Friday, December 7, 2007

WRITTEN WORD 39 - Writing of a Sort

I realized later that during that time I was away from writing I never stopped all versions of writing, I carried notebooks with me when I was in museums or in ACOA meetings, or roaming in city and country places I had known in the past, or new places, like Arrezzo and Urbino, that I had never seen before and that I was absorbing visually. I would have an idea and I would write it down. And it would stay there in my notebook just the way I had conceived it in my head.

And so even though I was filling up notebooks with thoughts, writing was still not very useful to me. It did not, like painting now, unravel my life – the only life I knew well enough to place at the center of my art.

By writing down insights and reminders to myself I was not writing. I was journaling – which has become a popular pastime, right up there with scrap-booking. Sometimes it yields results, for it can give an accurate picture of what is happening in the head, and it can be a way to deal with the most crucial matters of the moment in an ongoing life. It can also be useful for future writing. But journaling - unless faked to fool a teacher - means writing for the writer's own self only, and so there is no need to recreate scenes.
Some rigid academics who glorify linear thinking and despise the intuitive still put a journaling requirement in their courses, they consider it that safe.

It is in the process of recreating reality that an artist strikes gold. In the process of going from head to canvas or paper a fixed idea in the head is transformed into something much more.

Towards the end of the non-writing time I went to a weekend “inner child” retreat in which we were all told to “Write a letter to yourself as a child.” I wasn’t writing any more, I thought, but I went walking by a river and I wrote this letter to myself with some emotion and great sympathy, wondering where I had been all these years. And when I read this piece I choked up. But something was lacking. At end of what I wrote I was precisely where I had been when I started. There had not been discovery, just a reiteration of matters already known.

I read the piece aloud and the retreat leader gave a wise look and said “You are writing again.” And later he was still taking credit for my return to writing. But I knew at the retreat that this was not writing yet.

That letter-to-a-child thing. It only went so far – this kind of therapy writing. For it is usually directed, sometimes quite subtly, by the one who gives the assignment. It starts with a conclusion.

And then there was the dark scaly stranger. He had appeared in another therapy writing exercise. You were supposed to write about an encounter with some fearsome stranger who has always been around. So I made the stranger this one-dimensional ugly, bullying bigot. How very satisfying.

A few weeks later, when alone in my studio, I tried a visual response. This was when I started that painting that was supposed to be of this scaly, bigoted stranger who had haunted me all my life. A stranger so simple as to be dismissed. But when I painted him I could not keep him so simple that I could dismiss him and never miss him. I could not keep this stranger in such a safe place. A much more formidable person appeared in the place of the scaly man – this woman with glorious bare shoulders who was looking down on a mysterious, exotic, at the same time lovely and craggy landscape – a landscape which to enter would mean entering the unknown.

In the retreat leader/therapist's simplistic world it would have been said I had found that the stranger was myself. But I was not that woman, although if she were not important to me, were not part of me, she would not have appeared in my art. What I was finding was too complicated for smug psychological dictums. Complicated in the mind when clear in the heart.

All painting at this point was exciting to me. What I did not know quite yet was that writing could be too – which was what I had thought about writing in the first place before the years of living by writing.

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