Writer’s Diary 2004

This morning the new issue of Granta arrived.
I flick through to get a feel for the issue and am bowled over by the drawings done by film directors; Hitchcock’s in particular, which are reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s etchings in some ways.
Early this year I found myself suddenly becoming re-interested in Edward Hopper, partly as I’d had a previous little surge of passion for Andrew Wyeth and had bought a second-hand copy of a book about his Helga paintings from Amazon’s American site. Amazon do that thing with recommending books for you based on past purchases. Sometimes this brings me old and new interests as happened with Hopper, other times you begin to see that the recommendations can be quite a disturbing reflection of your current preoccupations. For a few months back last year it seemed like the only books I was getting recommended had to do with depression, suicide, corpses and crime scenes, which reflected a number of books I had bought on those subjects in order to research the novel I am still writing.
But to get back to Hopper, who by the way was six feet five tall, my interest in him, as well as his wife Jo Nivison, inspired a couple of poems. But now of course due to the current exhibition at the Tate, everyone is being reawakened to Hopper and so the poems seem rather obvious. And the habit of writing poems based on this or that work of art is overdone. So maybe they were tired out old wordplay anyway.
On Saturday I treated myself to the new issue of the New Yorker, my excuse was that it was the Summer Fiction issue and had three new stories by the Canadian queen of the short story Alice Munro. I saved this for Sunday morning, which is the only time I feel it’s actually okay to sit in bed and read. As it turned out I didn’t read the stories then, but instead I read a very interesting article in the same issue about writer’s block by Joan Acocella.
It links writer’s block to all manner of causes, amongst them depression, alcoholism and aging. As I’m not getting any younger and as I had at that particular moment in time a rather nasty hangover it seemed there really wasn’t much hope for me. Though I suppose I am writing, after a fashion, but I am convinced that what I am producing is utter tripe.
Then there’s the other thing that’s blamed for writer’s block; success, which means forever after you have something to live up to. Or rather that the author becomes too self aware of what he or she is doing, and that trips them up.
Failure is also clearly problem.
My theory in regard to my own work is that everything I’ve done so far has been a fluke, and pretty soon someone is going to notice that I’m not what I’m meant to be and I’ll get frogmarched out of literary Wales and deposited by that slip road on the other side of the Severn bridge where no cars ever stop to pick you up.
Anyone who’s ever hitchhiked out of South Wales will know that spot. Just as anyone who’s ever tried to write will know that while every so often you get the equivalent of a lift in a fast comfortable car with a perfectly normal driver, most of the time you’ll be tormented by lunatics, rain and boredom.
Last night I went to see Lars Von Trer’s strange and rather wonderful new film, Dogville. It’s three hours long, has voiceover narration and uses none of those things that we have come to expect from the medium, ie location, natural atmospheric light and seamless scene changes. It is the sort of film that forces you to search for meaning of a moral, philosophical or political sort, and provides no easy answers. In short, it makes you think. And thinking in its turn is inspiring, but after three hours in a darkened cinema on a Monday evening you tend to go to bed rather that stay up all night writing, but as you turn the light off you hope that in the morning; the ideas will remain. And perhaps they do to some extent, but they’ve mutated.
Experiencing work like that, whether it’s a film or a painting or book, can serve to remind the artist or writer why they began to create art in the first place.
The downside of this is expressed in Posy Simmond’s latest cartoon in her series on literary life in the Guardian, faced with so many brilliant writers and artists one can wonder one is even attempting to produce yet another piece of work. Maybe this is why some writers chose to not read their contemporaries’ work.
I haven’t read many novels lately, but I think it’s more to do with a sort of shift in perception wherein fiction suddenly seems like so much artifice. Or maybe it goes like this; as someone who is attempting to construct my own little palace of artifice, I am too aware of the writer who created those other novels, and my mind refuses to enter into the contract with them. I cannot, or perhaps will not, suspend disbelief. Maybe this comes as much from jealousy and my own failure more than anything more practical or noble. Whatever it is, I am currently not reading, and my bedside table despite the pile of books there seems bare.
I may, on the other hand, be going quietly mad. Sylvia Plath’s first breakdown began with an inability to read, which might have been at first a sort of heightened self-awareness. Which of course, is part of the problem with writing, one has to be self-aware enough to consciously guide the work in hand, but also one needs to lose oneself in order to get into the zone.
So maybe this where other art forms have their role; they can inspire without incapacitating.

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