Sunday, November 30, 2014


When you're working at your craft - be it painting, sculpture, writing, there are not always signs to say you're making progress.  Sometimes it looks like a mess, a sadly mistaken endeavor. You think you're wasting time.

night windows

Often you must throw away what you've worked so hard on and turn a new page. And then keep going. Again and again I am reminded of Orhan Pamuk's phrase "digging a well with a needle" a Turkish saying he uses to describe the craft of writing.

For instance, I've been working on a book over the last couple of years, and I've got hundreds of pages of work. They testify to the process of getting to know my characters.  But I've now got to a stage where two characters refuse to do what I intended them to do.  I'm trying to make them get on a train together - and somehow they just won't do it!

So I've been writing around this train journey, writing up to it, and over it and around it - and from all sorts of different angles and perspectives. I want them to take action - but instead they want to sit in a cafe and talk.  It's as if they are ignoring me - or saying, "Sorry, Amanda. We're not quite ready to go yet."

In any case, I was talking with two friends, Pat and Helen, last night about our creative work - although mainly I was talking about sculpture - and how I feel more freedom in sculpture to throw away stuff that isn't working.

Pat is an artist. She was talking about her collages, tearing up paper, and sitting with these little strips in front of her wondering Is this what my life is about?

"You don't always have an epiphany," she said. But sometimes when she's struggling with a collage that isn't working, she might cannibalize it, to make a second one that does work.

I was working on a bust in the sculpture studio for six weeks  recently.  In the end, I decided to chuck it out. My teacher George took a wire and sliced off the face - in case I want to kept that. I might fire it to make a kind of mask. Or I might toss it out. Why not?  I will take what I learned into the next project. The physical work feels like the detritus of something internal.

May toss it. May not

Helen said that she's noticed in working with Pre-K children they don't always need evidence that they have internalized a process.  She might save their drawings - but they forget those drawings so she throws them away and they don't care a bit because they are moving on. 

It's a false sense of self importance that leads us to save everything.  You don't always have an epiphany. We spend a lot of the time simply learning the process.  If we manage to stay engaged in the process, and trust it, perhaps we do more than we realize.

rooftops in the morning

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