Sunday, December 09, 2012


little drab nothings

A lovely quiet weekend close to home.  I don't think it's possible for me to be any more of a homebody than I already am.  Sometimes there is nothing better than staying in and working on what needs to be worked on.  Speaking of which,  I am still working on my little watercolor-illustrated book-to-be.  It's about a day on the coast of Maine, and what the ocean takes away and brings in, with the tides.  Literally and metaphorically.  Paradise lost and regained.  The beautiful jumble on the beach.  Like this mussel shell.

I love painting bits of beach stuff - shells, driftwood, sea glass, broken bits of china, stones - a rock with little fossils in it of ancient shells - all this intricate minutiae, alongside the miles-long landscapes I also love to paint.  Big skies, stretches of beach, meadows by the sea.  It's all so good.  I wonder if I will be able to turn these pictures into any kind of an interesting narrative, or not.  I'm trying not to worry about that right now, and instead am just working on one page at a time, or rather one little painting at a time, and letting them pile up for a while.  Then I'll put them together and see what, if anything, I have.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Painting and writing, painting and writing.  This fall I became very interested in the work of Emily Carr.  I bought a lovely huge monograph of her paintings after eyeing it in a local bookshop for nearly two years (it was teetering on the edge of too expensive for buying only for myself).  Ryan is such a help at times like this.  He stands next to me and reads my mind and says, "Buy it, BUY IT!"  He is a pearl beyond price, do I need to say it?  Looking at her paintings and reading selections from her journals throughout helped me reconcile in some strange way my conflicted feelings about my twin passions, books and art.  Emily Carr kept journals, wrote several memoirs, and was an incredible painter, all at the same time.  She simply did what she had to do and didn't pigeonhole herself for any reason.  I just read her brief memoir Klee Wyck (Douglas & McIntyre reprint 2004) for the first time, and cannot recommend it highly enough.  It is comprised of short chapters, each describing in straightforward ice-clear prose an episode relating to her time living and painting among the First Nations people of the west coast of Canada.  Actually I shouldn't say this memoir is about her painting at all, for she hardly mentions it.  Yet it is the reason she is there in the first place and her hints about it are tantalizing.  A perfect little book about extraordinary people, a few special places, animals, her experiences in nature, what she witnessed.  I have her published journal, Hundreds and Thousands, on order right now and cannot wait to read it.  Her writing is so wonderful, just as wonderful and original and strong as her painting style.  She didn't want anyone else to tell her story for her, so she told it herself, in many ways, exactly as she saw fit:

"Nobody could write my hodge-podge life but me. Biographers can only write up big, important people who have done great deeds to which the public can attach dates. I could not be bothered with collaborators, nor would they be bothered with the little drab nothings that have made up my life."

The little drab nothings.  A bit of broken china on an empty beach, a small gray stone, one mussel shell, one quick sketch, a random page in a diary, from years' worth of such pages.  Their effect is cumulative, and, I have come to believe, worthy.

Your efforts to record glimpses of life in words and pictures remind me of a Christopher Morley poem from "Chimneysmoke." An excerpt from "Diarists" seems fitting:

"They catalogue their minutes: Now, now, now,
Is actual, amid the fugitive;
Take ink and pen (they say) for that is how
We snare this flying life, and make it live.
So to their little pictures, and they sieve
Their happinesses: fields turned by the plough,
The afterglow that summer sunsets give,
The razor concave of a great ship's bow...."

He wrote that in the 1920's and it is still true today. We can read wonderful books or gaze into a tidal pool, but only by recording with a pen or brush can we most effectively snare that impression forever and make it live again later.
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Precisely why we love to read, and look at great art, isn't it, to make that living connection to a vivid experience. There's really nothing else like it.

I am reminded of a Morley quote, maybe from "Inward Ho!" but I honestly can't remember, that goes something like this - "The devil spoke to me at midnight last night. He said, 'What does it matter whether your write that poem or not.'"

It matters, it matters!
I'm a home person too, so I really relate to this post. I feel like I should WANT to travel, but the truth is I like to travel via book.
I know, Tess. The romantic in me yearns to travel, but the pragmatist in me thinks it really wouldn't be that romantic after all.
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