Imagination Begins

In The New Yorker’s “Briefly Noted” negative mention of Hilary Mantel’s memoir “Giving Up the Ghost,” the writer called it a “bleak memoir” and wanted “a story more plainly shaped, and one that gave some sense of the growth of her remarkable imagination.” But a few weeks ago, finishing my Mantel re-read, and awaiting the release of her controversial collection of short stories (“The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”), I thought again about the memoir.

Instead of failing to explain her imagination, for me it revealed its development in a harsh childhood – her thoughtfulness, her love of stories and belief in magic (and ghosts). You can hear the voice of the little girl who grows up to bring Thomas Cromwell and other memorable characters to life.

Not bleak, because the language animates it for me, but it is sad. Unable to bear children, through what seems near medical malfeasance, Mantel poignantly expresses a longing for children and grandchildren, who for her will never be.

I thought about her and about imagination during my recent time with Lady Baby. There’s no knowing where imagination will lodge, what inspires it, what triggers the making up of stories. But what a blessing for humankind.

While not yet making up stories like Mantel about how, at four, she will turn into a boy who can be a “knight errant” or seeing ghosts (to my knowledge), an element of the fantastic inhabits the stories we hear lately from Lady Baby, along with a very practical, rooted in the real world element – for now.

You’ve heard about Nick and Baby Boy before – and that tale’s not all told. Nick now has another little bitty baby, named Sam, who came out of his belly (just one of Nick’s abilities, along with running a chain saw and driving various pieces of heavy equipment).

On a walk we encountered Nick with his German shepherd Quesadilla. Lady Baby explained that Nick didn’t say hi because he didn’t see us. Some blocks later we saw Quesadilla again, as a corgi behind a fence, other times he appears a bulldog or a little white dog on a leash. In the most conversational way, Lady Baby will spot a dog (or a guy) and say “That’s Quesadilla!” (or “That’s Nick!”). They shift shapes with ease – always identified nonetheless.

Lady Baby’s language now makes these made-up stories (I assume they are made up) really elaborate. In the neighborhood, she pointed out Nick’s mother’s house, and we had a long conversation about relationships – Nick’s mother being also Baby Boy’s grandmother and Sam his brother. The stories ground themselves in reality (specific makes of pick up truck) and unreality (surprisingly good weather in Prudhoe Bay).

I sent a card before my arrival with a picture of her suitcase, and wrote that I was packing my suitcase. Mrs. Hughes returned a video of Lady Baby “reading” the card: “Dear Baby Boy and Nick, Monday will be your suitcase. Love, Baby Boy’s grandfather.” She reworded my letter so handily with perfect form and a huge smile.

When talking about the Nick stories, on the way to the airport as I left, Mr. Carson said he thought they were social, a way to be part of the conversation. We all talk about our friends and what they do – and that’s what happens when Lady Baby tells her stories about Nick.

Great stories. Imaginative stories.


12 thoughts on “Imagination Begins

  1. I’m so glad that you are recording some of the complex, ever-growing stories of Nick and family. It is so much fun to watch Lady Baby’s language and imagination develop, and Mantel—always a favorite. Thanks Katy!

  2. Katie, this is a very thoughtful and important piece. I think you should edit it to make it more universal and send it to The New Yorker as a letter to the editor. It really is insightful, imaginative and thought-provoking. I know it will stay with me a while and I will return to it to read it again, and ponder.

    Love, Tad Bartimus

    • Wow, Tad thank you so much for your most generous comments. Being one iof thise cover to cover NYer readers, I quailed a little at the temerity of disagreeing with critics on high. But I did love and appreciate Mantel’s memoir.

      Thank you for your very kind words. Katy

  3. What’s remarkable about this other than the content and good writing is that you can write it while walking on uneven terrain in Tuscany. This is a superior piece and reminds me of my little niece’s story, quite detailed, about her little brother who lived in the basement that I had never met.

  4. It’s always good to hear another point of view. Possibly the reviewer was just having a bad hair day — I know that there are some books I found unreadable on first try and at a later date and in a different frame of mind, I loved.

    And speaking of love, I love Lady Baby’s stories!

  5. Really nice and thought provoking post. The origins of imagination are so interesting, and you’ve tied together the young and the old and the value of the stories told by both. Lady Baby, I can tell, is a frequenter of a certain restaurant in Anchorage where all of our children, and now our grandchildren, learned to say “quesadilla!”

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