Thursday, August 29, 2019
stacks and stacks
Summer was way too short this year. And I have an end-of-season cold that is dragging on. I can't even. I'm already wearing jeans and sweaters and worrying that we don't have enough firewood for the whole winter. Even though it's stacked and ready. The firewood I mean, waiting to be broached, like another kind of to-be-read pile. I have a few, at the ready. This is one:
My most recent stack. There are others nearby but I have made significant inroads here. I did just finish Alive Still: Nell Blaine, American Painter by Cathy Curtis (Oxford 2019) and the monster Barry Schwabsky art book Landscape Painting Now (d.a.p. 2019), and have just begun Peter Schjeldahl's Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light: 100 Art Writings 1988-2018 (Abrams 2019). This may be some kind of record for me, reading three brand new books one after another. Usually I am decades if not centuries behind. If there is such a thing in the continuum of reading, which seems to wash in and out, back and forth, like the tide. Don't good books always feel relevant, no matter their age?
I don't need an answer to that question. Old books continue to draw me in, as they have ever since I learned to read. I took the leatherbound reprint of Thoreau's In the Maine Woods (Houghton, Mifflin 1893) on a camping trip we took for Ryan's birthday last week. And I was in an antiques barn in western Maine a few weeks ago and in one of the book rooms I saw the thin Longfellow first edition and the Dorothy Wordsworth two-volume set. I do not need these books, I said to myself as I stood there holding them in my hands. Wanting them. Story of my life, right? I already have several Longfellow collections; I already own two different versions of Wordsworth's journals. I put the books down. Then I moved along, as if to leave the room they were in. They waited patiently for me to change my mind. Which obviously I did. And I have no regrets! Longfellow's In the Harbor (Houghton, Mifflin 1882) is a little shabby but aren't we all, these days:
Such a wonderful front cover. The insides are good too. In the shop I opened it at page 79 and read the following poem:
Loss and Gain
When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.
I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.
Phew. That pretty much did it, that and the exquisite print job by The Riverside Press.
Dorothy Wordsworth (edited by William Knight, Macmillan 1904) is in better condition, but she has problems of her own. So after proclaiming I had no regrets about these purchases I must eat my words, because I do in fact have one. A not insignificant one. Behold:
Oh good printers and binders of Macmillan, Why did you not trim the margins? To read these lovely volumes I will have to live with a paper knife in one hand, because every signature remains uncut along all the top edges and half of the fore edges. Will I actually do this? I have to wonder. The set runs to about 550 pages all told, whereas the other edited editions I have of her Journals are much shorter. Which is why I bought this set, aside from its general handsomeness. (Keep this longer set, sell the other editions - that's one way I justified the purchase.) I also love its bookplates, one centered inside the front cover of each volume, with just a woman's name printed in copperplate script on good paper, with splashes of darkening glue around the edges. I think I'll paste my own inside the back covers. Then if I never read this edition (all that slicing! I don't know if I can do it! rip rip rip!) some future booklover will wonder why two supposed bibliophiles never read this set.
But no, I do have to cut the pages, because in browsing through what little I can read of it just now, I see that volume two ends with Extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth's Tour in the Isle of Man 1828. Which I dearly want to read, being fascinated as I am with all things Isle of Man. It's been a while since I've mentioned that, I'm sure. But I am in fact part Manx and would love to visit someday. Another island in another sea. Some Faraghers emigrated in the 1850s, first to Canada, then to the United States, and my particular branch of that family tree is alive and well. Now I know that Dorothy Wordsworth visited the island when my ancestors were still there! Thrilling to contemplate. I need a sharper paper knife.
That's all I've got for the moment. The other stacks will have to wait. I have a few forthcoming books on order too, and my inner eye is beginning to focus on possible winter reading projects. Anthony Powell is still in the running but I might find someone or something more catastrophic or apocalyptic to read instead. Because I can't decide if I need something truly horrendous to remind myself that humans and the world suffer, yet here we still are, we endure, or if I want to turn away from that, toward the comforting and tender instead. Love wins, right? I've always believed that. I may have to choose the side of comfort. We seem to have enough catastrophe readily on hand. But. Chin up. When things get worse we can pack up Longfellow and Thoreau and take to the woods, can't we? See you there.
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
The cat days of summer are here. Hodge is flattened by the heat, as am I. I've been doing my best to get out and paint and live the sunlit hours fully, but the temperature today has me inside in the shade, so here I am, writing. The table next to me is mostly empty, except for the latest draft of my book-to-be, some driftwood, a shell, a few pieces of sea glass from a recent beach walk, and a pile of artists' facsimile sketchbooks, which constitute my current state of book-interest. After finishing Underland by Robert Macfarlane, and reading The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, and starting nothing else from last month's to-be-read pile - see last post; sorry Anthony Powell, your time is not yet - I turned to these instead. Can I speak coherently about books with almost no text in them? Let's find out.
The first is a fairly recent acquisition, about one of my painting heroes - Nell Blaine / Sketchbook, preface by John Ashbery (The Arts Publisher Inc. 1986):
A lovely large hardcover in its paper slipcase. This book is borderline expensive if you search for a secondhand copy, but instead I found it for sale, still new, at the Cape Ann Museum online shop. The copy I received from them states in the colophon that it came from the artist's estate. 726 copies were printed, on thick Tintoretto paper that is a delight to touch. Aside from the very brief essay by Ashbery about his friend, and a chronology and bibliography, there is no text, only drawings and watercolors. I love to flip through the pages, studying the marks she made, as if I am reading the best news of the day. But the text is fine too. Ashbery writes (unpaginated):
"Ever since she first thought of becoming an artist, Nell Blaine has kept visual diaries in the form of sketchbooks like this one. They are a parallel activity to drawing and painting: she said she always intended to use her notebook sketches in more finished works but never got around to it. So the notebooks are like the diaries of a great novelist - Virginia Woolf, for instance - in that they offer rewards of their own, similar but apart from the work for which she is best known. Since they offer a more private activity, done mainly for herself, we can feel the genius that informs her larger work here at a more tentative, spontaneous level: the work as it is just happening into being."
This makes me think fondly of one of my painting teachers, who made everyone in our class keep a visual diary. He said every serious artist he knew kept some kind of journal, image file, or diary. It was mandatory and we had to write in them, draw too, and paste images in, and they were part of our class grade. I already had the diary habit but this teacher reinforced it and I am eternally grateful. But back to Blaine and Ashbery. In the next paragraph he says:
"The sensuality in these works is backed up by a temperament that is crisp and astringent, which is as it should be, since even at its most poetic, nature doesn't kid around."
Indeed. Nature does not, even at her most beautiful. How about a few images from the sketchbook itself, after that description of Blaine and her paintings. First a floral still life, a rough version of the kind for which she is well-known:
Then a landscape panorama of Gloucester, Massachusetts, ditto:
Seemingly casual, yet not. I love these for their messy all-over-ness, their energy, their searching line, and rich marks. They bring to mind the next sketchbook I will mention, made much later, David Hockney: A Yorkshire Sketchbook (Royal Academy of Arts 2012; the sketchbook itself dates from April of 2004):
The only text is on the jacket flaps and in the colophon, not including a brushy word or two from Hockney, at the beginning and end of his drawings and paintings. A glimpse within:
His landscapes, the planes of space, the descriptive marks he makes, how I love them. Another favorite two-page spread:
For the full story on his Yorkshire painting years, I recommend the documentary David Hockney: A Bigger Picture (Bruno Wollheim 2010)- the trailer is here, take a look and see if you can resist wanting to watch the whole thing! I couldn't, I bought a copy on dvd. I particularly love the extra material at the end, the long nearly-wordless piece of film showing Hockney painting in a muddy lane over the course of a day. He shows us what is possible, how far painting can go, and how far one ego can go as well. (In a good way. Mostly. Egos are often so problematic!) Anyway, I do love this little sketchook, and the film.
How about a few more? A pair. I've had both of these for years and years, and still love them as much as I did when I first found them. If not more. Both of these have slipcases and are so well-made, with black cloth covers and thick paper. Like the Nell Blaine book they are a pleasure to handle:
Wayne Thiebaud was one of my first painting loves as an art student (after Andy Warhol, who took the cake in that regard, so to speak) and he remains in my personal pantheon of art archangels today. I ordered this sketchbook, Wayne Thiebaud: Private Drawings / The Artist's Sketchbook, selected and edited by Constance and Jack Glenn, with an introduction by Constance Glenn (Abrams 1987), about twenty-five years ago, when I worked at a new book store. I don't remember the price but I do remember it was a financial stretch at that time, art books in general usually beyond the reach of my barely-over-minimum-wage clerk job. Even with the employee discount! Well, I was poor but buy it I did, and I still love looking through it all these years later. What a fine draftsman he is, so sure of himself and his line, yet also as painterly as can be:
Still life, the figure, and the landscape - three of the great themes of art, throughout time - endlessly interesting, the closer we look. Glenn says as much in her essay, that Thiebaud's subjects are "...simply draped over the hanger of classical, formal problems that have occupied artists for centuries." She then quotes him (p.7):
"'I always think about what I call serious artists - those who are continuing and perpetual students. That particular audience,' Wayne Thiebaud concludes, 'is the one that has always interested me - those who really do believe in a sense of tradition and use it as a primary engagement in their own work.'"
Her essay is in the booklet inside the front cover:
And my Andy English hedgehog bookplate now resides inside the back cover:
There's something about putting a bookplate into a book one has already owned for decades. Perhaps it's like finally getting a marriage license after years of cohabitating? Something like that. Part honoring an important relationship, I think. And part staking a heart-claim on the tiny piece of real estate that is this book, here, now, in my hands. It's easy to imagine the artist holding it and drawing in it, or at least on the pieces of paper that make it up. Thiebaud changes the orientation of the sketchbook when he needs to:
More where that came from, one of the final images in the book, mmmm, pie:
In the smaller square Maurice Prendergast sketchbook, the painter did likewise - turned it, perhaps to more easily draw on the right side:
Now we see the upside down pencil sketch, across from the more fully rendered scene. This sketchbook is full of families at the seaside, in big hats and summer clothes. Prendergast's washy, swimming brushwork notes the quality of the day - immediate, life-breathing. I see from my notation inside the back cover that I bought this for $5 at a book sale in the year 2000: Maurice Prendergast: Water-color Sketchbook 1899, critical note by Peter A. Wick (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Harvard University Press 1960). A 20-page booklet of text is tucked in a pocket inside the back cover. In it, Wick tells us that this sketchbook only exists because after Maurice's death his artist brother Charles saved it from a fire in his own Irving Place studio, near Gramercy Park (p.11):
"In the winter of 1924/25 in the early hours of the morning with snow on the ground a fire broke out. Charles in a frantic effort to resuce the contents of the studio shattered the window glass and flung his most precious possessions out into the backyard, severely cutting his hand in the act. Many things were damaged or destroyed, but Charles succeeded in throwing clear a number of Maurice's portfolios of water colors, several small oil panels, some badly scorched, and a group of his sketchbooks. The singed corners of some of the pages of the Boston Sketchbook survive to tell the tale, but the leaves are miraculously fresh and free of water stain."
What drama! Wow! The stories behind the sketchbooks are almost as good as the books themselves. And I love the fact that these ephemeral things survived at all, and then made their way into print, as facsimiles, because the artist, friend of the artist, family member, art historian, and/or publisher believed in their worth enought to usher them through the press. The sketches they contain suit my summer mindset, which is to say they allow me to wander, contemplate, and daydream, even in the midst of the specifics they describe. I read them as if the marks are letters and words, and gain some new kind of knowledge. I'd like to find more books like these. I still think about Frida Kahlo's illustrated diary, which I once owned, then sold, and always thought I would come across again. But I haven't yet. I know there are others out there. I also think of a second Prendergast sketchbook, much larger in format, also slipcased. It sat on a shelf in local used book barn for many years. I visited it from time to time. It was priced at $95. I should have bought it, but I never did - that intersection between available monies, desire, and other books also at hand, asking to be bought instead, did not ever line up in the right way. Unusual, for me! What can I say. I guess nothing else. Except, Maybe I'll go make a few sketches...
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Hi friends, here it is, early summer and the light is longest, let's make the most of it! I've been doing my best to hold up my head and do that very thing. I wasn't able to go away for the annual island painting trip I usually take in June, for reasons far beyond my choosing or control, so I spent those days instead visiting with the island on the page. I forged out a mini-retreat here in our own home, and buckled down to edit my way through the most recent draft of my island painting book. And now I've reached a new plateau with it, one with a clear view to the finish, and a navigable path to get there. The narrative is holding together, I am editing out the repetitious blahs, and adding in what still needs to be added in, for clarity and with purpose. I have a list of what to do next, and how to do it. I am quietly pleased, to say the least. Since a few short months ago I was afraid of foundering altogether.
Drafts pile up. I just added the top layer this morning, after finishing with it yesterday:
Will it be any good? That remains to be seen. It will be true, and someday it will be finished, that much I do know. It's hovering around 100,000 words, but many of those still have to go the way of the dodo. Please pray for me, if you are so inclined. In other bookish news, we attended a library sale last week, unexpectedly. As in, we were driving by on our way to somewhere else and saw big signs that said BOOK SALE, and had to stop. The sale had already been underway for a few hours, so I didn't find much, but what I did buy I was happy with:
E.B. White! Marguerite Yourcenar! Thoreau! Pausanius (both volumes!!)! Virginia Woolf! Jerome K. Jerome! Twain! Neruda! The first line of the E.B. White essay "A Report in Spring" is so fine:
"I bought a puppy last week in the outskirts of Boston and drove him to Maine in a rented Ford that looked like a sculpin." (Harper & Row 1977, p.14)
He sets the scene and gets right to the action, the interesting stuff, and the big theme, all at once. I know from recent experience that doing that isn't as easy as he makes it look. I browsed my way through the other books too, and inside the back cover of the shabby third U.S. printing (Harcourt, Brace 1925) of Mrs. Dalloway found this tiny treasure:
I haven't found a great bookseller's ticket in ages, and this one really gets me right where I live, I just love it! I remember when I first began this blog, one of my earliest posts featured some of what I called the luggage labels of the book trade. I keep my collection in two stamp albums and still add to it when the opportunity arises. I love that the book is American, found its way to a bookshop in Nassau, then came here to Maine. Who knows how the book's travels unfolded between these stops. I wish I could map it somehow. I like the galleon dingbat, and in fact I own a piece of metal type that looks almost exactly like it. I can't really believe that, and you might not either, but I just pulled it out of the type cabinet in our living room, and here it is:
It must have been a common dingbat at that time, since I don't have that many, or that much type in general. Anyway, I'm keeping Mrs. Dalloway, for the ticket and of course to read, since... I've never read it (ahem).
Recent books I have read: I finished the memoirs of Anthony Powell, all four volumes (Holt, Rinehart, Winston 1977-1982). Last time I wrote here I mentioned that with the state of the world as it is I was having trouble finding joy in the things that used to always bring me joy, and with that in mind I turned to a series, to occupy my mind with a long term reading project. For about a month I visited with Powell and his friends and acquaintances, and while the experience wasn't completely delightful it was enjoyable. This is a good memoir for anyone who might like an insider's view about publishing in the 1920s, the early lives and careers of Waugh, Orwell, the Sitwell clan, Robert Byron, Powell himself, and a wide panorama of literary others, for decades. His war years are interesting but not as harrowing or as fully described as Frances Partridge's or James Lees-Milne's, in their diaries. I plan on beginning his sequence of twelve novels next, A Dance to the Music of Time, which has been on my shelves foreverrrrr and I decided I simply must give it a go. I'm wondering if Powell will be more forthcoming emotionally in his fiction, the way he didn't quite seem to be in his memoirs. Which were frank, but lacked something I couldn't quite name. Powell's memoirs are back in the book room, ready to be reshelved:
Now I am in the thick of my most recent to-be-read pile. Some of the books from the library sale haul will find their way in here too, I'm sure. But at the moment, things stand this way:
I have the University of Chicago set of paperback reprints of A Dance to the Music of Time. The first volume is on deck. Let's see how the summer unfolds, and what I pick up after finishing Robert Macfarlane and Nigel Slater. I now own two copies of Nigel Slater's new book Greenfeast (4th Estate 2019, happily this spring/summer volume will be followed by the fall/winter volume in a few months), because I ordered a signed edition and it arrived unsigned, so I reordered a signed edition, and now have one to keep and one to give to a friend. He focuses here on plant-based eating, for the most part. I am halfway in and loving the recipe ideas, and his entire aesthetic. I am also halfway in to Robert Macfarlane's Underland: A Deep Time Journey (Norton 2019) and have far too much to say about it to write anything comprehensive at this time. This shockingly gorgeous and highly unsettling book deserves its own review, so that may follow, when I've finished reading it, transcribing notes from it, and mulling it over. I'm going to need a reading break afterwards, to let it settle, then I might follow it up with Tove Jansson's The Summer Book (NYRB reprint), if I don't start with Powell first.
I will give him the last word today. In volume four of his memoir, The Strangers All Are Gone, I came across this helpful and prescient passage, regarding the anger that might arise within us when we read the news:
"...it is better to remain calm; try to remember that all epochs have had to suffer assaults on commonsense and common decency, art and letters, honour and wit, courage and order, good manners and free speech, privacy and scholarship; even if sworn enemies of these abstratctions (quite often wearing the disguise of their friends) seem unduly numerous in contemporary society." (pp.193-194)
I read that and think, Well, yes, but IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. Change is coming, that is certain. And I find renewed optimism within myself, and around all of us, and take heart once more. Like I said at the beginning, let's make the most of the light!
Wednesday, May 15, 2019
losing my appetite
In my last post I may have spoken too soon. About spring. It arrived, sort of, but today is rainy and cold and some snow flurries have been flying around the state. I mean really. I got out to paint earlier this week but after a few hours had to seek shelter in the car and paint from there, the bite of the wind was so sharp. But enough about the weather. I meant to write in April about all sorts of things, books among them, but had a hard time finding the motivation to do so. The state of everything has laid me low, I have to say. Some personal events, the ongoing political news, the dire state of our ailing planet. I am not finding solace and comfort easily, or really anywhere. The things and experiences that used to bring me joy, no matter what, are feeling more and more like stopgaps. I am trying to find ways to let them act instead as stiles, the sturdy steps to take to go up and over the difficulties we face, that block the ways between our open fields. So here I am today, taking one such step.
I could talk about appetites, since I noticed that two of the books on my bedside table in recent weeks deal with that very thing, in direct and indirect ways both:
I recently saw Roxane Gay speak at a local college, and hallelujah she signed books afterwards:
She was fantastic. It was a privilege to hear her, and meet her briefly afterwards. She spoke about activism, among many other topics, and said (I paraphrase) that she wants to make room for AND and BOTH, and that shouting at each other only makes a lot of noise and leaves everyone feeling unsatisfied and hollow. She emphasized coming at saving the world through a lens of love, if it is love for friends and partners or love through faith or worship, because without love we are hollow. Then we act from that place of hollowness. And when that happens, trouble ensues, for all of us. She got a laugh from the audience when she said that she wasn't evolved enough personally to love everyone, that she thought some people weren't worthy of love, but she did talk about how we can make space for people to rejoin the community, and how redemption is a pathway forward to that. Up and over we go! I haven't started reading Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (Harper 2017) yet, I'm immersed in other books at this moment, but I will start it when I finish Bad Feminist: Essays (Harper 2014). A bit from that:
"Like many writers, I lived inside of books as a child. Inside books I could get away from the impossible things I had to deal with. When I read I was never lonely or tormented or scared. I read everything I could get my hands on...." (p.65)
"Reading remains one of the purest things I do.... I derive a great deal of joy from reading - highbrow, lowbrow, I'm into all of it.... It's great to remember that reading is my first love." (p.175)
Heather "Anish" Anderson describes herself this way: "Growing up, I was overweight, inactive, and introverted - a bookworm of the highest order...." (p.25). In her memoir Thirst: 2600 Miles Home (Mountaineers 2019) she chronicles her Pacific Crest Trail through-hike, during which she walked about forty to fifty miles per day, to break the previous record for fastest known time. She starts in the desert in Southern California, literally thirsty beyond measure, barely making it from water source to water source in the extreme heat. Her book is about that basic human need, while also being about a much greater thirst.
What else have I got today. How about this - when I have a certain kind of appetite, I still go to a bookstore. Bookstores always seem to provide the kind of sustenance that I most want, they ease my hunger pangs, even if lately they don't assuage them altogether. On a recent trip, late last week, I came away from one shop with a few new books:
Now I'm in the middle of Mary Beard's How Do We Look: the Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilisation (Liveright 2018), and I realized after buying the book that it is a companion to her tv program of the same name, so I will seek that out somtime soon. I'm fifty pages in and so far the book is a thoughtful conversation about ancient art and history and how we humans choose to portray ourselves, and why. It has such a stunning cover, too, and feels so good in the hand - heavy and full of color plates. I bought the Edward Thomas book because I've never read much of him and keep coming across references to his poetry and nature diaries in other books, so, now I know a bit more about him. Edward Thomas: Poems selected by Matthew Hollis (Faber & Faber 2016, in the Faber Nature Poets series, with these lovely covers, now I want them all). Come to think of it, I believe I have come across many references to Edward Thomas in the writings of Robert Macfarlane - one more thing I did at the bookstore was order his new book, which is already available in the U.K. but still unpublished here in the U.S. until early June, Underland: A Deep Time Journey (Norton 2019). I think this book will be another stile, another way to lift up from gloom and doom, and take heart once more.
The last book I'll mention today is Horizon by Barry Lopez (Knopf 2019):
Book designers are killing it lately. I saw this book and my hand reached out for it before I even knew what I was doing. Same with the Mary Beard book, a pleasure to behold. And to read? Well, I don't know. Lopez spells it all out for us, the bad news of the world, even while he's seeking the light. This book stretched my brain in a good way but also frustrated me. It is full of the stuff of classic high adventure and exploration tales - archaeology in the arctic and in Africa, nature in the Galapagos, solo camping in the Pacific Northwest, journeys across Australia, and around the Pacific Ocean with Captain Cook, I mean this book has everything but the kitchen sink in it. I felt like each chapter could have been its own book and I would have been satisfied, and more able to focus on what he was saying. As it stands, Horizon is like a world atlas seen through one pair of eyes, looking, noting, questioning, positing. He says about himself:
"In my hurricane mind, the churning of esoteric information goes on, thoughts I can't seem to organize well enough to create any points of stillness" (p.207)
And perhaps that was my problem with this book. There were plenty of points of stillness within it but they were overwhelmed by the movement, the incessant travel, the seeking. Many times in the book he seems on the brink of despair himself, at the state of the world, and our treatment of it, our own and only home. He offers some suggestions in the manner of someone who knows that they will not be heeded by those who currently rule:
"...human cultures need to distinguish between sentimentality about loss and the imperative to survive. They need to establish a more relevant politics than the competitive politics of nation-states. And to found economies built not on profit but on conservation.
Or so it seems to me..." (p.83)
"The seductive power of this system of exploitation - tearing things out of the earth, sneering at the least objection, as though it were hopelessly unenlightened, characterizing other people as vermin in the struggle for market share, navigating without an ethical compass - traps people in a thousand exploited settlements in denial, in regret, in loneliness.... (you must) sympathize with every person caught up in the undertow of this nightmare, this delusion that a for-profit life is the only reasonable calling for a modern individual." (p.368)
Whew. One of the main points he seems to be making in the book is that the horsemen of the apocalypse are visible on the earth's horizon, and it is up to us to identify them and figure out what to do to save the world as they come ever closer. One of the ways to do that, he suggests, is to have people at the table who have not been at the table in recent times. Particularly elders and the marginalized, and not those with an economic and political stake in whatever outcomes may occur (p.311). Honestly, this may not have been the best book to read when I am already feeling down. However, his elegiac introspective prose, often about the beauties of nature and the wonders of the world, lifted me up at about the same rate as the bad news about climate change and human nature brought me down, so I guess I find myself even, at the end of it. Sitting up on the stile, wondering which field to walk through next. My appetite reminding me not to wander too far from home.
Friday, March 29, 2019
progress of all sorts
Late March is mud season around here and also sap time, and I must say that getting anything accomplished lately has felt like swimming through maple syrup. So slow, but certainly not as sweet. However I am in fact getting boatloads of things accomplished, despite feeling bogged down and even slightly stuck. I find a way to work steadily through it all. My island painting book is sitting before me in a new draft, one I am about to take some scissors to in an effort to edit and rearrange. Parts of the draft are terrible, make no sense, and I will leave them on the cutting room floor, but other parts are shaping up and thus I have hope for the whole thing. Meanwhile the color proofs for my next painting show catalogue arrived today. The draft and color proof are here beside me now:
Understatement: I have worked hard on this show. Upstairs in my studio are almost sixty paintings, framed and ready to take to the gallery in May. The gallerists were just here to look everything over and ease my worried mind. I haven't neglected other business either. Our taxes are filed. Looking back, I sold a fair number of books last year but I made a lot more money from the sale of my paintings. This is a heartening trend. I've been thinking again of having a little bookshop someday, perhaps in my old age, but it will have to be adjacent to my art gallery!
Speaking of bookshops, I just visited Stone Soup in Camden and bought a Maine island book I hadn't yet read, Winter Harbor by Bernice Richmond (Henry Holt 1943). Her writing gives me valuable perspective on my own book-to-be, encompassing as it does an island narrative and personal memoir. The book opens with such a great little paragraph, one that catches the reader immediately. When Bernice Richmond began with this, I for one couldn't wait to hear all about it (p.3):
"Reg and I are little people. No one ever heard of us, we have no names, we have no wealth, yet something wonderful, exciting and full of adventure happened to us."
How could you not keep reading after that? She launches immediately into the tale of how she and her husband came to buy a lighthouse on a tiny island off Winter Harbor, west of the Schoodic peninsula. The book chronicles their first three seasons there, during 1939, 1940, and 1941. The war is a backdrop she barely mentions, but when she does, her descriptions are powerful and memorable. In the book's second paragraph she says (ibid) "...at that time an unmistakable gloom was settling over the world and it was hard to understand what, if anything, the future held for us." The lighthouse is a symbol to her of everything good in our character, but the book isn't just symbolic. It's all about the practical work of island living and her very real joy in renovating the light tower and keeper's house, living there, and sharing the lighthouse and the island with her friends, family, and neighbors.
It was a wonderful book to read at this particular moment. I'd like to read her follow-up memoir, Our Island Lighthouse (Random House 1947) but don't have it on hand, and prices online run about $100 a copy, ugh. Anyway, what I really want to read next is a little something called The Mueller Report (U.S. Government Printing Office 2019). (I made that up. The publishing information, not the wanting-to-read-it part. That is real. I would like to know, after all this time, what happened. The truth, please, the facts.) Instead I'm deep into the early chapters of the brand new Barry Lopez book Horizon (Knopf 2019). It's hot off the press and I bought it last week at Bookstacks in Bucksport. So far it's a mix of the hopeful and the hopeless, regarding nature and climate change. His descriptions of places and experiences are so right and his writing is so generous and wide-reaching, I read along and feel as if I'm somehow brimming over. Like our yard this afternoon, which was full of flocks of red winged blackbirds, robins, juncoes, and sparrows. The sun is breaking through the gray sky, after a day of rain. It's truly spring. I thought it might never arrive, but here it is.
Saturday, March 02, 2019
Ice and snow are still covering the crocuses around here, but I know the bulbs are under there and will awaken soon. They must be thinking things over, surely. The turning of the month is a big one - March always feels so close to spring. Spring! I can't wait. It's been so cold for so long. We bundled up and attended the same local library book sale this morning that we often attend, since the friends-of-the-library group holds it on the first Saturday of each month, all winter. If the roads are dry and we have cabin fever, we go. Today's haul consisted of two bags of books for $50. From that, I have a small stack here beside me to keep for a while. A Mary Wesley novel I haven't read yet, a softcover reprint of Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman Lewis, a reprint of W.H. Auden's commonplace book A Certain World (Viking 1970), Annie Leibovitz's memoir At Work (Random House 2008), a fluffy contemporary novel about a bookseller (can't resist, will report back if any good), and an 800-page diary I'd never heard of, Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke's War Diaries 1939-1945 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2001), which looks like a fascinating slog, just what I like. For now, I'll keep it on the shelf near the war diaries of James Lees-Milne and Frances Partridge.
Because even though I am buying books to read, I'm barely reading a thing right now. (Writing, I am still writing!) But diaries are on my mind. Written in one of my own, somewhere, years ago, is a quote from Wendell Berry, which goes something like this: "From my various ancestors I inherited both great wealth and great poverty. It has taken me years to figure out which is which." But can I find this quote? No, I cannot. Not in an old diary, or in the Wendell Berry books on my shelves here at home. The google machine is also unhelpful in this regard, but I am quite sure Wendell Berry said it, and so I paraphrase him here, regarding an inheritance I recently received. I am a stepchild, and my step-grandfather died a few cold Januaries ago. I have good memories of him, and even more of my step-grandmother, who was the only real grandmother I ever knew when I was a child. But they were complicated people, as people are, and when I think of them now, the quote comes to mind.
All that is to say, my stepfather stopped by the other day with a gift for me, from his father's house. He and my aunts and uncle are cleaning out the house, to offer it for sale. Bittersweet doesn't cover it but will have to stand in as shorthand. The gift came in four heavy boxes. Here is the first box:
Huge glorious hardcovers in their jackets. All twenty volumes of the OED, Second Edition. With a gift inscription from nearly twenty years ago. It was an 80th birthday present to my step-grandfather, and I remember seeing it on his shelves, and yearning, more than just a little, to have my own set. And now here it is, come to stay. My grandparents gave me other gifts, throughout my life, but this last one feels so special.
As I struggle to find the right words to finish (or at least come to a good resting place with) the book I am attempting to write, the OED, this compenium of the best of our language, sits like an anchor to windward. An apt simile, since my grandparents were sailors. I am now pondering the booklover's eternal dilemma. I speak of course of shelf space. Ryan and I have been talking about building a new bookcase to house the set.
Book update - this week I finished editing the third draft of my island painting book. It comes into ever-clearer focus. I still have much to do but can see real progress and even glimpse an endpoint. It's twelve chapters now, and almost 100,000 words, many of which need to be cut, but are satisfying to contemplate in their mass. Words. WORDS. Our stories, our language. What a gift it is.
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Goodness, I've been busy. A brief update. Work on two of my three book projects continues apace. I've set the third aside for now because the other two are more compelling to me at the moment. But I'm also in the midst of making another catalogue for my upcoming solo show in May and June of this year, so that counts too, right? If we're counting? I haven't been reading much because all the writing is keeping the paper-loving part of me very happy. But of course I have been reading, a bit. A few very pleasing books. And I still have some back issues of Slightly Foxed to go before I run out. But more about those another day, because this post will be text-light and image-heavy for a change.
Last year around this time I was transcribing certain experiences out of my old diaries, to liberate them from that too-specific timeline and kitchen-sink way of writing (as in: everything but). I had lots of help, as you can see. Hodge is an excellent assistant, and taskmaster. He keeps me company day after day and is a blessing and a holy terror both:
Last year I got everything I wanted to out of my diaries and into a rough first draft, then I set it aside for months, and let it cook, or collapse, whichever it wanted to do most. Then last month I took the draft out again, and riffled the pages and said to myself, Okay, self, this is it. Let's figure this out, this book-writing thing. I know I have good sentences and lots of them. I have a story to tell, about painting on an island, and about the island and me, our relationship. I can fashion the good sentences into paragraphs, and the paragraphs into chapters, and the chapters into a book. Sounds easy, right? Hodge says yes, this year:
He naps, while I transcribe all my handwritten pages from last winter into my computer, editing and arranging the text as I go. And when I can't see my way clear on how to do that, I get the words typed in anyway. SO, I just finished that stage, over the weekend, and now have about 90,000 words. Arranged into fifteen chapters. Some of which are short and sweet and others of which are too long and rambly with no form whatsoever. BUT. Lots of good sentences! I'm in a decent place with the whole project. I can almost see how it will resolve. I'll be printing off this second draft shortly and then will start to edit and move sections around again. And cut a lot of repetitive stuff out altogether. Diaries (mine, at least) are so repetitive, but to that I say: thanks for routines and ways of working. They add up. I just need to cut out a lot of got-up-got-dressed-had-breakfast type of stuff. And all the words that don't further my narrative or do my prose any favors.
When I get discouraged or frustrated with this whole thing - I mean I have to give myself a lot of pep talks and suspend much disbelief and quiet the many voices saying to me that I do not need to be doing this - I set it aside and work on my other book project, the small illustrated one. I've been learning to use gouache and making little paintings of natural subjects (leaves, trees, feathers, birds, animals, insects, small landscapes, and the like), and I've written a text to go along with the gouache paintings. I've been working on this for about four months, on and off, although I wrote almost all the text over a year ago. Hodge is MOST interested in the proceedings here as well:
Sometimes a little too interested, to be honest. Crinkly things! On the table! Raaaaarrrhhhh:
The dried oak leaves, lower left, with their acorns just forming, turned into this painting:
I've painted a lot of other leaves too, alongside bits of this and that. Which are so beautiful to me, both in the fullness of their lives and again in their late fall decay:
That's all my news, for now. I mean, a lot of other things are happening, here and all over the place, but oh these quiet winter days, sitting for hours in patches of sun, working steadily to get my books made - that has been more than enough for me. Hodge approves, I think. Dear friend. Shall we ask him?