Saturday, July 7, 2012


The title of this post comes from John Berger's quirky and wonderful new book  Bento's Sketchbook: How Does The Impulse to Draw Something Begin?  I realized this evening that I've been asking myself a similar question over the last several weeks.  Why do I write about some things, but not about others?

Why did I not have the impulse to document my Midsummer Night's Dream party - where the rain came down and all our guests had to help set up after it had passed, and how that involvement united us;  how Anjali tossed a salad and Elliot and his friends hung lanterns in the trees, and how Felix and Jussara came from New York, and Felix performed a scene from the play, as Snout, 'The Wall'.

Why didn't I write about Charlie Cooke and Elliot performing Demetrius and Lysander underneath the fairy lights - or how at the end of the party, Helen and I lazed in the hammock which we had dubbed 'Titania's bower'.  Or how we set off Stephanie's lanterns, to fly into the night sky like tiny hot air balloons, and one got caught in our neighbor's tree and I thought it might catch fire. And how then Louise begged to know where I'd got them, and left the party in her fairy wings and the evening ended with me and Helen and Elliot's friends at 2 in the morning, passing a bottle of scotch round the kitchen, and telling Kelly how beautiful she was.

I had no impulse to record those things. Until now.

Nor did I record our visit to Williamstown, Massachusetts to see Lucy's play "The Blue Deep" - and all that wonderful family interaction - the Noel Coward moments round the breakfast table reading reviews, and the two trips up Mount Greylock...

Or the boat ride several days later down the North River in Hanover Mass with Peter Moll, where we saw nothing but blue water, reeds and trees and a Constable sky - and boys on a rope swing sailing across the river and dropping like dolls into the water below; or the record breaking heat in Washington DC, and how Helen stayed like a saint to look after Basil the dachshund?

Written in a stream like this, these subjects invite exploration, and yet I had no impulse to explore them in my blog at the time. Why not?

Was I too busy to record them?

In fact,  I did have time.  And as you see, there are colorful anecdotes here that might be embellished and formed into several stories.

Perhaps the impulse to write has to do with your relationship to those anecdotes.  If there is nothing within them that jars you, or you feel you have thought about them sufficiently, you don't much care to write about them.  It is said that conflict is the necessary ingredient to every good story.  Does this mean I haven't had my share of conflict over the last several weeks?

Not true. And yet my recent conflicts do not interest me sufficiently to explore them in a story.  Maybe they feel too pedestrian, or too forced.  The impulse to write doesn't begin (for me) with the journalist's mandate to record things. Nor does it come out of ranting.

Perhaps it begins with something rubbing against my mind. Something that puts me at odds with the material in hand. An image plus an irritation.  It's like with the oyster, irritated by something in his shell, and then spinning a yarn that transforms itself into a pearl. The impulse to write begins with a question - or a thought that demands contemplation.  When you've stopped thinking about it, you find you've finished your story.

There again, maybe I was just too busy writing a book review and revising my novel.  But where did the impulse to revise my novel come from, I might ask?  From the recognition that there is more to explore, and that I could say it better, I suppose. With questions that remain to be answered. Irritations that demand a salve.

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