Shockingly, like a person who goes to an anniversary dinner expecting a gift and is told they are getting a divorce, I think I need to stop writing this novel. I tried to tell the plot to Danny yesterday, and Käthe the day before, and it was so convoluted I knew I didn’t have a story. I had pieces, like those weird monster tumors that grow parts of bodies, but the spine isn’t there.

As I was telling, I could feel how convoluted and not simple the story was. Every few minutes the action would stop while some character explained what was going on, and even the explanation wasn’t simple.

Here’s simple: you’re a wizard, Harry. And a very bad wizard killed your parents and tried to kill you when you were a baby, so we put you in hiding.

Here’s not simple: this is the place dreams come from, or are made, and it’s made of ink, and even though we can use the ink at home it would kill us if we tried to touch it here, and the people here are like us, there’s one for each one of us, but it turns out they’re afraid of us, they think we’re boggarts, and probably the reason they’re afraid of us is that when we’re born, they live and when we die, they die, and so they’re trying to kill us, and you have to hide.

Here’s simple: anything is possible in a wizard world, as long as you have the right spell.

Here’s not simple: Ink can make anything in our world, but you have no control over how it works, it makes stuffed animals and princess costumes that appear in a different place and balls that roll and doors that open and creatures that it actually transports from another place to this place, so maybe it’s a transporter, or maybe it’s an inventor, but it also moves clouds around in the sky but even more complicated is the fact that when you get there, to that other place, the ink isn’t ink at all, it’s everything, including people who look just like you but aren’t you, and they can make the ink do things, but you can’t, in fact the ink there, if you were to touch it, would kill you, but not if it’s dilute, in which case it only buzzes sort of faintly, and the only way to control it is to join with that other person who looks like you, and you can make it get still.

I feel like I’ve been trying to write all year with a strange farm implement that has a pen buried somewhere in its gears, and every now and then for short bursts of time I can get the pen to make contact with paper, and write something that makes sense, and the rest of the time I’m figuring out how to position the farm implement so that the pen makes contact with the page and doesn’t destroy it.

Danny said, when he was listening, this sounds like the story of a person who is trying to prove to the world that she is a writer. It’s so heavy with tricks that it’s really hard to tell what’s going on. And in spite of the fact that it was painful to hear him say it, it felt as true and clear and simple as a glass of water.

I’m sitting here with my broken story in my lap. And meanwhile I have a son who looks at me and says are you ever going to get a job?

Somehow, I’m a grown-up who doesn’t feel grown up, who missed the part where you become expert at something, skilled, reliable, and my kids look at me uneasily and think, I hope mom gets a job soon. I hope she succeeds at something.

Downstairs I hear Jesse play, puttering and humming and singing and talking to himself, the faint clicks of him moving Lego pieces, the pop and hiss of his sound effects. Then my mother slap slaps into the living room, her velvet slippers smacking against the floor as she shuffles in, probably holding her tea. She stops by the table where he plays and starts asking a slew of questions: she found these Lego pieces by the door, does he want them? What is he building? When he doesn’t answer, she drifts into observation: it seemed, yesterday, that he didn’t know how to build this thing, but now it looks pretty good; it’s very cold out, isn’t it, it was cold when she went to bed, but now it’s even colder, it must certainly be turning into fall. Then more questions: does he want some breakfast, will he want breakfast when she comes back out again? I am in agony, listening to him try to answer politely. He just wants her to go away. Then she leaves, and he goes back to playing, and about five seconds after that, Käthe comes in— Hey, Badoodles. He doesn’t answer. She says it again. He doesn’t answer. She says it again, louder, sounding annoyed. He says, “Hey.” His privacy hard to maintain, with all these women around, trying to say good morning.