The theme this week is bits and pieces.
I have been trying to impose order on my bulging filing cabinet, and so I’ve had a purge. Lots of paper went straight to the bin, while a small pile for ‘keep’ and a bigger one for ‘?’ slowly formed. In the ‘?’ pile are many clippings and scribbled notes and pictures torn out of magazines and even (I’m a little ashamed to admit) books. Not library books (isn’t that annoying? how can they sleep at night?), but ratty old books from Op shops and second-hand shops. I will keep some some amazing black-and-white images of the Lascaux caves and the Venus of Willendorf which must have come from a book on pre-historic art; a few unfortunately rather stained full-page advertisments from 1950’s women’s fashion magazines for clothes and especially corsetry (a preoccupation of mine; more later); and a set of illustrations from some Victorian historical novel involving gloomy castles, sadistic jailers, fainting maidens and ghosts. These last smell very musty and odd. I have put them aside for The Scrapbook Project.
Lots of writers keep notebooks. One writer that I know has a stack of notebooks spanning her entire long writing career, and she can go back to them to find any clipping or quote or picture or reference that she remembers, or even half-remembers… They’re all there.
I do envy her, and would like to have a similar reference, but my efforts in the notebook department have been pretty sporadic. I have a few very lovely blank journals with at the most only twenty pages in each actually used. Scraps of paper seem to be more my style. So, for me it’s scrapbooks; I can paste in the pictures and clippings AND the scribbled quotations.
Because my mother, who died in May 2008, was both a hoarder AND a born archivist, I have inherited a mass of beautifully organised files relating not only to her own, Dad’s and her three children’s personal histories, but to her many interests. History of many varieties – family, local, Australian, English, ancient Roman; artists; writers; Australian literature; children’s literature; detective fiction; gardens; architecture; travel… on it goes. She used those A4 binder books, and either slipped the cuttings in or pasted them onto a sheet of paper. I’ve just bought a stack of large kid’s scrapbooks and a couple of glue-sticks. Now all I need is a couple of rainy weekends and the project will be launched.
I’ve always enjoyed reading what writers say about their working life. A room of one’s own, kitchen table; biro, pencil, pen; paper, computer; strict routine, when inspiration strikes… Though that last phrase brings me to a little quote I’ve got pinned up above my writing desk. ‘Temperament is for amateurs’. That’s from Edward Bawden, a prolific English artist, illustrator and graphic designer. I copied the following (found on a scrap of paper in my files) from a biography of the American writer Katherine Anne Porter.
You need to find somewhere in the house, a work room that no one has occasion to pass through or come near. And no one to ask anything of you until two o’clock in the afternoon. You know perfectly well what it takes: uninterrupted meditation and long hours of steady work.
The difference between mere adventure and a real experience might be this. That adventure is somethng you seek for pleasure, or even for profit, like a gold rush or invading a country; for the illusion of being more alive than ordinary…but experience is what really happens to you in the long run; the truth that finally overtakes you.
I believe we exist on half a dozen planes in at least six dimensions, and inhabit all periods of time at once, by way of memory, racial experience, dreams that are another channel of memory, fantasy that is also reality…I believe that a first rate work of art somehow succeeds in pulling all these things together and reconciling them. When we deliberately ignore too much, we make a fatal mistake.
Chinese saying: The land that is nowhere, that is the true home.
From “Katherine Anne Porter: A Life” by Joan Givner (Simon and Shuster, 1982).