26 January 2021

The ghosts of Nathalie Goldberg and Gustave Flaubert on the beach near Byron Bay at dusk


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 January, 2012, oil on canvas board, 25 x 20 cm

A mushy sky greeted me last week, and with a certain hesitation I made several small studies. There was little wind and I had to bring out the bug spray but once I had made the palette of the usual suspects I began to feel more comfortable. 

What always amazes me is that in spite of that initial fear and hesitation of how to begin, the hand begins to move with abandon in those first brushstrokes. 

I am always in awe of great writing so I read a lot of books about 'how to write'. Of course, they are never titled as such but that is basically what they are. Writers, unlike painters on the whole, love to talk about how they write. Painters seem secretive and jealous, almost psychotically paranoid that some inferior art student will steal their style. Mais enfin!

I have read many books on writing by lots of different authors; Annie Dillard (whom I have actually never read), Jim Salter, (of whom I have read everything), Anne Lamott, Stephen King, who wrote a brilliant book about how to write (ditto for Annie Dillard as I have never read his books either) Stanley Fish, who wrote How to Write a Sentence, etc, etc..

Happily there probably aren't a lot of books written by bad writers, unlike in the Painting World which is full of people who paint badly yet when they do try to teach others how they might paint well, can't.

So I come to Nathalie Goldberg who wrote a few books about how to learn to write, one being Writing down the Bones which I liked very much and read more than once. She is an avid proponent, like many, who meets with writing buddies in cafes and other spots to write for a specific time limit. It's about discipline and camaraderie. I know a few people who do it because it is an integral part of a Creative Writing degree everywhere now. Somehow it seems very modern to me, a program suited to our age of rapid-fire communication; cell phones, twitter, zoom, etc, etc.. 

(I suddenly imagine Flaubert writing longhand in his small town of Croisset, Normandy, living by the timetable of La Post Française for connection to the outside world)

In her book Writing Down the Bones she describes just how important it is to keep the hand moving, always moving to keep the mind from hesitation. "Don't stop the movement" she implores her student authors. At least this is what I understood from her, and it has helped me in own Painting enormously because when I feel a hesitation in Painting I remember this advice from Nathalie Goldberg. Of course, it helps that I am chasing the last light of the colourful day instead of working feverishly in a cafe. 

"...there is no time for dillley-dalleying young man!" as an old Irish governess of mine used to always say.

In the end though I was happy with what came out of this session. A hazy sky is a beautiful sky for me, but it is a tricky sky, and needs a leap of poetic speed.

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