The mind takes over, leaving behind dilemmas of whether or not I should broach a subject. The topic plays itself out before me across the computer screen, steered only by the words’ caprice.

These are the times I look forward to most, those pleasurable days of productivity, be it on behalf of either Thing One, or Thing Two. They are our inner imps, striving to be heard, struggling for attention. Much as a two year old, this mental activity, directing our days and nights, seeks validation that the actions we take are on the path of progress.

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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.




Award-winning Chick Lit author Emily Kemme writes about the quirks of human nature. Find musings, recipes, and satire on her blog, Feeding the Famished. Novels | Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage | In Search of Sushi Tora | Other works in progress

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  • Reply Jan Livingston March 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    In reply to “How can you separate what you write from yourself?” I think it’s because what one writes is an expression of emotion which comes from that place deep within the recesses of one’s psychic.
    I think it would be easy to write fiction but non-fiction is an entirely different ballgame. Writing from the heart is much more involved. That’s why I love your writing. 🙂 Jan L.

    • Reply Emily Kemme March 11, 2013 at 11:25 pm

      I agree that writing is drawn from deep within our subconscious. I think that writing fiction, however, is markedly similar to non-fiction, in that you must begin with a kernel of truth. Without that, there is no chance that a reader will be enticed into a “willing suspension of disbelief,” that pull into another world. From that beginning, the fiction writer diverges from non-fiction, and spins a tale, based somewhat on imagination, placing imaginary people into real life situations. You still must draw upon your own experiences, placing yourself into that character’s body, delving into what he or she would feel, given a certain set of facts. If you can’t do that with fiction, it is too shallow, and the reader won’t develop a connection to the story. Try it, and let me know what you think.

  • Reply Jan Livingston February 23, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Emily, you have hit the nail on the head! You put into words how I imagine most every productive mind works. I’ve always made excuses for myself by simply saying that I march to a different drummer. Thank you for giving me this sane prospective and codifying my own processes.

  • Reply Dede February 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    That sign is a hoot out in the middle of nowhere!

  • Reply Lynne Hugo February 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    You do an awfully good job of sorting it all out in the end!

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