A Writer in Time: Multiplicity and Process

Art takes time. As painters can keep and harbour many canvasses in a state of benign neglect for years, so too of course can writers have many pieces scattered along the skirtings of the walls and laid out upon the easels of the mind. All are pieces in the decadence of recline. Or, in the swirl of metaphors, a twist to something else, a writer’s spawnings can be restless, though they sit and brood. Others are gathered in the dusty corners, misanthropes mired in the cobwebs of darkened notebook pages. They peer out sullenly and silently, on being rediscovered in their aged reverie.

Are the very many scraps, vignettes, cut-and-discardeds, notes on ideas, first drafts, drafts set adrift, beached drafts and dead drafts, workings and weavings, the bonsai’d and the brutalised, the retouched and the dust-heavy, the waiting and the slowly breathing all slivers of the artist as was? Perhaps we can trace a route through time and times, processes of thinking and relating, seeing and reading and the myriad affectors of any given period of any given colour or lightness or cloudedness.

Art takes time. A brief paddle in the stream of others’ ideas and research offers up the ten years of writing of Junot Diaz; the daily painting and repainting of a mural by the street artist, Blu; Christian Marclay’s three year labour of editing thousands of film clips (Hagen, undated).

In Norway, ‘[Artist] Katie Anderson has planted 100 saplings,’ writes Jason Farago (2015).

. . . they will grow for 100 years, and then be chopped down, pulped and turned into books. Not just any books, either. These books are to be written over the coming century, one per year, but may not be read until the trees come down and the books are published. Margaret Atwood is contributing the first book for 2015, but you’ll have to live another 99 years if you want to read it.

Anderson’s Future Library is a 100-year artwork: a vision of the future that will only be fully visible long after our deaths.

As our books grow, so too do we; as we grow, so too do they. If we come to be embarrassed by our background workings of our outpourings, should we sink them in the depths of our notes or the caves of our screens, or should we embrace them as us, an us that has been? If there’s no accounting for taste, is there no accounting too for quality? Though each reader has their own cliché, has their own poison of particularity, and though much mud must be thrown in order for some of it to stick, there are far too many offerings of thin and greyness masquerading as mastery of words. Much of it, really, in truth, is the content of others’ caves.

Maybe all our darkened things should reside in darkened spaces, though loved as us there. We have many. We work on them daily, weekly, monthly or hardly at all. Yet, they persist, weakly or insistently. Some day, they may spawn their tawdry others who, in turn, may bring forth more who evolve into creatures of the day. All our offerings can only ever be a process of the now (though the now has absorbed the flavours of all that has been); we can only ever be a process of the now; some day, the now will shift.

All our offerings, all our slivers of the self, are necessary. Da Vinci, Picasso, Michelangelo all, no doubt, had their pieces and their processes, their notes, their workings, their discarded and their left-to-broods. Even those whose art is more in keeping with the modesty of human scale, those not of the higher echelons of a Michelangelo, especially those of such everydayness of art, have a multitude of themselves to nurture, to wait for, to leave in the corners of the dark: artists ever of becomingness.

Art takes time, as we do; we, and words, are myriad mirrors, slivers, fragments. We are immanent.

(Addendum: it is as if to prove a point, engineered by the universal play of synchronicity, when all the constituent elements of this electronic writing system malfunction, rendering inactivity for several hours, at the exact moment of attempting to deliver these words to the web. Art, and other powers, take time).

Farago, J. (2015), Taking it slow: art that’s in it for the long haul. BBC Culture [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150107-can-this-art-bend-time (Accessed Mar 26, 2018).

Hagen, C. (undated), In praise of slow mastery: ten achievements that took time. 99u [Online]. Available from: http://99u.adobe.com/articles/7168/in-praise-of-slow-mastery-10-great-achievements-that-took-time (Accessed Mar 26, 2018).

Imagine the Lost Love of a Letter

When was the last time you wrote a letter? That is, when was the last time you wrote to someone on crisp white paper, or on lilac or pale yellow, whatever attracts, or perfumed if you like, whatever takes your fancy . . .?

Imagine this: a pen that touches the tactile spirit, which is soothing to have and to hold; a sheet of paper with a little give underneath (laid on another sheet perhaps, or over card instead of laid barely on the wooden board of the desk). Imagine this: the wooden board of the desk itself; or, imagine invisible grease-marks of fingers on paper, causing ghost-scratched writing as the ink refuses to take.

In our computer dependencies, we forget about the minor significant trials of actual writing. The analogue writer crafts with cursive care: it’s written into the words. These words here, read as they are by you in the now, in their original form, are inked in a small blue notebook under a sudden light. Authenticity is of primary concern.

Notebooks are one thing, but letters are another. I have a stack of dusty envelopes on my bedside table. They’re variously coloured, variously impressed with love and other dreams. They’re twenty years old, or more. I forget. They sit and wait. They hold me and ‘us’ within their pages. They crackle at the edges: not just with the papery age but with the magic of a twenty-year-long breath held in. They wait. One day I’ll gently unfold them again.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? I can’t remember myself. This is a shame. Perhaps you’re of a younger generation who has never written a physical letter to anyone at all.

Letters are more than just what the words actually say: they contain the knowledge that someone has taken time to think of you, to craft for you, to carefully put down what they want to say, knowing that it needs thought first (else the scribbling out and other corrections render it incomprehensible). Technology often takes this thought away.

Letters contain the possibility that the writer may have left the words on the desk, settling or waiting, just waiting, before the envelope is sealed. Letters mean a trip out of the house, to the box that swallows and saves the words for a while. Letters wait in the belly of the kindly beast, which protects them from the rain and wind, till someone comes to collect them (amongst the detritus of other modern mailings).

Letters soak up all the waiting and the waiting, all the travelling, wending their way to your hand. Letters are love on crisp white paper, lilac or pale yellow if you prefer; or, once, when letters flew, they were the thinnest airmail paper, lighter than the air, folded over to form their own protective skins.

Imagine this: receive an envelope that does not fill the mind with the dread of ‘what could this unforeseen, unasked-for object be?’ Letters from the bank, or from the offices of the tax collectors or the like, come in neatly styled fonts; they land with anonymous but ominous weight at your palm. Imagine that a letter has your name described in real uneven ink; that there is the trace of fingerprints on its envelope, the faintness of some perfume on its skin; the seal is partly lifted, and you know that someone has touched the tip of their tongue to the gum. There is a trace of someone real held in your palm.

Imagine this: you unfold a sheet of paper, several maybe, and someone who loves you dearly tells you this in words, which don’t always sit neatly shelved on the lines; they offer you themselves in little inked-in illustrations or pencil-coloured pictures; they whisper in the gaps between the written words; there’s more than a trace of them on the paper they’ve touched when leaned upon, written on, folded. Imagine this.

When was the last time you wrote a letter . . .?