It’s not up to me
, the meaning of things, the things I write. I put ideas into words, but the words aren’t mine alone; they’re all ours, and I’ve no claim to ownership over something so sublime as their meaning once they’re out in the world.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the scenes I write — and I don’t mean thinking of scenes, but about them. The other day, writing about walking a dog and climbing a tree seemed as good an idea as any. Last week I thought of peppermint and dirty clothes and distant memories and how they connect to right now. In short, I was feeling optimistic. I’ve pondered swimming lessons with my little boy, flags flying in unexpected places, forgetting to pack blankets on a trip, cicada noises. But why these?
I write portraits, more or less. What’s a portrait but interpretation at an angle? I’m driven by an impulse to share, to convey an impression from way over here to way over there, wherever you are. And such is the impulse in any artist, in some form or another. At times my expression comes out wonky and abstract, as in non-representational sculpture. But out it must come, again, in some form come what may.
Most expressions fall short of revelation or defining moments in a creative career. Yet my underlying optimism helps me struggle through and I try try again, despite a near certainty of failure. (We are all impostors.)
Any single portrait might have its appeal to any given reader, but generally, artists play the long game. A collection tells a story — in my case, a collection of scenes. I consciously try to connect scenes across posts, at least thematically (and I actually have a list of preferred themes, but I’ll remain silent outside the list’s mention. Readers take ownership of scenes, and I’ve imposed quite enough already without smothering my own words with meta-critique.) ((There’s some irony in all this, isn’t there.))
I choose mundane topics. I don’t try to be funny. In many of my scenes, very little happens. (I often think of myself as a still life or landscape artist.) To me, this is realism, and the overall story arc is meant to cleave closely to representational reality, even though certain of my scenes (and techniques) are consciously abstract. (I do like to work with contradictions.)
Philosophically, I have always been interested in the relationships between the sublime and the pedestrian, critical thinking and concept formation being my scholarly training. I’ve found the most complex of concepts arise from the simplest of terms and relationships, and observing a kid develop from pre-linguistic toddler to quantum physicist (well, we’ll see yet) underwrites this thesis day in and day out. It’s a long game, and in it, the transitions filled with subtlety and remarkable realisations.
In these parts, the whole of our lives.
Watching a kid learn to swim is this process, mundane and sublime all at once. Juxtaposition is the key to the “poisonous soap” scenes, for example, and this kind of back and forth with a conclusion that calls back the introduction is a structure I favour.
On the topic of structures, I enjoy closure. My previous project, the now-abandoned Root Beer In New Zealand, was a conscious experiment in open writing. There I adopted the title-less motif I’ve carried forth here, but there I intentionally stopped writing prior to any resolution of a scene. This struck me as a radical move, and it jarred me into a new-found focus on introductions and resolutions in my writing.
Here, of course, I’ve resumed my more-familiar form of resolved scenes taken together to tell a resolved story. This works well in an online, serial medium, I find. (The final post on DaddingFullTime, Redemption, is the best example of this structure, and served as an overall resolution to the DFT project.)
A couple years ago I started compiling remarks on writing, which I’ve been tempted to release here. I’d be interested to know whether they’d be well-received, or whether focusing on the story here is the readers’ general preference. Comments welcome.
(I’ve written this piece because the cicada piece generated some interest last week. I have tried to avoid producing more-conventional essays like this here, reserving that sort of work for specifically philosophical occasions. But it does occur to me from time to time that I’ll likely write very little in the way of conventional philosophical essay in the future; perhaps this space would benefit from such lofty occasions?)