There is a painting in the office where I work that I have walked by countless times. It’s pleasant enough, a picture of a water-filled ditch beside a farmer’s field. Ditch isn’t a romantic word. I suppose it could be a dyke or a channel, but it isn’t. It’s a ditch. The farmer’s house and barn are painted small, in the upper left-hand corner, to be far away within the painting’s horizon. Trees with full leafed boughs hang over the brown water in the ditch. The water and the leaves and the fields of grass are painted to suggest the winking bright light, a pleasing interplay of greens and yellows layered over darker browns. The brushstrokes are only visible in the width of the lines depicting the grass. This is not a painterly painting, but a realistic depiction. I stopped to have a closer look, to decide whether it is one of those paintings that’s actually a photograph printed on a canvas and stretched on a frame. A discovery that is both disappointing and smugly satisfying when it happens. But this painting isn’t a photograph; it’s a real painting.
Standing there, scrutinizing the detail…the layering of colour to create the interplays of shadow and light, the hundreds of tiny lines that show the movement of the wind, a thought leapt to my mind: this is why I did not become an artist. I don’t have the patience to paint those lines, to fill a canvas with so much colour variation and the details in sufficient proportion to convey to a viewer a wide field of grasses, a moving stream, tree branches swaying.
When I paint, or draw, I work small, in a white space I can manage. And, I confess, when I start, I’m impatient to be done. My favourite part of painting is finishing. I feel a keen frustration blocking in colours, I become exasperated by the restricted palette in my box of pastels. The shade I want is always elusive. The whole of the exercise is moving towards a climax I feel I can’t get to fast enough: adding those last flecks of white to the objects depicted, the highlight that makes the subject come alive.
I don’t have the same impatience with writing. But no, this isn’t true, I lie. I write with a longing to complete a piece (or pieces). This must be the subtext readers of this blog intuit when they suggest I’m too hard on myself. If I’m honest, I write with (through?) continual disappointment that I’m not there yet.
I agree, not a good place to be working from. I’m trying to be more open in my daily writings…to let the interplay of thoughts and ideas and exercises run wild on the page. To let the writing be “organic” …whatever that means. I guess it means to relinquish control. I’m not good at this either.
When asked by a writer friend the other day how my writing is going, I gestured with both hands, conducting the air between us, to emphasize that yes, I’m writing every day, “creating content” I said. I admitted I had no idea how it might all come together. And silently I worried whether it ever will.
I also wondered whether the final white glint of light, that flourish of white paint that is so satisfying to lay on the canvas—the painted finish I crave—has a writing equivalent.
It does. It’s the thousands of choices a writer makes before a story or an essay or a poem “is done”. It is the point at which all those choices – the movement of words in sentences, phrases and paragraphs, descriptions, dialogue, narrative arc, literary devices—fit together like a completed puzzle.
At the moment, I think I’m working with three or four different puzzles all jumbled together with a few corner pieces laid down but floating. I suppose the frustration is justified. But also, it makes me realise there’s only one way through, to work on each unique puzzle piece—like each blade of painted grass in the painting at my office—and find the best place for it. Also, settle in. Put frustration aside. Instead, think of longing as commitment, dedication, discovery. This could take a while.