Hello friends, it’s a new week!
Not gonna get all sappy and stuff, because that’s not my brand, but I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. Like, really, really, really, really happy. It’s weird. Rachel has noticed and commented upon it. She’s like, why are you so affectionate and sentimental lately? It’s sort of changed the tenor of our entire lives. Being content is great. It doesn’t last, but it’s great.
Like, I’ve recently gotten on this whole “doing things around the house” kick, and I’ve gotten this big, big list of things that need doing. You know, call the gardener, get our gutters cleaned, etc. And I’ve been slowly knocking things off the list. I took the dog to vet, I found our picture-hanging kit, I filled our five-gallon water containers so we’re covered if the water goes out, I hired someone to clean our reeking compost bins, I washed my wig (I wear a wig–not sure if that’s supposed to be a secret). I’ve read and given comments to a few friends who had manuscripts with me (if you’re waiting on me, I should get to it in the next week or so). It’s been great.
Sometimes I do worry that I’m letting trivia take up the whole day. It’s pretty amazing how the list of stuff to do just gets bigger and bigger. A lot of it is make-work. Like binding down this big cord that runs across the periphery of our dining room. Or fixing my bedroom drawers (whose handles had fallen off) so they now have these cool lion-head door-pulls. I easily could’ve gone twenty years without doing those things. But I also think that these little tasks fill the interstices of the day. And they do give one a sense of accomplishment–a feeling that one can tackle the bigger tasks. AND I’ve been doing a ton of writing, too. Like, my YA novel is almost done. And my reading, hasn’t been too shabby either, though it’s been quite scattered. I’m halfway through several podcasts and books. I just finished a course on steppe nomads who’ve conquered or threatened sedentary civilizations, and now I’m listening to the Hebrew Bible on audio. So there’s lots of things there, but it’s admittedly scattered.
I’ve also been intermittently writing on pen and paper–just trying to improve my penmanship a little. It’s a bit of a trick to slow down and make better-formed letters. I’ve also been trying to write in italics a bit, by tilting the paper sideways, so my letters don’t look like I’m a second-grader who’s trying really hard. It’s a hobby. I have hobbies now.
Another thing I’ve gotten into is pictures. I went to the Legion of Honor museum in SF on Friday and spent some time looking at the pictures. I really like Bouguereau, who was a prominent Academy painter in 19th century France (you know, one of the people who Monet and Manet were rebelling against). I spent a while looking at this painting, which I thought was really striking.
I’m not the biggest art person, but I like a good picture. I’ve been thinking lately why a painting has the ability to appeal over a photograph, and I have to say, I think people underestimate the power that paintings carry due to their constructedness. I mean you could take photos all day and never get a subject who has the peculiar intensity of this girl sitting by the water pump. Just like with fiction, paintings can be more or less mimetic, but they’re all ultimately fantasies in a way that a photo can’t quite manage to be.
But like I said I’m not an art person!
The only problem I have is the problem possessed by all contented people. What next? I’m starting to understand how so many people manage to displace so much of their energy into child-rearing. It’s something I could pay more attention to, if I wanted to…
The difficulty with doing or starting anything, I’ve noticed, is that very few things can be carried forward, in any substantial way, over the course of a day. One can write a poem, or a short story, or a blog post, but that’s about it. However, when it comes to the larger point–developing one’s style or technique–it’s not a process that necessarily rewards a large expenditure of time.
This weekend, I had the most peculiar feeling. Because I’d been so productive during the week, and because I’d ticked so many things off the old to-do list, I had the feeling that I had actually, like…doing everything I needed to do. I didn’t feel a strong need to write anything, or to carry any project forward. So I mostly tried to play around. I wrote a few fragments–I looked at an art book I’ve been neglecting (for another 19th-century French painter, James Tissot)–I leafed through some art books. I don’t know, I’m still thinking about where to go with my future writing projects. I think I was actually profoundly affected by The Canterbury Tales, I loved the relatively simple language and the eerie, rhythmic power that came from the procession of rhyming couplets. It made me think, you know, maybe there is something to this idea that you can have a sentence–one that seems otherwise quite ordinary–which carries additional power due to its particular mixture of sounds. I’ve been using a lot more internal rhymes in my prose lately, but I think the effect isn’t quite right–it falls into the uncanny valley between prose and verse, where you’re constantly tripped up and distracted by the rhyming.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? No project can be carried forward any substantial distance in a single day.
I would love to rediscover the ability to play. I remember once upon a time I was very taken with this idea that you can simply sit down and write anything you want. With a few words, you can be an Ancient Roman transported to outer space to discuss politics with squid aliens. Incidentally, nobody represents this ability better than Jo Walton. What a champion. What other human being would write a book where a bunch of people, including Marcus Tullius Cicero and Socrates, are ripped from their own times–and assigned the task of creating a real-life version of Plato’s Republic. I wish I could do something like that! But I fear I’d simply get bored of any novel written on such bizarre terms. Still, I want to be able to walk through whatever gate it is that stops me from writing that kind of nutty stuff.
And that’s my blog post.