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Monday, 26 September 2011

Familiar Ground

Or, Why There Will Be a Relevant Blog Post in a Day Or Two...
     It is almost eleven at night. I'm staring at this paragraph (embryonic blog post) which refuses to reshape itself without me physically pressing keys and I think this is ridiculously churlish of the text. Enter fourteen-year-old. She drops onto the settee with an exhale that implies she was being held upright by pneumatic design.
     "Right," I say, adopting my parent voice. "Finished your homework?"
     "I still have ...English," she says. This language is clearly an imposition too far.
     "So...what do you have to do for English?" I ask. I check the screen to see if the words have done something extraordinary while I wasn't watching, but no.
     "You won't believe this," she says. "I have to write a paragraph, a character description, in the style of John Steinbeck."
Familiar Ground K Howell 2011 Pastel on Paper 14 cm x 21 cm
     "So?" I say. "Write a character description in the style of John Steinbeck. You read the book." I consider rewriting my paragraph in the style of John Steinbeck, just to see what would happen. No, I'd sacrifice word count. Word count is dropping as it is.
     "But why should I? I don't like his style." She says.
     I see that she is not going to budge easily. I think back. What would I have done? I'd have written a paragraph describing a character who bemoaned the futility of such exercises.
     "You don't have to like it," I say. "It's an exercise. You just have to show that you understand his use of language, his sentence construction, his word choices - "
     "But I don't like his sentences! His vocabulary is boring!"
     "It's evocative," I say. I delete the adverb that somehow escaped my attention previously. Word count plummets again. Damn.
     "I don't want to write like that," she says.
     "You don't have to write like that for the rest of your life," I tell her. "Just for one flipping paragraph. Make it fun. If you don't like the style, mock it a little. Show you understand it. You can write however you want for the rest of your life." Yes, you can spend an hour staring at something, knowing how you want it to sound, and struggling to knock it into shape. That's fun, that is.
     "I like RICH language. I like INTERESTING sentences!"
     "So when you're finished your Steinbeck paragraph, write another one the way you want to write it." I say."It's a PARAGRAPH! How hard can it be?"
     "I don't FEEL like writing my own stuff right now," she says. "I'm tired."
     Really? I close the document, and determine to grow up before tomorrow comes. Renewed respect for John Steinbeck, who wrote many fine paragraphs.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A River Runs Through It

River K Howell 2011 Pastel and Rain on Paper 8 cm x 13 cm
It's marvelous how rock is shaped by the passage of water. This study is very tiny and quick (it has been quite wet lately), but shows something of what I was after. The sculpted rock holds the memory of relentless rushing  activity, and is still being shaped. Borges says, in his poem about poetry, 
To gaze at the river made of time and water
And recall that time itself is another river,
To know that we cease to be, just like the river,
And our faces pass away, just like the water."

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Rain Song

Song K Howell 2011 Pastel on Paper 14 cm x 21 cm
     Partially owing to the wet weather, I've done very little painting out of doors. The rain has been spectacular. I love the smell, the heavy skies and the slick varnish on the world. I'm happy to get soaked, but my favourite moments are those bright breaks between showers, when a flash of sunlight bursts through from under the bruised layer of cloud and illuminates the wet world.
    This tree struck me as lyrical. It seemed to be having a good time in the rain, and has found a moment in which to shine. The very-close-but-not-quite manganese blue was admittedly an odd choice. I was thinking to evoke the elusive, toxic qualities of that blue. That's the colour I see when I smell rain. Usually.
   Interestingly, the main commercial use for manganese blue (other than its value as an artist's pigment) was to colour cement for swimming pools. It's attraction might explain my early, failed shallow dives...

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Underworld

Lead Mine Adit 
     We take a journey down a disused lead mine. The sound world is extraordinary. Our boatman isn't exactly your silent Charon type and exuberantly fills the space with his voice. People get nervous in the quiet, so deep below the surface, he tells us.
     This level tunnel, a miner's adit, has been methodically blasted and carved away. The regularity of the passage is beautiful, and in its flooded state, quite magical.
     The lead mine joins a natural limestone cave fanged with stalactites, stalagmites and veined with fluorspar, yawning over a subterranean lake. The chamber is spacious, with fascinating vertical shafts, all formed by the passage of water.
      I only mention this because it seems writing is shaped in the same way. Having spent some time in this underworld, I can attest to the usefulness of explosives, sharp implements and relentless water. The natural formations are great, but the subterranean lake can be devalued if it is filled with the rubble from blasting out the lead mine.